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Virgin Mobile launches 'unlimited' data plan (with some limits?)

Internet users hoping to use mobile-broadband access instead of a wired broadband connection now have two choices beyond the $60-a-month, bandwidth-capped offerings of such wireless carriers as AT&T and Verizon Wireless.


I reviewed Clearwire's $40/month, unlimited Clear 4G service in July, and today Virgin Mobile USA began selling its own unlimited $40 mobile-broadband plan.

The press release on the Sprint subsidiary's site covers almost all the important details of the $40 plan and a second, $10 option that includes 100 MB of use (which could suffice for backup access during a few days out of town).

It does, however, leave out one sentence in the version e-mailed to me: a footnote clarifying that "Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service is subject to terms of service found at Prohibited data and network uses apply."

What might those prohibitions cover? The second of the two terms-of-service documents on Virgin's site says nothing about them, but the first has a long section covering "Specific Terms and Restrictions regarding Data Services." It leads off with this paragraph:

If your plan includes data services, such services are provided solely for purposes of web browsing, messaging, and similar activities. [....] You may not use the data service: (1) with server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine-to-machine connections or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing or other systems that drive continuous heavy traffic or data sessions; (2) as a substitute or backup for private lines or frame relay connections; (3) with "auto-responders", "cancel-bots", or similar automated or manual routines which generate excessive amounts of traffic, or which disrupt user groups or email use by others; (4) for tethering your device to a personal computer or other hardware; (5) to send "spam" or unsolicited commercial or bulk email (or activities that have the effect of facilitating unsolicited commercial email or unsolicited bulk email); or (6) for any activity that adversely affects the ability of other people or systems to use either our wireless services or other parties' Internet-based resources.

The weird thing is, one of the two devices Virgin sells for use with Broadband2G0 -- the $149.99 MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot -- doesn't do anything but provide tethered access to personal computers. Should we then read that clause and such additional restrictions as a prohibition on "any commercial activities" online as only covering the data components of its phone plans?

It's hard to tell, since Virgin Mobile's publicist did not answer two e-mails looking for clarification. How do you interpret this?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 26, 2010; 12:40 PM ET
Categories:  Mobile , Telecom  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Google adds phone calling to Gmail
Next: The net-neutrality debate continues


I guess they fixed it. When I go to your "second" link, I do not see your copied text but I do see more-pertinent, if somewhat convoluted, language that seems to imply it is OK to tether, without explicitly saying so.

Regarding the other things, yes, they will always have the right to keep you from hooking it up to a security camera, etc. even if is "unlimited." Abuse like that is less than 1% but can really screw up others trying to get access.

Posted by: Bob_Dobbs | August 26, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

@Bob_Dobbs: I put in the wrong link there--I was pointing to the same ToS document twice. It's fixed now. Sorry about the misunderstanding...

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | August 26, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I see. I would interpret that as precluding use of the MiFi device. Maybe they mean tethering with smartphones. They should clarify that.

I have had the service for about a year and like it. I have used it four times when I was in a jam and didn't otherwise have access to the internet. For the price I paid at the time for the USB radio, $150, it was well worth the peace of mind just having it in my computer bag.

Now, the USB device is almost half price. And $150 seems like a good price for the MiFi device as well.

Also, it is the first 2G/3G laptop radio device I have not had to fuss a lot with to get to it work. Plug and play.

Posted by: Bob_Dobbs | August 26, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

i cant seem 2 find the speed of this service in kbs--anyone no?

Posted by: frank124c | August 26, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Corinne here from Virgin Mobile...sorry that you did not receive my email responses.

I just wanted to comment on your article above with regard to the terms of service, the new terms of service have been updated on the Web site to reflect the new Broadband2Go $40 Unlimited plan. The link in your story to "Specific Terms and Restrictions regarding Data Services" has also been updated.

Posted by: corinnenosal | August 26, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Wow, I'm impressed. Someone from VM actually posted in here.

