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June 12, 2009

Broadband On The Pay As You Go Plan

By Doug Mohney
Contributing Editor

Road warriors and corporations just got another tool in the mobile broadband toolbox, thanks to Virgin Mobile (News - Alert) USA. The MVNO is launching Broadband2Go, a variation of its prepaid cell phone service designed for online access.

If you can't justify a full-blown 12 or 24 month commitment to a 3G carrier or need to provide an occasional "Plan B (News - Alert)" alternative to WiFi connectivity, Broadband2Go is worth a look. The EVDO Rev A service, provisioned on Sprint's 3G network, requires no annual contracts, monthly subscriptions or activation fees, but you do need to purchase the MC760 Broadband2Go device, made by Novatel Wireless and in Virgin red color, for $149.99 at Best Buy Mobile. Later this summer, the MC760 will be available at airport kiosks.

At two inches long and under an ounce of weight, Broadband2Go is a USB 2.0 device that is designed work with anything running Windows, Mac, or Linux operating systems. It has an integrated microSD slot for optional storage of up to 16GB of data on the appropriately sized SD card. The antenna is designed for dual-band diversity and there's also has an option for an external antenna for those times where 5 bar coverage is lacking.

Activation and data credits are done using a credit/debit card or by using a Virgin Mobile Top-Up card of $10, $20, $40 or $60. A Broadband2Go Top-Up card costing $20 will buy about 250MB of data service good for 30 days and you can pay for up to 1 GB in advance. Customers have a real-time usage meter to monitor and check how many megabytes of download they have left and can get an approximate estimates of the types of usage – Web-browsing, email, video watching – each plan will generally handle.

How does this pricing compare to Sprint's (News - Alert) mobile data plan? Earlier this week, Sprint announced a corporate mobile data plan for $40 per month that includes 500 MB of data, with overage billed at 5 cents per megabyte – i.e. $5 for 100 MB, $20 for $200 MB. Further up the food chain, Sprint has a $60 plan with a 5 GB cap and even an $80 3G/4G plan that throws in access to WiMax networks where available – from a practical matter, WiMax is only officially useful in Baltimore right now and maybe Las Vegas and Portland if the rumors are to be believed.

Crunching the numbers, Broadband2Go's sweet spot in the corporate environment would appear to be for users who can get by with WiFi (News - Alert) access most of the time and need EVDO as the occasional "Plan B" backup when the hotel/travel connectivity might not cut it.

To be fair, Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless also offers a limited variant on the "You don't need a contract" theme last month when it rolled out its HP Mini Netbook bundle. You can purchase an EVDO-equipped netbook from Verizon at list price of $519.99 and purchase a $15 day pass for access to Verizon's 3G network. Needless to say, $15 per day can add up quick, not to mention the up front cost of the netbook.

And since we are on the top of pay as you go, Sprint's XOHM WiMax service offers a pay-as-you-go pass of $5 a day – but, as noted above, it's only good for B'more, hon.

print and Clearwire are expected to add on more WiMax cities by the end of the year, so this might be a viable option soon, especially with a XOHM USB WiMax connector pricing out at $60.

Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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