Virgin Mobile

/ Updated: March 22, 2008 5:25 AM PDT

Editors' note: Because evaluating wireless coverage requires experience with the network in a wide variety of physical locations, CNET does not rate wireless carriers. However, we can tell you everything you need to know about the major carriers. We invite your feedback and ratings in our user opinions section; the more input we get from around the U.S., the better our users can evaluate coverage at a national level.

August 25, 2009: We've updated this page to reflect changes to the carrier.

As the first Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) carrier in the United States, Virgin Mobile has led the way in aggressively marketing its prepaid service to the youth market. Its phones are sold in many retail locations and online. As of 2009, Virgin Mobile is now fully owned by Sprint Nextel after a $248 million buy-out.

In 2008, Virgin Mobile bought Helio, another MVNO, and merged the two operations. It inherited Helio's all-in and a la carte contract plans as well as all the Helio handsets. Helio was a joint venture between U.S.-based Earthlink and Korea-based SK Telecom. Its target demographic skewed toward the young and upwardly mobile. Helio phones typically come with EV-DO support, GPS, and seamless integration with social networking services such as Facebook and MySpace.

Things you should know:

  • As a CDMA carrier, international coverage is limited.
  • There is no activation fee.
  • It offers three payment options: Pay-as-you-go, monthly plans with no contract required, and monthly contract plans. The monthly contract plans are only for Helio phones.
  • You have to pay $10 a month for unlimited text and messaging with a monthly no-contract plan. It's $20 a month if you have a pay-as-you-go plan.
  • The Helio-only monthly contract plans are further divided into all-in plans and a la carte plans. All-in plans have unlimited features, and a la carte plans lets you choose which features you want.
  • All Helio phones come with a standard array of features, which include EV-DO support, GPS, full HTML browsing, YouTube accessibility, and Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support.
  • Helio phones come with a GPS-based application called Buddy Beacon, Helio's friend-location service. The service lets you broadcast your location to your friends and vice versa.
  • Some of Helio's 3G offerings include premium video content from content partners such as VH1 and Comedy Central. There's also Helio Music, Helio's over-the-air music download service.
  • You can upload directly to Flickr and YouTube with Helio phones.
  • Most Virgin Mobile phones (not Helio) are basic handsets aimed for budget-conscious consumers.
  • All monthly plans include unlimited nights and weekends. Pay-as-you-go plans have rollover minutes.
  • There are no roaming or long distance charges.


Fast facts:

  • Subscribers: More than 5.3 million
  • Coverage: Virgin Mobile has CDMA coverage in every state, similar to Sprint. Individual coverage will vary by location. For international coverage CDMA roaming is available in 26 countries.
  • Technology: CDMA; 1xRTT
  • 3G network: Yes, EV-DO
  • Streaming video service: Yes
  • Music download service: Yes
  • Push-to-talk: No
  • Prepaid plans: Yes
  • Family plans: No

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