We tested the service in East London and the majority of the time we were getting signal strength of 90 per cent or above. Download speeds tended to jump around between 0.8Mbps and 2.1Mbps, but more often than not the achievable speed was closer to the 1Mbps mark. Upload speeds were more consistent and hovered around the 0.3Mbps mark.
These speeds put the service broadly on a par with most of the other mobile broadband offerings around at the moment. Certainly it feels fast for normal day to day surfing and there's enough bandwidth on tap for web applications like watching YouTube videos or streaming shows from the BBC iPlayer.
One problem, however, is the image compression which is turned on by default. Obviously this is designed to speed up the web browsing experience, but it's set a little bit high for our liking and makes pictures look decidedly blocky. Unfortunately, there's no way to turn this off from within the supplied software. We looked for a solution on Virgin's website, but it seems that it simply doesn't offer a way to disable it. However, you can get around the problem by going to the T-mobile site and downloading its Web n' Walk Accelerator application. Nevertheless, Virgin really needs to offer its own solution to the issue.
Virgin's service certainly works well and delivers decent download and upload speeds. The supplied software makes it easy to keep track of your data usage and the company is very upfront about it's coverage area.
The main problem we have is with the pricing of the service. Virgin's standard 18-month contract deal costs £15 a month for a 3GB data allowance and a free dongle. However, T-mobile's own package is better value as for £15 a month, plus a one off £15 fee for the modem, you get the same data allowance, but you also get free access to T-mobile's network of Wi-Fi Hotspots. That said, if you're already a Virgin premium broadband customer then its £5 a month service with a 1GB data allowance is very competitively priced.