Mobile Broadband review

Recently, I found the need to have a wireless broadband card. This is my story.

Verizon MiFi

At first I went with a Verizon MiFi. It looked like I was going to be doing enough commuting to warrant getting a full-blown 2-year data plan. Looking at the options MiFi seemed like the obvious choice, and I was very, very right.

It’s main feature is it’s best feature. You get something about the size of three credit cards stacked together, with a power button and a Micro USB port. When you plug it into the USB port on your Mac, it mounts like a thumb drive would, with the installer right there for you to use. Install the software, activate your device, and you’re ready to go. After that, feel free to never connect it to your computer again, except to charge it’s built-in battery.

When you turn it on, it becomes a WiFi hotspot. 5 devices can connect to it, which makes it excellent for small groups, or if you have an iPhone and you’re in an area being ignored by AT&T (which is of course a majority of the country). Not having a USB dongle sticking out the side of your laptop like a little bullseye for every single hip that passes by is very comforting. They’re also easy to share among a workgroup… Once the device is activated, nobody else needs to install any software. All they have to do is connect to the WiFi network (the SSID and password are on a sticker on the bottom of the device). $60/mo gets you 5GB of transfer, and the device itself costs about $100 on a 2-year contract. I got excellent reception everywhere between Middleton and Janesville, even while traveling 65mph on the bus. I even got to use it in Chicago, but I of course expect to get reception in a major city.

Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go

After realizing that I wasn’t going to be using a device enough to justify $60/mo (and before my 30-day grace period was over) I ended up reluctantly returning my MiFi. Unfortunately Verizon’s prepaid broadband plans are extremely expensive, and their slightly cheaper monthly plan provides almost no bandwidth.

I went out and bought a Broadband2Go from Virgin Mobile. While the prepaid plans aren’t cheap, for my usage I was going to be able to spend between $0 and $40 per month, which is way cheaper. The downside is that I’ve now got a little black dongle sticking out of my computer when I’m on the road.

Installation & setup is about the same… The device is also a storage device, and it even reads microSD cards. Plug it in, there’s the installer you need, and you’re off and running. Every time you sign in, it takes you right to your Virgin Mobile account page, which might seem useful, except that it counts toward your premium-priced bandwidth allotment. Nice trick, eh? Also, this doesn’t work like prepaid cell phone plans. When you buy bandwidth, it’s only good for the time period it says. If you happen to buy more before that magic expiration date, nothing happens other than you now have more bandwidth with overlapping expiration dates… The expiration date is not extended on the first pack.

Again, reception is great along the Middleton <> Madison route, even on the bus. If you want to connect more than one device at a time, you can use Internet Sharing on your computer, but that’s about it. This device also goes for about $100, and while prepaid plans are far more expensive per MB than a monthly plan (ranging from $10 for 100MB to $60 for 1GB), keep in mind that if your usage is low, it’s probably going to cost you less per year, even if you have to shell out $120 one crazy month. Really, do the math, you might be surprised.

Both the MiFi and the Broadband2Go provided DSL-like speeds, with 1-3Mbps down and about 1Mbps up, according to my favorite speed testing website. I can handily recommend both devices and both service providers.