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Web Access Without Wires -- Or Contracts

Not all of my stories move through the editorial machinery in a straight line. For example, today's column was once supposed to cover two new aspects of prepaid wireless service: unlimited-calling plans and wireless-data options.

The former intrigued me because of how much less they cost than the all-you-can-talk plans of the nationwide, subscription-based carriers. For example, Sprint subsidiary Boost Mobile charges $50 for an unlimited calling/texting/Web access option; its corporate parent charges twice that much for its "Simply Everything" plan (though that includes much faster Internet access and a few extras unavailable to Boost users, such as video and music services). And Cricket Wireless charges as little as $35 for unlimited calling and texting -- though that doesn't include Web access.

But then I quickly learned that I couldn't fit both reviews into the space budgeted for my column. I also realized that there isn't much to say about a particular calling service; it pretty much works or it doesn't, subject to variations in individual phones. And most phones offered by prepaid services are plain models, the kind that beep distractingly when you press every button and can't take a sharp photo unless you hold them steady for the next several seconds. (Note to Boost's PR folks: Sorry!)

So that part of the review fell away, leaving me with the evaluation of Virgin Mobile and Cricket's data services.

Both have non-trivial issues. Virgin's rates and limited bandwidth allotments limit its service to occasional use (though at least Virgin tells you how much of your quota is left, a feat that has eluded the talents of some land-based providers imposing bandwidth caps). Cricket's scant coverage and confusing presentation of its service may discourage other potential users -- and, to judge from this long thread at, its quality can be all over the map.

But each provides a viable answer for a question I've been getting more often: How can I buy temporary Internet access when I'm on vacation or traveling?

That's good. The subscription services ought to take the hint: Either offer cheaper, short-term deals (Verizon Wireless's $15-for-24-hours "DayPass" makes hotel Wi-Fi look cheap, which isn't easy to do) or make it simpler to tether a smartphone to a laptop, then pay only for use above the phone's regular quota.

Meanwhile, I'd like to hear from people who have tried Virgin or Cricket's broadband services: How have they worked for you? Would you recommend them to a friend, or just an enemy?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 11, 2009; 10:19 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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Next: What I Uploaded for My Summer Vacation


Try For dialup speed the price is $6/10 hours. It's a good service. I tried it.

Posted by: byron11 | September 12, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Virgin broadband is a good service for salespeople that need to demo software products. My salesperson makes frequent visits to physician offices to demo billing software. Usually offices have broadband but you would have to deal with setting up connections (security, access, etc). So we use Virgin to ensure a connection w/out issue. For $20/month, we can make 10-12 demos vs. paying major carriers rates and signing up for a contract. Has worked well. Just wish it was the Mifi product instead so we could use at conventions for multiple PCs.

Posted by: tigerventures | September 12, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

I realize it's a bit of a post hijack to talk dialup, but $6 for 10 hours is insane. is $5 for a month. Not too shabby, and it's what I use when I'm wireless-less.

I guess the connection is that yes, some sort of affordable, pay-when-you-need-it service would definitely hit a sweet spot.

Posted by: WorstSeat | September 12, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm a dope. It's not $6 for the next 10 hours, a la wireless plans at a hotel, but 10 hours that you can use at any time between now and a year from now.

Not nearly so bad a deal, though I usually like to stay online with email & IM running for hours on end, even when I'm dialing up. /shrug

Posted by: WorstSeat | September 12, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

It irritates me to stay at a "full-service" hotel like a Hyatt or Marriott and then be charged $10/night or more for internet access, when I can stay at a lower cost hotel, such as a Marriott Courtyard, and have free internet access. Why not just increase the cost of the room and have "free" access?

Posted by: ffxkid | September 12, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Verizon offers a $15/month plan that allows you to use a smartphone as a tethered modem. It's not broadband-fast and there is a limited amount of data per month, but for my purposes, it works well on vacation or when I am traveling and don't have access to free Wi-Fi.

Posted by: pattiea1 | September 15, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

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