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Virgin Mobile to offer pay-as-you-go broadband

The prepaid market has come to mobile broadband with Virgin Mobile USA's new Broadband2Go service.

Virgin Mobile USA is launching a new pay-as-you-go mobile broadband service called Broadband2Go.

Novatel USB broadband modem Virgin Mobile USA

The service uses Sprint's EV-DO Rev. A network. It will not require a monthly subscription nor will it require an activation fee. To use the service, people need to buy a Novatel USB broadband modem that costs about $149 from Best Buy.

The device and service will be available in late June, the company said. The service is sold in megabyte and gigabyte packages. For $10 a month, users can get 100MB of data usage for 10 days. For $20 they can get 250MB of data, and for $40 they get 600MB. The most expensive pack costs $60 and provides 1GB of data usage. These buckets of data usage are available for 30 days before they expire.

Users will be able to monitor their data usage when they connect to the wireless network, and they'll be reminded to top up their account as they near their data limit. And users can add more data to their account as often as they'd like by using a credit card or a Virgin Mobile Top-Up card.

Prepaid services for cell phones have long been popular in Europe and other parts of the world, but in the U.S. these services have traditionally served only niche markets. With the economy in a deep recession, however, prepaid is gaining steam in the United States. Consumers of all stripes are looking for good deals with no service contracts.

Regional prepaid provider Cricket, which is a subsidiary of Leap Wireless, also offers a pay-as-you-go wireless broadband service. Like the Virgin Mobile wireless broadband service, Cricket's service also doesn't require a contract. And users can get unlimited wireless broadband for $40 a month using the company's 3G wireless network.

The big nationwide wireless carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint Nextel, have traditionally gone after business users with their broadband wireless services. As a result, the pricing of their service is usually pretty high--around $60 to $65 a month for an unlimited plan that typically offers up to 5GB of data per month.

But the wireless data services offered with pay-as-you-go plans and no contract seem to be geared more toward consumers.

"We have seen a big opportunity to provide this service to our consumer customers who can't afford a similar service from Verizon and AT&T," said Greg Lund, senior manager of corporate communications for Cricket Communications. "A lot of these customers were on dial-up, who want broadband service. And because they're very mobile, the wireless broadband service is good fit for them."

Corrected on June 12 at 7:24 a.m. PDT: Virgin Mobile USA's 100MB data plan costs $10 and expires after 10 days. The company's 600MB offering, which expires after 30 days, costs $40. A previous version of this story misstated the expiration time of the 100MB plan and the amount of the 600MB plan.