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Mobile Broadband Service from Verizon Wireless

By Neal Gompa on Sunday, June 10th, 2012
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Two years ago, Verizon Wireless began its deployment of 4G LTE in earnest. Over the last year, 4G LTE service has become available in several areas that I have access to. Because of that, I decided to pick up a mobile hotspot device from Verizon Wireless and try it out for two months, and see how I like Verizon’s mobile broadband service.

The mobile network operator: Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless was formed in 2000 as a joint venture between Vodafone AirTouch plc (now Vodafone Group plc) and Bell Atlantic Corporation (now Verizon Communications Inc.). It combined Bell Atlantic Mobile with Vodafone AirTouch’s American wireless arm, AirTouch Cellular. GTE, PrimeCo, Alltel Wireless, and Rural Cellular Corporation merged into Verizon Communications and Verizon Wireless later on.

Verizon Wireless is a little unusual compared to most Vodafone properties in that it uses cdmaOne and CDMA2000 technology instead of UMTS technology to replace AMPS (analog) service. It operates CDMA2000 on the 850MHz (CDMA BC0) and 1.9GHz (CDMA BC1) frequency bands for 3G voice and data services. For 4G data service, Verizon Wireless runs a UMTS LTE network on 750MHz (UMTS BC13), also known as the U.S. Digital Dividend spectrum.

For a bit of a twist, Verizon Wireless also operates a GSM network on 850MHz (UMTS BC5) through its acquisition of the Rural Cellular Corporation (UNICEL), offering 2G voice and data services to roaming partners but not its own customers.

This review will be only about the 3G and 4G services, though.

The equipment used for the review

For this test, I used a Verizon Jetpack™ 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi® 4620L (what a mouthful!). This MiFi was used with my desktop computer running Windows 7, my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”, my PC laptop running Ubuntu Linux 12.04 LTS, my Samsung Galaxy S II from T-Mobile, my [[Review:Samsung_Galaxy_Tab_10.1|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1]], and my HP TouchPad. The speed test results come from my Samsung Galaxy S II with all other devices disconnected from the hotspot.

Because Verizon Wireless uses the CDMA signal rating to determine “bars” as opposed to the actual signal rating for LTE, I will list the actual dBm values and approximately how many bars that is equivalent to.

I’ve done five speed tests on both LTE and EV-DO. Additionally, I have used the mobile broadband service extensively over two months. The first month was all LTE, while the second month was all EV-DO.

4G LTE

Signal strength: -105 dBm (approximately 1 out of 5 bars)

Average latency: 135.4 ms
Average downlink: 4.32 Mbps
Average uplink: 1.63 Mbps

Tests:

Downlink Uplink Latency
5.05Mbps 1.97Mbps 148ms
4.64Mbps 1.62Mbps 127ms
4.16Mbps 1.28Mbps 135ms
4.16Mbps 1.39Mbps 138ms
3.59Mbps 1.87Mbps 129ms

Real world experience with LTE has generally been quite pleasant. I was able to hold long group conversations with five people on Skype (both with and without video) while browsing the web and downloading documents. Google Maps worked quite well over the LTE data connection as well. Multimedia-rich websites loaded as quickly as basic ones did. YouTube and even Hulu worked quite well over the network and I enjoyed watching HD YouTube shows. I even watched several HD live streams of video podcasts and the experience was great.

Conclusion: Raw speeds were a little low, but it is unsurprising given how weak the signal was. More towers to beef up coverage and improve signal strength should put it closer in line to what Verizon Wireless advertises.

3G EV-DO

Signal strength: -85 dBm (approximately 3 out of 5 bars)

Average latency: 355.8 ms
Average downlink: 0.556 Mbps
Average uplink: 0.206 Mbps

Tests:

Downlink Uplink Latency
0.62Mbps 0.25Mbps 335ms
0.53Mbps 0.12Mbps 380ms
0.82Mbps 0.31Mbps 260ms
0.36Mbps 0.15Mbps 429ms
0.46Mbps 0.20Mbps 375ms

Real world experience with EV-DO has generally been awful. While signal strength was excellent, the quality of service was absolutely terrible. I frequently had issues connecting to the network (the average connection time to the 3G data network is somewhere around twenty minutes). After getting connected, I had no trouble loading basic websites. However, multimedia-rich websites took much longer to load (and sometimes failed to fully load). Sites like YouTube and Veoh were out of the question because the video players frequently timed out due to latency. Live streams were out of the question, as well as HD video. Skype worked somewhat, but Skype had to operate with reduced quality in order to work fast enough to offer real-time group audio conversations. Group video calls were unusable many times.

Conclusion: 3G network will be great for voice calls and text messages, but that’s about it. In the multimedia-heavy Internet, current EV-DO performance simply does not fly. Signal strength is good, making the problem entirely capacity-based. I would not recommend getting a device that does not support 4G LTE with this kind of performance.

Overall Conclusion

Verizon Wireless is doing a great job with its 4G LTE service, considering that it is only in its infancy. It works quite well as a daily driver for all the things I usually have to do in a day, and I could live off of it for a month as long as I was careful about my data usage. Quality of service was superb and very close to my fixed (landline/wireline) high speed internet connection provided by my cable company. If Verizon Wireless keeps this up across the whole country, it will have a stellar service worth paying for.

However, the 3G EV-DO service is absolutely pitiful. It was reliable (somewhat), but it was so slow that I could barely deal with it. It got especially aggravating when my wireline Internet service failed for a few days and I had to use the EV-DO service exclusively. When this happened during the month of 4G LTE, I did not miss a thing. The service was great, responsive, and just fantastic! Frankly, Verizon Wireless needs to eliminate EV-DO usage entirely and move over fully to LTE. But that cannot happen as long as there are iPhone users out there, since the iPhone does not support LTE.

I would recommend Verizon Wireless for mobile broadband to someone only if I was certain that Verizon Wireless offered LTE service in his area. Otherwise, I would only recommend it if I was absolutely certain that HSPA services were not available instead.