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Try Pre-Paid Mobile Broadband for Occasional 3G Data Usage

John Federico

Nice, eh?For the past two years I've been using Verizon Mobile Broadband and while it works great most of the time, I don't use it often enough to justify the monthly fee (~ $60). So, when my contract was up, I decided to explore my options. Here's what I found.

Pre-Paid Mobile Broadband

Pre-Paid Mobile Broadband works similarly to Pre-Paid Cell Phones, except there's no voice service inolved:  you pay for a set amount of data usage which expires after a set period. (Usually a month, but the period can be as short as one day.)

I thought I might just continue with Verizon Wireless, but they want $15/day for 100 MB, $30/week for 300 MB, $50/month for 1 GB or $80/month for 5 GB!

Obviously, they want to provide impetus for you to sign a contract and the $80/month fee certainly might have that effect. Or, you can simply leave Verizon (and AT&T, which has similar pricing) behind.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile's rates are much more reasonable at $30/month for 1 GB but I found technical issues - they haven't yet updated the drivers for OS X Lion for their Rocket 4G USB dongle.

I discovered this the hard way, too.

The T-Mobile e-commerce site says "Supports Mac OS X 10.4 or Higher" but at the moment, that's just wishful thinking on their part. After ordering it and trying to set it up, T-Mobile support told me that they have no idea when the drivers will be updated for Lion. (No wonder they included an RMA label in the box...)

Virgin Mobile USA

Finally, I tried Virgin Mobile.

Virgin Mobile Broadband is an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) that runs on the Sprint PCS network. Given that Sprint won the 2008 Gizmodo 3G Mobile Broadband shootout, that was a definite plus when I started looking for new service. (Granted, a lot has changed since that 2008 test, but it stuck in my mind.)

I ordered their Novatel Wireless Ovation MC760 USB dongle and guess what? Same problem as T-Mobile. The arrival date for the OS X Lion driver update is "unknown".

At the time, I chose the Novatel Wireless USB dongle over their Novatel Wireless MiFI 2200 device since 1) it was significantly less expensive and 2) it would work well with my existing setup, which allows me to use my 3G wireless adapter with my iPad.

I sent it back and yesterday, instead of ordering a new device directly from Virgin Mobile, I stopped off at Walmart to pick up the MiFI since it was the best price I could find.

I'm glad I did.

Virgin Mobile's standard pricing is already very reasonable: 100/mb for 10 days is just $10 or, you can pay $20/month for 500 MB and $50/month for unlmited data. Not bad.

Walmart however, the retail juggernaut that it is, was able to negotiate a special deal with Virgin Mobile: $20/month for 1 GB of data (see image below).

That's the absolute best deal in mobile broadband, pre-paid or otherwise.

Taking a look at the Sprint 3G Mobile Broadband coverage map, this looks like it will be an excellent way for me to stay connected in the New York City area and for when I travel domestically.

What do you use for 3G Mobile Broadband?