Many people these days are marketed 4G left and right. 4G is no longer a technical term, but rather a marketing one. As a result, this has produced some rather audacious claims from carriers in order to justify higher prices for data plans, etc. For those not in the know, LTE was originally billed as the only true 4G solution as it was considered to be an evolution of GSM?s 3G standard. This was drastically challenged once Sprint and Intel decided to peg WiMax as 4G even though it was not nearly as fast as what LTE 4G was promising. As a result of Sprint?s marketing and advertising, other carriers began to market their next generation of wireless as ?4G? even that wireless protocol already existed in other markets as 3G. The perfect example of this was the launch of T-Mobile?s HSPA+ network, which was effectively an update to a 3G standard that doubled the speed, but did not even come close to the performance of true 4G (such as LTE). This sparked many 4G debates and eventually the ITU decided to include HSPA+ as an official 4G standard, especially since it is currently capable of 42Mbit/s thanks to Dual Carrier HSPA+.
4G/3G Coverage Map – Circle = 4G LTE Coverage – Star = Planned 4G LTE Coverage – Red = Existing 3G Coverage
Verizon launched their network in a single push by launching in 38 metropolitan ?football? markets. This was a very wise decision on the part of Verizon because it chose large metropolitan markets over those that were less expensive to build them in. As a result, they acquired a large amount of subscribers in a short period of time. The one thing that they and other carriers struggle with is converting their 3G customers over to the newest generation of 4G. What we are trying to do today is evaluate how effective Verizon?s 4G LTE network is and to determine how useful it is as a daily solution for business professionals as well as general users.
Our testing methodology is what we would consider somewhat unorthodox. We did not simply go test the speeds and play with the network for a few days. This review will effectively determine how robust Verizon?s network is and what kinds of issues may arise during certain usage scenarios based on performance and coverage over an entire city. We tested the network 3 consecutive times and took the average of those 3 tests. We then took those 3 tests and performed them at different times of day the same location in order to demonstrate the effects of network load. Then we took the averages of all of our tests across the entire city and determined the average speeds for the city as a whole during a certain period of time. And finally, we took all of our speeds and combined them into one average to see what the total average speed is for the City of San Diego. We used a combination of speed tests and Google maps in order to allow you, our readers, to interact with our tests and see what kinds of speeds we got in certain areas. For our testing, though, we actually used the LG VL600 USB LTE modem connected to a Windows 7 based laptop to most accurately simulate expected performance for laptop users. As we go around using this device we will continue to update the map even after the review has been posted. If you’d like us to test somewhere, we’d be glad to do our best to help you out.
For our testing, we spoke with Verizon network engineers and were briefed on what areas have 4G LTE coverage and which areas do not. At the time of our conversation, these areas spanned from Solana Beach (Coast) to the 15 Freeway (Inland~13 miles). The network also spans down towards Imperial Beach which is approximately 37 miles south. Considering how recently LTE was implemented, it has quite a large coverage area in San Diego. At the given moment, it is highly likely that their network has already expanded, as we were told that Verizon is performing network and coverage improvements almost daily. They also announced a plan back on July 18th, 2011 to expand coverage northwards, beyond San Diego proper, in order to include inland areas. This indicated that they are working to cover all of San Diego county and not just the metropolitan areas. In some of our later, yet to be documented testing we managed to catch LTE more than 40 miles away from downtown San Diego.
We have made a map of all of the areas we tested, with each test being the average of 3 tests we performed in that area.
View LTE Speed Tests in a larger map
Based on our testing around the San Diego metropolitan area, we attained an average speed of 16.84 Mbps down and 8.14 Mbps up with an average ping of 66.6. This is in conjunction with some spotty areas of service where we believed that there would/should be LTE service but there simply was not enough coverage in that area for the LTE modem to connect.
Our biggest complaint, though, was the actual performance of the Verizon hardware/software combination. The network itself, once connected, was reliable and fast. However, connecting to the network was one of the most troublesome issues we encountered during our testing. In some instances, we were certain that there was full LTE coverage in a location, yet for some reason the modem would not fully connect to the network. Sometimes the modem would connect immediately to the network and other times it required multiple attempts to connect. We became proficient at operating the modem, as sometimes it did require the occasional disconnect and re-connect after closing VZW Manager.
From our experience, we would say the two best LTE devices that Verizon has right now are probably the LG VL600 and the Samsung LTE Hot Spot. However, a word of caution; the Samsung LTE Hotspot is very finicky and can be extremely troublesome according to our findings. We had one of the provided SIM cards go out on us, which for some of you may seem a little odd running on a Verizon network. The reason for this is because LTE requires a SIM card, so without it working we had no ability to get service.
