Virgin has mobile broadband now, and we've gone hands on to see how it goes.
What Is It?
It's a 4G mobile broadband modem hotspot running on the Optus network. Made by Huawei, it allows you to get a handful of users connected at the one time sharing the connection.
It will set you back $59 per month which gets you 13GB worth of data on a 12-month contract. On that plan, the device is $0 per month.
One of the most important parts of the mobile broadband equation is battery life: how long can you browse until you're dead and scrambling for power? The good news is that we were suitably impressed by the battery power of the Virgin mobile broadband device, after it gave us around four hours of use (with two devices connected) before we needed to recharge.
We have noticed in the past, however, that Huawei batteries have a notorious habit of leaning on the charger if you let them, which over time can dramatically decrease your battery's life. If you're going to buy this and use it every day, make sure you're cycling the device properly.
The prices here are tremendous. $59 gets you 13GB of usage, as well as the Huawei E5776 4G Wi-Fi modem for $0 upfront on a 12-month contract. That data is charged at $0.0045 for those playing the numbers game. Compare Virgin’s offer to other, larger telcos, and you start to see the value inherent.
Telstra has a 4G mobile broadband plan for $50 per month that gets you 8GB of data, with the tier above it costing $95 per month for 15GB. The Telstra Wi-Fi hotspot is also priced at an extra $6 per month on top of your plan on a 24 month contract. The Virgin deal straddles those prices quite nicely, but you have to remember that you’ll be on Optus’ 4G network and not Telstra’s, which is still reaping the benefits of its 12-month head-start.
Optus, meanwhile, offers its 4G mobile broadband plan at $49 per month on a 24 month contract that gets you 10GB worth of data included. Interestingly, in breaking down the Optus plan you find that the service plan element only costs you $34.95 per month for the 10GB of data, while the 4G modem costs you $15 per month in device repayments. Optus has the cheaper service plan, but overall, Virgin still has a better value package deal for your money.
The 12-month contract option is also fantastic.
The 4G network offered up by Virgin (via Optus) is still an acceptable offering after a few months of use, although we did run into a few issues which we'll soon mention.
4G mobile broadband devices are meant to be light and portable, but we found that the Huawei modem errs on the side of bulky and slightly awkward because of its slightly rounded, almost pebble-like edges. The phrase "is that a 4G broadband device in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" should always apply when you carry this thing around in your pocket.
More seriously, however, Virgin's limited pricing tiers for the 4G mobile broadband offerings are more than a little disappointing. $59 per month is a lot of money, and it pitches to high-users. Hopefully those who just want to use a little bit less — or conversely a little bit more — are able to in the future.
This Is Weird...
After tweaking, testing and configuring the modem in several different ways and even using it in several different states over our review period, we found that the Optus 4G network is starting to buckle under the strain. Pings were always high, usually up over 100ms and speeds — both up and down — were low, usually coming in at 5Mbps down and 1Mbps up. That's not the Optus network we're familiar with.
On a great day a few months ago, I managed to squeeze over 60Mbps out of the network in terms of download speed, and 30Mbps upload. Hopefully we see a return to those speeds shortly, otherwise Optus' 4G proposition is very sad indeed.
Should You Buy It?
The Virgin 4G mobile broadband plan caters to a very specific customer: you have to be willing to shell out $60 a month for a device that can connect you up with a moderate amount of data on a 12-month contract, but if that's you, it's great!