Posted by: tbva | August 26, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Check out this strange story about that old music service Napster:

Posted by: freighter | August 26, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Hard to know what this means. "$40.00 per month for unlimited mobile Internet (but not unlimited downloaded content)" Is it unlimited, or isn't it? Terms need further clarification.

I bought a mifi from them in June for full price (they've since been discounted by about $30 at various stores) and until a few days ago, despite an early glitch in set up, I have been pretty happy with their service. I was using the $20/300 MB /30 day plan. Now, less than two months later they discontinued my plan and are offering only two choices. While I can see why some people would love "unlimited" access - and I admit, watching your data consumption is annoying... in real world use, their connection has been pretty slow, so it's hard to imagine using it for bandwidth intensive tasks. (Netflix streaming?) On the other hand, it's great as a backup and a way to get online when wifi is unavailable or not secure. The $20 plan was the sweet spot for insuring a full month of access and casual use -- now, it costs $30 ($10 x 3) for equivalent service, a 50% increase after only two months! I kind of feel that they shafted their early adopters. If I had known it was going to cost $40/mo in the first place, I might very well have gone with Clear instead, since their speed is significantly faster (assuming there's 4g service in your area). Kind of annoyed by this quick "switch" in plan ... they should have added the unlimited yet kept the $20 option for casual users. At this point I may just stick the mifi in my wallet and save it for emergencies, vs being a 'full time' customer just in case I need it. As for speed, my tests have averaged about 800 kbps in NW, but it's much slower when connecting near capitol hill than further up town... even with full bars, the speed is not as fast as further uptown. Not sure if it's due to interference or location. Max I've been able to get is just under 3 mbps, but that's a very rare result and only achieveable during 'off peak' hours. On the plus side, it's great for checking email and it does work inside large buildings even when away from windows (which may not be the case with Clear).

Posted by: wyre1 | August 27, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Ah, so you e-mailed their PR people. Way to dig for answers! Next time pick up the phone. It's old-school, but it's also the professional thing to do.

Posted by: SLBoston | August 27, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

yeah this is a disguised rise in prices because they've removed the $20/mo option, making the minimum price for an uninterrupted month of service now $10 * 3 = $30.

The unlimited plans from all carriers are anti-network-neutrality because they presume to put limits on the way you use your connection, which is inconsistent with the values of the internet. We should pay for the radio space we use, and that's that. And what's worse the limits are vague so they can interpret them however they like. In the past they've actually had 5GByte caps on their ``unlimited'' plans!

but the vague behavior is actually worse than the false advertising of capping something and then calling it ``unlimited''. It's really ``unlimited'' == ``the limit amount is proprietary and variable.'' It's very sneaky because people feel like they're paying for something big and getting something small, but in fact they're paying for exactly whatever they get since the ``unlimited'' carriers use their vague contract terms to boot off whoever happens to be the highest percentile users. The cable companies are doing the same thing. I wish consumers would take up the job of shopping and learn to demand neutral access and understand how much data they're using.

That's probably why the stricter consumer protection offices outside the US don't tolerate this kind of behavior on the carriers' part, and non-US ``unlimnited'' plans are much more rare even though the prices aren't really higher. What's more, if I were outside the US, the USB pod for which I paid $100 wouldn't be locked to Virgin Mobile, so I would not have this $100 non-refundable deposit tying me to them even as they alter their deal from what they offered when I bought it.

Every time I dip back into this cel carrier market I end up regretting it. I haven't felt like I got a fair deal for laptop access since Metricom's now defunct Ricochet service in the 90's.

Posted by: iljvjraqetb | August 28, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I bought the Virgin MiFi just a month ago.
Works great with my PC and my ipodTouch.

I too like the $20/300MB/30day plan.
Which is good for either a week away from home with my PC or when I'm around town and want to Google or Wikipedia or email from my ipod but there's no public wifi.

Logging into my account, it looks like
I'm "grandfathered" so I can renew at the
$20 plan. Or I can jump to the new plan.

I suspect that once you jump away from your grandfathered plan, you're locked out of that. I didn't see anything official about that yet.

Posted by: BobTeatow | August 30, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

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