As a business device, we were saved multiple times by the Verizon 4G LTE service as it enabled the quick upload and/or download of information to/from our laptop. We were able to upload 1080P video files to YouTube in a matter of minutes between meetings, as well as send important emails without ever worrying about the nearby areas? WiFi (which is often overloaded or under-performing and overpriced). Having Verizon?s 4G LTE also saves money in the long run for business travelers as they may end up paying $10 to $15 a night for dial-up equivalent speeds at a hotel, when they could easily spend $60 a month and get speeds faster than what they probably get at their office. We also managed to accomplish the same thing in downtown LA with average speeds of 10 Mbps download and 6 Mbps upload with a ping of 60. This was being accomplished in the middle of the LA convention center while E3 was going on back in June. Considering the sheer amount of network load at that time, such speeds are fantastic and are more like what people should come to expect from Verizon?s LTE network once more and more customers come to populate the network with LTE handsets and USB modems.
This can also serve as a great tool for students as we were able to take this device with us to classes and use it when the WiFi signal on campus was rather weak. We must admit though, that for most college students, having Verizon 4G LTE is probably not a necessity unless they travel a lot or are often in areas where WiFi is weak, slow, or unavailable. The truth of the matter is that most college campuses have WiFi and relatively fast internet connections. However, there is still reason to use Verizon?s 4G LTE service in class because the school WiFi is usually filtered and it is often capped at a certain speed. Having Verizon 4G LTE will enable free and fast browsing, and copious amounts of HD videos and gaming while you should really be paying attention.
This brings us to our next point. Verizon?s 4G LTE is not just a great business and productivity device; it is also amazing for entertainment. Verizon?s 4G LTE enabled us to not only use email and upload videos, but it also allowed us to enjoy HD videos without waiting. Having a laptop that capable of delivering HD video is key with Verizon?s 4G LTE because otherwise it would be a waste of the modem?s capabilities. The LTE service also enables gaming, and we?re not talking about playing poker on Facebook. We?re talking about playing high demand and high intensity games. During our testing, we played hours of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 online over Verizon?s 4G LTE network. Our ping was reasonable and as a result, we were able to play online games anywhere we wanted, regardless of its bandwidth intensity. This used to be a barrier for gamers in the past because while 3G already had enough speed to sustain decent gaming, it lacked capable latency. High latency between the 3G device and the towers resulted in extremely bad lag and made most online games unplayable. With the advent of LTE, ping was severely reduced and resulted in the ability to transmit data with very low latency, which improved performance and also improved gaming functionality.
We also used Verizon?s LTE when there was a county-wide power outage (San Diego) and were able to maintain high-speed data coverage for hours until our laptops eventually ran out of battery power. This was in stark contrast to our T-Mobile enabled devices which repeatedly lost signal for hours at a time all over the county. Needless to say, during an emergency you can feel safe knowing that Verizon?s network will remain operational.
With all of these experiences that we had with Verizon?s LTE, we can say it is safe to say that LTE is definitely the future of wireless and that it is only a matter of time until every portable device we carry uses LTE. There is however, one major drawback to LTE, which is the price. LTE is much faster than 3G, by our estimates approximately 10 times faster in terms of downloads and about 20 times faster in terms of uploads. This gives users an experience with very fast internet speed, which will find them gravitating towards more dense data consumption that requires more network bandwidth. Because of this, people will be using consuming large portions of their limited data plans without even realizing it. As a result, many people that like watching HD videos while on the go will likely find themselves needing to monitor their data consumption to avoid incurring overage charges. Furthermore, it would be helpful if better codecs existed in order to utilize bandwidth more efficiently, so that high quality video can be transmitted at lower bit rates.
For those interested in the future of mobile broadband, you can read up on LTE Advanced, which is poised to be the successor to today?s LTE and has theoretical maximum speeds of 1Gbps as tested by Ericsson (rather than the current 100Mbps on the current generation of LTE). This proves some perspective on what we can expect in the future from LTE, if the carriers decide to provide enough bandwidth.
In regards to pricing, you have three choices. 2GB for $30 a month, 5GB for $50 a month or 10GB for $80 a month. These plans are available for smartphones, tablets and netbooks, with the 2GB plan not being available at all for USB modems and dedicated hotspots. There is also an option to enable mobile hotspot on your smartphone and combine that with your data plan. That will cost $50 for 4GB of data.
Based on all of our testing, our own experiences, and working with Verizon there is no doubt in our mind that Verizon deserves an Innovation Award for Enthusiasts. The reason for this is that LTE is currently not widespread enough to be considered mainstream and there are not enough handsets on Verizon?s network that support LTE in order to consider it mainstream just yet. Admittedly, Verizon is constantly adding new LTE handsets to their catalog, and is just as quickly working hard in order to make their network more robust and effective than ever before.