Mobile broadband has gone mainstream, with faster speeds, improved coverage and lower costs making 3G an alternative to Wi-Fi for those needing the high-speed internet when on the move.
3, T-Mobile O2, Orange and Vodafone have all been promoting their services heavily this year, but one mobile operator has been missing from the list - until now.
Virgin Media announced its entry into the mobile broadband market on 1 October, claiming speeds of up to 3.6Mbps, depending on signal strength. As discussed in our reviews of other mobile broadband services (see below), this is a key point - if you're a potential customer you'd be wise to visit Virgin's online postcode checker to find out about coverage in your area before signing up.
Virgin's mobile broadband service runs on T-Mobile's 3G network, which is a definite plus point. Our tests of T-Mobile's Web 'n' Walk service showed that the operator's 3G network was capable of impressive peak download speeds, and Virgin's version is no different.
Download speeds peaked at just over 2Mbps, with average speeds hitting 1.2Mbps in central London. Upload speeds were around 300Kbps.
Virgin Media Mobile Broadband is available on a £15, 18-month contract which comes with 3GB of data each month. The ISP claims this is sufficient to send 2,000 plain text emails as well as surf the web for 100 hours and make 100 two-minute downloads every month.
Once you plug the 3G dongle, which is free with the contract, into your laptop, drivers for Windows XP and Windows Vista install automatically, which means you'll be ready to connect to the web in a couple of minutes.
We were glad to see that Virgin's software app for monitoring 3G usage and connections speeds is a carbon copy of T-Mobile's equivalent - it provides a simple interface for keeping an eye on data downloaded and uploaded on a daily, monthly or yearly basis. Meanwhile, the constantly updating line graph demonstrates the download speeds you're achieving.
Running on T-Mobile's network, Virgin Media Mobile Broadband provides decent 3G speeds, and the subscription cost is in line with the best deals on the market.