lgpOnTheMove goes 3G Unlimited

Yahoo may have broken the story to it's readers on Friday, but actual credit goes to David Pogue of the New York Times, who wrote about it a few days earlier. I had to actually read the story twice and do my own fact-checking because it sounded just too good to be true. Needless to say, I'm now paying a flat $40/month for fast 3G, usable with all my devices, and without any pesky usage cap. That's right - my 3G is TOTALLY UNLIMITED.

Previous service providers would charge you $69-$79 for the same high-speed service, and limit you to a pathetic 5GB of data. Go over that limit, and you would be hit with overage charges so steep that your bill would end up close to $250. Do it regularly, and service providers reserved the right to throttle your speed, or in some cases, terminate your service altogether. Such was the case of mobile broadband in the U.S.

Enter Virgin Mobile. Using the Sprint 3G CDMA network to piggy-back off, the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 gives you the same good coverage, the same fast speeds, all for an incredible $40. There is no contract - the data you get is prepaid. You buy the MiFi device up-front for $149, and use refill cards to top up your account in advance. $40 buys you an unlimited bucket of 3G sweetness good for 30 days. Alternatively, you can get a $10 refill good for 10 days that offers 100MB - plenty for checking up on stuff for a weekend trip. And therein lies the beauty of the prepaid data plans - you use them whenever you need to. You're not obligated to paying any money per month if you don't need 3G.

Included with the MiFi is a set-up guide, USB cable, battery, power adapter for charging off AC and a carry pouch. Charging the battery takes a good four hours, so you'll need to plug the MiFi to AC and leave it there before you can set it up.

Once done, hit up the Virgin Mobile website to set up and configure your MiFi and data account. I had difficulty activating mine, but the Virgin Mobile customer support was great at helping me get service up and running. You can easily top-up your account online and manage payments from here as well. One thing the package doesn't include is a manual, but the website points you to this link where the full PDF manual can be found. I would strongly recommend downloading and using this to set up your device, as it offers far more information about the MiFi and better instructions than the included setup-guide.

Coverage was solid at my home location and elsewhere I have been with all 5 bars showing. Battery life seems to approach the 4 hours quoted, but it's unclear how much power you will save by disabling the LED's. As for speeds, the MiFi won't be breaking any records, comparable to basic 768kbps DSL only. But the fact that you are no longer tied to a cord, or wifi location, to get that speed makes the $40 Virgin Mobile solution a great bang for the buck.

Would I dump my DSL service in favor of the Virgin Mobile solution? That's a tough call. Obviously, speed is a factor, especially if you have 6MB DSL at home, have a family using multiple computers or like to hog HD video. Another thing to consider is price, since basic DSL can be had for as little as $15/month. But for single users with just one laptop, and who may be using basic cheap DSL, making the trade may be worth it, especially given the freedom a pay-as-you-go, unlimited 3G bucket can provide.

For those that pay $80 for their 3G today, are tied to a contract, face a restrictive 5GB cap, or have ever been screwed with overage charges, the decision is a no-brainer!

Mobile road warriors are sure to flock to Virgin Mobile and sign up for service as this falls right up their alley. Likewise, casual users will also be inclined to sign up, and use it whenever they need 3G on the go. It's a great alternative to wifi hotspots too, since you no longer have to hunt for a place where you can get your work done.

The provided USB cable lets you plug the MiFi into your computer if you're on an all-day internet binge, but serves no real purpose IMO. It takes very long to charge the MiFi this way (7-8 hours), so functions more like a battery-drain-prevention step. Ideally, the supplied AC adapter should be used to charge the MiFi at the end of a heavy day. Plugging in lets you set up drivers to use the MiFi over USB, but I have yet to verify if this works. Also, plugging in will knock the MiFi off your wireless network, so you cannot use it while charging - strange, since the unit has to be turned on to charge with the AC adapter. If you need more than 4 hours of power for the MiFi get either a second battery, or if you don't want to power down and swap, an extended capacity battery. Alternatively, you can do what I do and invest in an XP8000 power pack - something that will charge your MiFi and smartphone multiple times, wherever you may be.

UPDATE: Plugging in to a power source OTHER THAN your notebook will retain the wireless signal, so you can still use it while charging. I have verified this with my XP8000 battery.

Overall, I have to say that I am very impressed with the MiFi 2200. Virgin Mobile have offered something that was sorely absent in the 3G market, with a package and pricing that is extremely appealing. If anything, it demonstrates just how antiquated the data offerings from other service providers are. Does the push to 4G and LTE open up the market for cheap 3G in the near future? It's very possible.

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