Virgin Mobile Broadband USB Modem

Virgin's mobile broadband service offers good value, but its performance is erratic

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Virgin Mobile Australia Broadband USB Modem
  • Virgin Mobile Australia Broadband USB Modem
  • Virgin Mobile Australia Broadband USB Modem
  • Virgin Mobile Australia Broadband USB Modem
  • Expert Rating

    3.00 / 5

Pros

  • Competitive price, plug and play, microSD card slot for file storage, simple software

Cons

  • Erratic performance, below average speed

Bottom Line

The Virgin Broadband service offers decent value, but performance is a notch below many of the competitors. Pricing is flexible and the prepaid deals are a good option, but if you're after speed then there are plenty of alternatives.

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As mobile broadband prices fall and data allowances rise, it has become a cost-effective option for many travellers, or even those who aren't able to get fixed line services at home. Virgin Mobile is one of the cheapest telcos in Australia, and its mobile broadband packages offer similar value to its mobile phone plans — just don't expect great speeds.

The Virgin Broadband service has theoretical maximum speeds of 7.2 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads, but just 384 kilobits per second (Kbps) for uploads. Of course, these speeds are never seen in real life. The actual speed will vary depending on a number of factors such as the device capabilities, your location and equipment, as well as network usage at the time. Virgin uses the Optus 3G network for reception, so speeds and coverage should be similar to Optus devices. Virgin claims that typical download speeds should range from 600Kbps to 1.5Mbps.

The Virgin Broadband service supports connectivity in HSDPA, 3G (UMTS) and GPRS coverage areas. If the HSDPA signal isn't strong enough, the service falls back to standard 3G (a maximum speed of 384Kbps). If no HSDPA or 3G signal can be received, then the modem will revert to standard GSM (60Kbps maximum).

Virgin's USB modem is manufactured by Huawei and is simular to many other USB modems on the market. The software required to use the service is installed on the USB device itself. This means much more flexibility in terms of using the unit on multiple computers, as you don't need to carry a software CD around with you. The matte black finish with the Virgin logo is a nice touch, as is the small LED that denotes network status. When plugged in the USB key wiggles around in its port and feels unsteady. A microSD memory card slot means the unit can be used as a regular USB key for file storage.

During testing, the Virgin Broadband service performed erratically. When we received a HSDPA signal, the speed was fair, and we managed to achieve download speeds of up to 1.3Mbps, using our Broadband Speed Test. However, the coverage often jumped from HSDPA to 3G and even GPRS — despite our test notebook remaining in the same position. 3G download speeds hovered around 850Kbps, but, predictably, the service is barely useable when it drops to GPRS, struggling to download at speeds faster than 100Kbps. When the modem maintained an HSDPA signal, we had no problems with basic Web browsing, watching YouTube videos and downloading files.

The Virgin Broadband software included on the USB key is basic but easy to use. It is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X, and only took a couple of minutes to install. The statistics tab allows you to keep track of your connection, including its duration, the volume of data sent and received, and total downloaded and uploaded data.

Virgin Broadband plans are some of the most competitive on the market, starting at just $19 per month for 1GB of data and ranging up to $29 (2GB) and $39 (5GB) plans over 24 months. On top of this, the $19 and $29 plans have a device repayment of $5 per month, with the $39 plan having no repayments. The plans don't have any cost penalty for additional usage; instead Virgin caps your speed at 354Kbps for the remainder of the month. A prepaid plan is also available, which costs $129 outright. Virgin also offers a prepaid "BYO" deal for people who already one a mobile broadband modem. For more information on plans and pricing, see Virgin's Web site.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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