Virgin Mobile Broadband WiFi modem

This WiFi modem/router works well and provides great value on some plans, but we're still left wanting better performance out of Virgin Mobile's actual broadband.


8.7
CNET Rating
3.8
User Rating


Design

Virgin's latest offering in the ultra-competitive mobile broadband space is, it has to be said, not much of a looker. It rather resembles the much older Huawei "Soap On A Rope" style USB modems hat used to permeate the non-Telstra wireless broadband space, and indeed with the supplied mini USB cable, you could use it in exactly that way.

That's not the point of the Mobile WiFi modem, which could more accurately be labelled as a Mobile WiFi modem/router. It's designed to run off what is essentially a mobile phone battery, and provide up to three Wi-Fi clients with 3G broadband access. The front of the modem bears Virgin Mobile branding and a small display with four indicator lights, for power, mobile signal strength, Wi-Fi and connection status. The right-hand side of the modem has buttons for power, Wi-Fi/WPS and mobile connection, while the left-hand side houses a microSD card slot. The modem can take up to 32GB microSD cards when connected via USB if you wanted it to double as a portable flash drive.

Features

While it's prominently Virgin Mobile branded, the modem itself is a Huawei E5832 providing a top download speed of 7.2Mbps over HSUPA/HSDPA/UMTS 2100/900MHz and EDGE/GPRS/GSM 1900/1800/900/850MHz frequencies. On the wireless front it's an 802.11b/g critter only — it'd be hoping for a bit too much to expect 802.11n, we guess. The internal battery is rated at a 1500mAh, which is rated for continuous operation of four to five hours.

Performance

Set-up of the WiFi modem was mostly hassle free, although you do have to make sure that the SIM within the modem is already activated, or sit through a rather lengthy online sign-up process from another net-connected machine. One nice aspect of the modem is that it comes with wireless security pre-enabled via a randomly printed SSID and WEP key printed on the modem body itself, underneath the battery. WEP's not terribly secure, of course, and mobile bandwidth is rather expensive, so we'd suggest using WEP only to set up the modem, and then switching to WPA/WPA2, which the modem supports from a web interface.

By default the modem's meant to attempt to connect automatically as soon as it has signal, but in our tests we found it often struggled with that step unless we manually hit the dial button. Speaking of buttons, we quickly came to the conclusion that it was a pity there wasn't a dedicated on/off switch, rather than a button. To conserve battery power the display switches itself off pretty quickly, which sounds sensible, but the only way to bring it back up without disconnecting either wireless broadband or Wi-Fi is to hit the power button. It's pretty easy to leave the unit on (or fail to switch it off correctly) and more than once we went to use it only to find it was flat because we'd only had the screen off, not the whole modem.

There's an obvious comparison point between the WiFi modem and a more conventional USB Wireless Broadband modem, but what we quickly worked out — beyond the obvious three-client nature of the modem — were the peculiar little advantages that having the modem gave us.

For a start, if you're using a USB modem in any public place, and especially on public transport, it's always at risk of breakage if somebody bumps into it. We could place the WiFi modem into a pocket and it still worked comfortably with a variety of laptops. It also sneakily enabled us to use theoretically 3G-only applications, such as Skype, on an iPhone 3GS connected via Wi-Fi. Just to make your head hurt, that's using a 3G phone connected via Wi-Fi to a 3G Wireless broadband service to perform functions that are technically prohibited from working on 3G.

The real bugbear for this particular product still lies in the somewhat flaky nature of the Virgin Mobile Broadband network. Virgin's an Optus subsidiary, and anyone with an iPhone would be familiar with how variable the Optus network can be. We certainly hit that with the WiFi modem, which lurched from a top download speed of around 2Mbps at peak to a low of around 150Kbps at worst, sometimes dropping out in-between. For what it's worth, Virgin Mobile says it'll unlock the modem once an initial AU$80 recharge is paid out, so there's scope there for usage on other networks, at least potentially speaking.

The Mobile WiFi modem will initially only be available through Dick Smith Stores with a variety of prepaid options. At the base line these are fairly ordinary — AU$15 buys you 500MB to use within 30 days, for example — but there's one deal that did catch our attention. AU$149 will buy you 10GB usage, which doesn't sound great, but you'll have 365 days to use it. Breaking that down into a per-month usage as long as your needs were modest, you could get wireless broadband access for a super-cheap AU$12.41 per month, with 833MB to use each month. That's very affordable for wireless broadband — as long as it works.



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Chris RE Facebook
1
Rating
 

"I'm a sucker"

Chris RE posted a review   

The Good:looks pretty!

The Bad:everthing else

Needed a temporary Wi Fi, saw this in the shop and thought it would be Ok because 'Virgin' is supposed to be a modern, user friendly, go ahead mob.
Turns out to be a load of expensive rubbish-speeds inconsistent, works ok on odd occasions, but mostly is like watching paint dry!
I think Virgin should reimburse anyone who bought this as they have mislead us by making false performance claims for their product.
Look for something else-anything would have to be an improvement.

duckcreek
1
Rating
 

"terrible"

duckcreek posted a review   
Australia

The Good:nothing

The Bad:everything

the greatest load of crap i have ever been involved with ,the amount of dropouts is huge.
the unfortunate part for me i am still locked in for another 18 months.
crap

Patster
7
Rating
 

"Suits some"

Patster posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Portable

The Bad:Performance varies.

I got this about 1 year ago. Its obviously pretty weak compared to a wired land line but you can take it out and about with you.

As far as coverage goes, its been OK. I have used it in 5 or 6 different places. Some places are better than others but at least I could check my email.

I don't download anything too huge with this. Some 30-40 meg applications for my Mac. Watching youtube or anything with video will eat up your bandwidth quickly.

