After struggling with Virgin Mobile's broadband over 3G for a couple of weeks, I discovered a modem tweak that has completely changed my Internet experience.
Virgin Broadband uses mobile phone networks to provide users with an Internet connection and the equivalent of a land-line phone number.
One feature of the service is that, depending on the strength of the signal in the user's area, the modem will switch between three different mobile standards -- GPRS, UMTS and HSDPA.
GPRS is technically 2.5G and offers an experience similar to dial-up. UMTS is starter 3G, providing a slight step up with downlinks of 384Kbps while HSDPA, known as 3.5G, is the most desirable, with a current potential download speed of 3.6Mbps.
This switching feature does have its uses -- when you are in an area outside 3G coverage, the service will drop down to GPRS and still remain connected to the Internet.
However, one issue -- and, after speaking with the tech support team at Virgin, an issue that affects lots of people -- is that the 3G signal is relatively weak inside buildings, causing the modem to stick with a "safe" GPRS link instead of risking a more challenging 3G connection.
On my modem's connection status page, the signal strength floats between -85db and -103db.
I hate GPRS. It makes downloading large files painful and I struggled even using Web sites like Gmail and Facebook -- YouTube was impossible.
An important fact is that a very weak 3G connection is still about six times faster than GPRS, so in most cases it is better to kill the GPRS altogether and force the modem to stick with 3G.
Luckily, Virgin's modems can be set to do just that.
The process takes about one minute and for me, it made a world of difference.
Follow the steps below and see how you go:
- Connect to the modem management console (192.168.1.1) and log in.
- Make sure the Internet is not currently connected (either press the connect button on the top of the modem or click the disconnect button in the console).
- Click on the Connection Settings icon.
- Click Network Connections.
- Click WAN Cellular.
- Click on the Settings button.
- Scroll down to "Network Type" and select "UMTS only".
- Click the Apply button. When the page reloads press OK.
Now your modem will ignore the GPRS signal so you have to beware of two things.
Firstly, because your modem is now set to ignore GPRS, it will only connect in 3G, which means if your 3G signal is extremely weak, instead of switching to dial-up speeds, the connection will cut out completely.
Secondly, watch those download limits. When my signal was mainly GPRS the amount of bandwidth being used was minimal and it seemed I would never be able to use up my 4GB limit. But with a continuous 3G connection, those megabits just fly through the sky.