2011 Prepaid Mobile Broadband Comparison

Prepaid Mobile Broadband

In this review, I’ll cover the following prepaid mobile broadband options with national 3G coverage:

  • AT&T
  • Cricket
  • DataJack
  • Millenicom
  • ReadyBroadband
  • Verizon
  • 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

(click for larger image)

*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:

  1. Occasional Use (like traditional prepaid cell phones (when your prepaid credit / data runs out, you can buy more if needed).
  2. 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.

 

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How To Get The Most Out Of This Review: Data Calculators

  1. Figure out how much data you need using at least one of the following data calculators
  2. Decide whether you’ll be using prepaid mobile broadband occasionally or regularly.
  3. Read the entire review paying closest attention to your category.
 AT&T Data Calculator  verizon-data-calculator

 

 

Occasional Use

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.

Virgin Mobile 3G Internet at home or on the go.  Broadband2Go

 

Regular Use

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

 

 

Download Speed

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.

 

Coverage

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.


So Who Do I Get?3G Internet at home or on the go.  Broadband2Go

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

 

Not Sure?

Check out the respective reviews of each prepaid mobile broadband provider featured:

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16 Comments

  1. Wayne foutz says:


    I have Virgin. yeah they throttle, but when throttled, I’m still getting 250 – 300 mbps, which is plenty fast enough for me. On the other hand, I bought in before the cap was placed so I don’t see the throttle until 5 gigs.


  2. JohnFx says:


    Until recently I was using the Millenicom unlimited plan (Sprint was the carrier) and was quite happy with it. I was EXTREMELY skeptical about whether it was really unlimited based on all the trickery the other 3g providers have been up to, but I used the heck out of it and never heard a peep from them or noticed any throttling.

    The only reason I’m not still using them is that Sprint coverage at my home is just too spotty. I knew going into it that using the service with one flickering bar of Sprint service might be a dicey affair, but I didn’t care. I just hated HughesNet that much. Almost always (even during “peak times”) I got speeds reasonably close to those advertised with the plan, but alas I just couldn’t live with the reliability of being in a borderline coverage area and an external antenna didn’t help.

    I would wholeheartedly recommend Millinecom to anyone who has at least 2 bars of signal on the Sprint network and is otherwise stuck with satellite.


  3. Steven Cutler says:


    I have Sprint unlimited 4G (using a Sierra Hot Spot) for $59 per month, plus tax of course. Any reason you didn’t review that?


  4. Steven Cutler says:


    Nevermind, just occurred to me: these are no contracts…I’m locked in for two years.


  5. Paul Loiselle says:


    I have used Verizon and Virgin Mobile. No problems with Verizon. There is always some sort of drama with Virgin Mobile. The latest was their service was down, tech support had no knowledge even though the opening recording mentioned it. My USB modem was not being recognized by my computer, they sent me a new one which worked, returned old one in their envelope to have them say they never received it. Now I get an email every couple days telling me to return my cell phone or my service will be canceled. They tell me to call them, but try getting by the automated part to talk to someone is almost impossible. The only way I have found to get by it is to swear at it. Of course the number in the email is for cell service not Broadband to go.

    Virgin Mobile sucks.


  6. wayne foutz says:


    Paul is right, to some extent. My only complaint with Virgin is once every month, sometimes every other month. Virgin will take their network down nation wide for maintenance. Sprint does this as well, but usually between 2 and 5 am where few people notice, and not on a national scale. Not so with Virgin. It’s usually Sunday or Monday, prime time, it will go down for a few hours. It’s only a minor inconvenience for me though.


  7. Susan Loki says:


    I’ve had Cricket broadband for a few years and it is a very reliable service. I can go online pretty much anywhere in my city. The downside is that you can’t watch any videos on it. The speed and gig cap simply don’t allow it. And it doesn’t matter if you get the $40 plan or the $60 plan ($65? They must have increased the price)- the performance is pretty much the same.


  8. Beth says:


    I am coming to LA/Salt Lake City from Australia for three weeks, where we are staying charges for the internet. Can anyone advise who would be best for pre paid wireless internet broadband without contracts? Also have an iphone and would like to get a sim card.
    Thanks
    Beth


  9. Dave J says:


    As a “marginal reception area” dweller (in E. WA)I have tried Verizon (fail, and an arguement when I brought it back), ATT (best speed but the hard 5gig limit didn’t work for online school. Turns out they cut you off completely at 5, then you have to call and it jumps to $50/gig for the overage). So, back to Cricket with a 7.5gig soft limit.

    I have also been doing signal surveys and installing antennas/amps. To use 3G you need a RSS of 90db or less (lower # is higher strength). Typically I see 100 – 115db and can improve that to 60-80 with a yagi antenna and 50db amp.


  10. Bill A says:


    n00b here, looking for advice on an occasional use card.

    I’m headed to the NC mountains for 10 days next month, and need access. I have two laptops: XP for work and Win7 for play.

    I know that wifi access is available but spotty, and if I drive around I should be able to get online. But I’d really rather sit in the cabin instead of my car.

    I don’t know how these cards work, never had one, and I need your help. Will one of the (USB) prepaid cards work for me?


  11. Bill A says:


    Please disregard with apologies. I posted prematurely. After spending time reading the beyond-helpful content of this excellent site, I have answered my own questions.

    Thanks anyway.


  12. Nia says:


    I’m traveling to Michigan for 2 weeks and need access. I will be staying with relatives who do not have Internet access but I need to logon to my company’s server and work 8 hours from their home everyday. Are you any of these prepaid cards going to allow me to do this? If so, which card would you recommend?


  13. Jimbo says:


    GOOD work! Wondering, does T-Mobile have absolutely NO offering for prepaid data? Just odd they were missing. Otherwise, fabulous data, good conclusions. Makes choosing a LOT easier.


  14. Cory Leopard says:


    Great clarification. I love to read it IMDB


  15. Anshul says:


    Thank you for putting together such detailed information. I was struggling to decide on which one to go for, what the differences are, and most of all needed some expert opinion. Your website helped me decide, and I ordered Cricket via a link on your website as a gesture of whatever little I can do to contribute. Thanks!


  16. Nomad says:


    T-Mobile does have very economical pre-paid mobile broadband service and hardware (especially when it’s on sale). Wal-Mart recently started selling a pre-paid $35 – 3.5GB month pass card http://www.walmart.com/ip/T-Mobile-35-Prepaid-Mobile-Broadband-Pass-3.5GB-60-Day/20896235 that works for 60 days if you buy the hardware from Walmart, Otherwise it’s valid for the usual month just like the $35 3.5GB cards from T-Mobile. T-Mobile also has a $25 1.5GB card and a $15 300MB card that they often bundle with their laptop sticks and hotspots. Considering that T-Mobile has relatively fast 3G (over a large coverage area) and respectable 4G speed in a lot of cities, I think T-Mobile is the leader in pre-paid mobile broaband for people who this only when that travel.


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