Earlier this month Verizon rolled out their latest and greatest wireless network – 4G LTE. With coverage from Framingham to Brockton, the Boston metro area is now blanketed in a network 10 times faster than 3G. Currently, the new 4G service is only available via USB modem and is limited to Windows PC’s – but new hardware should be surfacing in the coming months. Over the last few weeks we took Verizon’s 4G to the streets in and around the Boston area. In a nutshell, 4G is unbelievably fast and lives up to the hype. So should you run out and replace your current 3G hardware with the newest kid on the block? Read on to find out.
Currently there are two USB-type modems that support the new network. One comes from LG and the other from Pantech. Our test model was the LG VL600 and it performed flawlessly. The only minor grip was its somewhat large size, but this was remedied with the included connection cable and screen mounting kit.
The VL600 is about four inches long, one-and-a-half inches wide and one-half inch thick. It easily disappears into a computer bag and features a rubberized backing and flip top that exposes the USB connector. As mentioned, it can plug directly into a USB port, or be used with the included cable/screen mounting kit. If you are one of the many facing a cramped USB section, the latter means of connecting the little device is the only way to go.
How fast is this thing?
Verizon is promising customers download speeds between 5 and 12 megabits per second and upload speeds between 2 and 5 megabits per second. In most of our testing we were able to achieve download speeds around 20 megabits per second, but upload speeds never topped 5. These abnormally fast speeds can be explained by the newness of the network. As more users begin piling on, speeds will likely come down to the advertised rates. But for now, getting 20 to 25 megabits down on a cellular connection has been quite entertaining to say the least. The ability to download a 150-megabyte HD movie trailer in 2-minutes over a wireless network is fantastic.
Even with speeds between 5 and 12 megabits, there is not much that can’t be done with this network. For the road warriors, this means increased productivity (read: faster downloading of YouTube videos) and an overall experience similar to a standard broadband connection.
The fine print
By now you may be wondering, “what’s the catch?” Well for starters, the service is limited to larger metro areas. At the time of writing, Verizon tells us they have 4G coverage in 38 markets and 60 major airlines. If everything goes as planned, 4G will be completely rolled out by 2013.
Service cost will set you back either $50 or $80 per month depending on the plan, with 5GB and 10GB monthly data allowances, respectively. The service cost is nothing out of the ordinary - in fact, these prices are slightly less than current 3G plans. However, the 5GB and 10GB caps are almost laughable when you are taking about being able to download a 20MB file in less than 30 seconds. Downloading a HD movie from iTunes could eat into half of your monthly allowance in one fell swoop. For most business users these caps shouldn’t be an issue, but it most definitely shutters the dreams of ditching a home broadband connection in favor of the 4G airwaves.
Other gripes, the current hardware is limited to Windows based PCs - Mac users need not apply. There are currently no Mi-Fi type wireless hotspots, meaning an available USB port on a Windows machine is required. However, we have it on good authority a hotspot device is on its way.
For now, any PC users in an area with 4G coverage looking for superfast mobile broadband should take the VL600 out for a spin. Verizon’s 4G network is by far the fastest mobile broadband we’ve been able to test drive and the speeds are out of this world. Sure, they will come down as more users make the switch – but for now, just sit back and enjoy the ride.