3G wireless data goes pay as you go - Virgin's Broadband 2 Go

A trek in the family truckster from the Boston area down to Myrtle Beach, S.C., last week not only gave me the chance for rest and relaxation (well, after the drive), but also the opportunity to test out some Internet access devices.

I decided to bring a laptop on the trip for general Web access (personal e-mail, not work), but I didn't know what the Internet access options would be like during the road trip and at our vacation spot.

There's good news on that front -- I'm used to business travel where hotels charge $15 or more for 24 hours of Internet access, both wired and wireless. So it was a nice surprise to see that many motor lodges and non-business hotels (scattered along Interstate 95) offer free Wi-Fi to guests. Still, there were some spots along the way where a 3G wireless card was necessary, so it was nice that I had some other options to test, including:

The scoop: Broadband2Go, by Virgin Mobile USA, about $150 (plus pre-paid megabyte plan).

What it is: Prepaid wireless access on cell phones has been around for many years, but it hadn't crossed over to the broadband data side until now. The Broadband2Go package from Virgin Mobile USA offers a Novatel Wireless USB modem (the Ovation MC760) and a quick plug-and-play installation. Instead of a monthly plan, users buy a bunch of megabytes. For $10, you get 10 days of access and 100MB. For $60, it increases to 30 days and 1GB of space.

Why it's cool: A lot of workers don't travel enough to justify a monthly contract for other broadband cards. For example, I travel only a couple of times over a six-month period, with some months where I don't need broadband access at all. For those travelers, a prepaid broadband plan makes sense. Like the phone plans, users can "top off" and add minutes via cash (buying top-off cards), credit or debit cards.

Some caveats: Installation was easy, but I had difficulty activating the initial modem (activating via the 1xRTT network timed out the site many times).

Grade: 3.5 stars

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