Winston Lawrence

Project Manager & Occasional developer

Virgin Mobile MiFi is a good deal

This is a very quick review on the Virgin Mobile 2200 MiFi device. First some background, I have been using my iPod Touch for years and have gotten used to the fact that at least around where I live, free WiFi hotspots are pretty easy to find so I never considered the need for 3G service. 

Now that I'm back to commuting into New York City, there's no WiFi on the train and there's essentially no free WiFi in the city. Even areas that supposedly have free WiFi hot spots seem to be either severely overloaded, unresponsive,  or just very very slow. So, I'm a little bit annoyed because I can't easily check my email or do quick searches on the net whenever I would like.

I had started looking at Android phones as you know from my Android Development posts but the cell phone plans are going to run me well over $80.00 per month and probably very close to $100.00. My current cell phone is prepaid and I still have $30.00 credit on the phone from the last time I filled it up six or seven weeks ago, so I really would prefer not to have an overpriced pay-as-you-go contract phone plan if I can avoid it.

I was still trying to find a reasonable android phone plan, when I saw an ad in the subway for Virgin Mobile Mifi and Broadband2go. I did some quick research, saw that some folks had problems getting it activated and decided to try it out for myself. I plunked down $150.00 at Best Buy for a unit and brought it home. There was supposed to be some sort of special promotion with a huge discount on the $40.00 monthly unlimited if you bought it from Walmart, but none of the three Walmart stores that I went to carried the unit, or knew anything about it or the promotion.

I plugged in the unit at home for about 8 hours to make sure it was well charged and then went to connect. At first I thought it was broken because after nearly 10 minutes the Mifi was not showing up as available to either my Dell Latop, my iPod Touch or my Mac G4. Just as I was about to give up and say the unit was not working, it showed up. I entered the router security access key (printed on the bottom of the unit) and then I connected to http://virginmobile.mifi and proceeded to setup my account. The system gave me my account number, msid new password etc. Then. after disconnecting from the MiFi (as directed) in order to complete the activation, I could NOT connect again. The unit would no longer connect to any of my machines - it just sat there saying it was available but not responding.

The next day after trying several times, I called Virgin Mobile Tech Support and got a friendly assistant named Mike. Mike ultimately could not find this problem in his troubleshooting script and since I had been assigned an account  and an MSID number it was obvious that I must have gotten the unit to work properly at some point. Mike promised to escalate the problem to his manager and they would call me back in a couple of hours . 3 days later I still haven't heard back from Mike or his manager.

I packed up the unit and drove over to Best Buy, as it  happens, a different one from where I bought the MiFi. The Mobile sales consultant named Chris sat down with me and after I booted up my Mac and the MiFi he proceeded to get the unit authorized, which took about 15 minutes. I think that my problems may have been in part, because I had an existing wireless network at home that the computers were seeing at various inopportune moments as being a better connection than the MiFi - completing the authorization at the Best Buy I had no such interference to worry about. When it came time though,m neither Chris nor I could get the system to accept my American Express card  to add minutes. Chris eventually added two $20.00 cards (which I bought) to the account but still could not get the unit to see that my account had unlimited internet now. Another mobile sales consultant (also named Chris ironically enough, came over and tried as well. Eventually it worked but it took roughly an hour from start to finish to get the unit authorized and working. Definitely a thumbs up for Best Buy in the customer support department on this one - I've got the feeling that if I had bought this unit from Walmart it would have ended up returned because they clearly do not have the same level of expertise in the stores to trouble shoot the problem. So if you're going to buy one, bear this in mind. Also if you have a home WiFi network TURN OFF YOUR ROUTER(S) before trying to activate your MiFi - it may run much more smoothly for you.

 How does it work? So far, very well! I used it on the LIRR to pick up my email on the iPod Touch and then in the office to send a couple of email and download a couple of RSS podcasts. The unit also takes maybe a minute or less to show-up as available, not the ten minutes that I was seeing before activation. I bought this primarily to have internet access WITHOUT a contract. The broadband speed is about on par with my Verizon home DSL (which is just adequate) for DSL. So. while it isn't blazingly fast it does work and so far, I like it and its a keeper.

Winston Lawrence

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