In this review, I’ll cover the following prepaid mobile broadband options with national 3G coverage:
- Virgin Mobile
Disclosure: Mobile Broadband Reviews is an affiliate of Cricket & Virgin Mobile. Purchasing through these links do support the site
Prepaid Mobile Broadband Comparison
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*Virgin Mobile Broadband advertises unlimited mobile broadband with the T-Mobile-esque caveat of speed throttling after you use more than 2.5 GB. In short, it’s 2.5 GB and/or unlimited mobile broadband with an asterisk.
**Millenicom’s 10 GB $80 plan is exclusive to 3G/4G mobile hotspots
Prepaid Mobile Broadband Plans
Last year, prepaid mobile broadband providers could be separated into 2 categories:
- Occasional Use (like traditional prepaid cell phones (when your prepaid credit / data runs out, you can buy more if needed).
- Regular Use (you’ll pay for the service a month at a time, similar to postpaid cellphone plans, instead of refreshing your credit when it runs out).
Since then, ‘occasional use’ providers have increased the amount of data offered such that they teeter on the edge of the ‘regular use’ category if you’re a light mobile broadband user.
How To Get The Most Out Of This Review: Data Calculators
- Figure out how much data you need using at least one of the following data calculators
- Decide whether you’ll be using prepaid mobile broadband occasionally or regularly.
- Read the entire review paying closest attention to your category.
Virgin Mobile plans beat the competition hands down.
At the 100 MB tier, it’s only $10 and at the 500 MB tier, it’s only $20 and for 2.5 GB it’s $50. Immediately, that’s a better value than every occasional use provider: AT&T, ReadyBroadband & Verizon.
If you need mobile broadband but not that much of it, Virgin is the clear choice.
When it comes to regular use, Virgin isn’t quite the formidable opponent to other providers.
At the 2.5 GB level, Cricket ($45) beats Virgin ($50) on price by $5. Since both Virgin and Cricket throttle speeds once you pass their data cap, these plans are identical.
At the 5 GB level, DataJack ($50) wins out against Cricket ($55), Millenicom ($60) and Verizon ($80).
Once you get to 7.5 GB all the way up to 20 GB, Millenicom wins unmistakably on price and data king offering 20 GB for $60, more than double the data for a cheaper price than Cricket’s 7.5 GB for $65.
When it comes to unlimited mobile broadband, things get slightly hazy.
Millenicom’s unlimited mobile broadband ($70) only has the stipulation that its for personal use and not to be shared via public WiFi or used commercially (bandwidth costs then get very high).
Virgin unlimited mobile broadband ($50) as mentioned previously, gets throttled at 2.5 GB to an unknown speed.
Unlimited: Higher Speed, Higher Price ($70): Millenicom Wins
Unlimited: Lower Speed, Lower Price ($50): Virgin Wins
For the most part, advertised 3G speeds across prepaid mobile broadband providers are pretty comparable. The real difference comes with 4G speed.
While AT&T advertises 4G speeds up to 6 Mbps, it’s important to note that you’ll need to get your hands on an unlocked 4G device at a potentially high cost from them directly since their main business is postpaid mobile broadband.
The cheaper alternative is finding such a device via eBay or Craigslist. Unfortunately, doing so, especially with the latter, runs a much higher risk of getting faulty equipment.
On the other hand, to gain access to 4G speeds with Millenicom, you can purchase a 3G/4G mobile hotspot from them directly.
In this scenario, since you’ve gotten a presumably refurbished device based on its price directly from them, you’re more likely to get it replaced if it malfunctions within a short space of time.
On top of that, it appears for 4G speed, they’ll be using Verizon 4G LTE which leaves AT&T 4G speed in the dust.
Based on their respective 3G coverage reviews, most prepaid providers using Sprint or Verizon can be expect to have decent coverage especially in urban areas. Once you leave major metropolitan areas, things become increasingly sketchy.
It’s tough to say who has the best coverage since it all depends on where you’ll be using it. Your best bet here is to review the coverage of your preferred provider so far before making the final decision.
Less than 2.5 GB | Get Virgin Mobile Broadband: $10 – $50
2.5 GB | Get Cricket: $45
5 GB | DataJack: $50
7.5 – 20 GB | Millenicom: $60
Unlimited w/High Speed, Higher Price | Millenicom: $70
Unlimited w/Lower Speed, Lower Price | Virgin Mobile Broadband: $50
Check out the respective reviews of each prepaid mobile broadband provider featured: