Virgin Mobile's cheap Hotspot

Your Own Hot Spot, and Cheap


You can just leave the thing in your pocket, your laptop bag or your purse to pump out a fresh Internet signal to everyone within 30 feet, for four hours on a charge of the removable battery. You’re instantly online whenever you fire up your laptop, netbook, Wi-Fi camera, game gadget, iPhone or iPod Touch.

The MiFi released by Virgin Mobile this week ($150) is almost exactly the same thing as the one offered by Verizon and, until recently, Sprint — but there’s a twist that makes it revolutionary all over again.

The Virgin MiFi, like its rivals, is still an amazing gizmo to have on long car rides for the family, on woodsy corporate offsite meetings, at disaster sites, at trade show booths or anywhere you can’t get Wi-Fi. If you live alone, the MiFi could even be your regular home Internet service, too — one that you can take with you when you head out the door. And it’s still insanely useful when you’re stuck on a plane on a runway.

But three things about the Virgin MiFi are very, very different. First, Virgin’s plan is unlimited. You don’t have to sweat through the month, hoping you don’t exceed the standard 5-gigabyte data limit, as you do with the cellular-modem products from Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. (If you exceed 5 gigabytes, you pay steep per-megabyte overage charges, or in T-Mobile’s case, you get your Internet speed slowed down for the rest of the month.)

If you hadn’t noticed, unlimited-data plans are fast disappearing — but here’s Virgin, offering up an unlimited Internet plan as if it never got the memo.

Second, Virgin requires no contract. You can sign up for service only when you need it. In other words, it’s totally O.K. with Virgin if you leave the thing in your drawer all year, and activate it only for, say, the two summer months when you’ll be away. That’s a huge, huge deal in this era when every flavor of Internet service, portable or not, requires a two-year commitment.

Third, the service price for this no-commitment, unlimited, portable hot spot is — are you sitting down? — $40 a month.

That’s no typo. It’s $40 a month. Compare that with the cheapest cellular modems from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint: $60 a month. T-Mobile also charges $40 a month for its cellular modems. But all four of those big companies require a two-year contract, and come with those scary 5-gigabyte monthly data limits.

(There’s actually another Virgin plan available, too: you can pay $10 for a 100-megabyte chunk of Internet use that expires in 10 days. It’s intended for people who are heading out for the weekend and just want to keep in touch with e-mail without having to fork over a whole month’s worth of money — and without paying $15 or $25 for each night of overpriced hotel Wi-Fi. And speaking of options, Virgin also offers a standard U.S.B. plug-in cellular modem with exactly the same pricing details.)

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