I mainly use it for text emails and rss feeds which don't consume much bandwidth. Running through a compression proxy (like fastun.com) will also get you another 20% or so.

It sometimes turns itself off and needs to reconnected manually to the net. I think there is a firmware update but I haven't done this myself.

The batteries give it about 3 hours uptime. This is enough to get the news and your email for a couple of days. It doesn't seem to keep the charge in the battery for more than 2 days.

Overall I am pretty happy with the unit but I didn't mind playing around with it. If you are a computer newbie I wouldn't recommend it as you might get annoyed with pressing the buttons on the unit itself to get it going. Also I would somehow make sure that you have virgin coverage in your area.

I bought the 12gb for $150 package which does me for about 4 months. For the same money you could probably get a landline with much better performance but obviously that isn't mobile.

For gaming, Forget it! Tried it with Black Ops and it was a waste of time. Maybe something like StarCraft would perform better. Ping times are huge and wildly variable.

I don't regularly watch videos with it but have tried it. You can watch youtube, but there are some delays. Have also downloaded a file or 2 using bittorrent. Slow but you eventually get the file.

Overall, if you want a simple connection I would steer away. There is a small learning curve. If you are a bit computer savvy and patient this offers OK performance but it is mobile. I have used it with a couple of devices. Mac osx, win7 and an itouch. No problems there.

Service has been OK with me. I had a problem setting it up initially. The sim card goes in the opposite direction than normal. Found that out by myself after 2 hours with tech support. Recharging is painless online and the overseas support (Philippines) is good.

Because its prepaid you will have to get some kind of internet usage monitor. I use net monitor gadget on win7 and surplus on OSX. There may be better ones but they are free and work for me. If you don't get a monitor you will probably see your quota used up pretty quick.

I saw the negative comments here and can understand where they are coming from. Just adding my 2 cents worth.

VIRGINVICTOM
1
Rating
 

"A.M. RAIDO WORKS BETTER"

VIRGINVICTOM posted a review   

The Good:FITS UNDER ANY SHOE SIZE TO SMASH

The Bad:I WASDUMB ENOUGHT TO BUY IT..AN ALL NEW LOW FOR ME.

WORKS BEST WHEN ITS TURNED OFF.SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT IS A LOT LESS PAINFUL.THIS IS A PICE OF **** AND A SCAM.DO NOT BUY THIS CRAPY WANNA BE WIRELESS JUNK.

FWCorey
1
Rating
 

"Better than nothing.. a little."

FWCorey posted a review   
Australia

The Good:I'm thinking...

The Bad:Connection drop outs, discharges battery while plugged in to USB if online

If you don't have to crawl through broken glass or walk across hot coals to get to a hotspot.. then avoid this thing like the plague.
If you got it as a gift.. regift it to your worst enemy.

foursongclassic
2
Rating
 

foursongclassic posted a review   

The Good:WHEN it works, it works.

The Bad:Charging is a nightmare. Not so mobile. No wall charger?! STAY AWAY.

Had the same issues as Matti. Got it online, arrived the next day, 5 days later the data on my "8Gb" plan has run out and I'd barely used it. Call Virgin who thought I must have under estimated my usage and were quite rude until they found "SOME HOW" my plan was listed on their end as 1Gb and that I would have to wait until the next day for it to reset the usage onto the full 8Gb.

Despite initial dramas it tends to work well, HOWEVER, I can barely use it as I need to spend most of the time charging it to get just a few hours of use out of it. Charging whilst connected is a joke as it tends to use more power then it pulls from the computer. Not very portable at all.

Ended up having to go back to my Virgin USB dongle with the new SIM card and using this only when I needed to connect another device, which is a pain, since this was the reason I purchased it in the first place!

DO NOT BUY! STAY AWAY!

karfor
1
Rating
 

karfor posted a review   

I bought a broadband usb to use on vscation directly from virgin mobile. The unit did not work consistently and when it did hook up it went to someone else's account. They would not replace the defective unit because I had not set up an account but that is kind of hard to do when it consistently went to someone else's account. When I asked for a refund they hung up on me.

clovelly user
1
Rating
 

clovelly user posted a review   

The Good:None

The Bad:Dreadful, broken, time-waster

Just a hopeless piece of junk which is a disgrace to sell. Kept dropping connections. Virgin's help desk is usually shut. When you get through, they are rude and insist black is white. Haven't a clue. The written documentation is a joke. The website is even worse, if it can be believed. Buttons on the modem are tiddly and confusing.

I just switched to Telestra and the diference is a world apart. Just don't waste your time with Virgin.

 

Blasko posted a comment   

Virgin's mobile broadband is rubbish. They are providing very little bandwidth so even in good reception areas there will often be very very slow performance and drop outs.

It is beyond understanding that there is a national regulator but Australian communications companies are permitted to provide third rate service and engage in deceptive marketing and pricing practices.


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User Reviews / Comments  Virgin Mobile Broadband WiFi modem

  • Chris RE

    Chris RE

    Rating1

    "Needed a temporary Wi Fi, saw this in the shop and thought it would be Ok because 'Virgin' is supposed to be a modern, user friendly, go ahead mob.
    Turns out to be a load of expensive rubbish..."

  • duckcreek

    duckcreek

    Rating1

    "the greatest load of crap i have ever been involved with ,the amount of dropouts is huge.
    the unfortunate part for me i am still locked in for another 18 months.
    crap"

  • Patster

    Patster

    Rating7

    "I got this about 1 year ago. Its obviously pretty weak compared to a wired land line but you can take it out and about with you.

    As far as coverage goes, its been OK. I have used it in..."

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