News Analysis: Verizon Wireless joins the 4G marketing fray with its not-exactly-4G LTE solution.
Wireless has begun advertising its deployment of LTE
to 38 U.S.
cities by the end of 2010, as originally reported by eWEEK nearly two months
ago. The fact that Verizon Wireless was building out its LTE (long-term
evolution) network hasn't been a secret for a while, but this is the first time
that the company has actually been running television commercials about the
This is also the first time that Verizon Wireless has begun calling its LTE
service "4G," which of course it isn't.
Although Verizon Wireless published a list of cities to be included in the
launch when it made the announcement, the company now includes a handy 4G location
finder and additional information about its new LTE service
. According to
the location finder, I'll have Verizon Wireless 4G service in my neighborhood,
which will be an interesting development considering that I don't currently
have even Verizon Wireless 1G. The closest thing I have is 0G, which involves
But let's say that the launch goes off as promised, which I suspect it will.
The new service will provide download speeds of 5M to 12M bps,
which is faster than Sprint's WiMax and fairly close to T-Mobile's HSPA+
(high-speed packet access) in its current configuration, although T-Mobile is
claiming a speed boost to 48M bps fairly soon through a software upgrade to its existing cell sites. To actually
experience these speeds from Verizon Wireless, you'll need to get one of their
soon-to-be released USB sticks for LTE,
which should go on the market just in time for the holidays.
You will not, however, see any phones or PDAs running LTE until January or
February. So your dreams of a Droid 4G will have to wait for the President's
Day sales. Once that happens, and assuming that Verizon's LTE service lives up
to its promises, the company's existing access to streaming applications, music
services and the like should be even better than it is already. Verizon
Wireless has been including applications that make use of these services since
the original Droid came out, so it's unlikely that the negative
experiences iPhone users suffered at the hands of AT&T will be
This is a good thing, considering that Verizon Wireless should be getting
ready to release its own version of the iPhone shortly after the LTE network
goes live. However, it's unclear whether the Verizon iPhone will support LTE in
its initial release. It's also unclear whether Verizon Wireless will introduce
usage-based pricing for LTE, whether such pricing will be only for LTE and not
the older EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) network, or whether unlimited data plans
will remain available.
What is clear, of course, is that Verizon Wireless' claims that its LTE
network is 4G is true only if you admit that 4G is a marketing term that means
"really fast." It does not meet the specifications of the ITU
(International Telecommunications Union) for the next generation networks.
While LTE is one of the standards mentioned by the ITU,
as is WiMax, the data rate for Verizon Wireless' 4G service is nowhere near the
100M bps speeds for mobile devices set in the ITU
But of course, there are a couple of loopholes in those standards. One is
that they aren't final, and until they are, they are not really actual standards.
The best you can say is that they're proposed. The second loophole is that the ITU
doesn't actually refer to its next-generation standard as a "4G"
standard. While that may change, right now it's open season for the marketing
staffs at all of the mobile carriers to call their really fast connections
Perhaps more important is the fact that the general public has no idea what
the ITU is, or why its standards are
important. What the end users care about is whether the data network they're
planning to use is really fast, or just kind of fast. Some people want a really
fast wireless connection, and they're willing to pay for it regardless of
whether it's really 4G.
Initially, at least, the 4G data service will be available in 38 cities and
in a collection of large airports. This means that even if you're in a city
that has LTE, the chances are pretty good that you won't be getting the
promised 5M- to 12M-bps speeds. That kind of performance will be available only in some spots in the
areas with coverage and will decline as you move away from those spots. This is
much like my tests of the T-Mobile G2, where I had to test in a specific burger
joint in Fairfax, Va.,
wanted to get the full 4G HSPA+ experience
So if you buy one of those Verizon Wireless USB
sticks, you'll almost certainly get a better data connection than you would if
you had stayed with the older EvDO wireless cards. If you want to be certain that
you can experience the speed, you can buy a ticket to somewhere, have yourself
groped and fondled by the TSA (U.S. Transportation
Security Administration), and then hang out in an airport of your choice.
You'll have a great high-speed connection that you can use to complain, send
videos of the groping and maybe get some work done. By the mid-first quarter of
2011, there will be more cities, more devices and maybe a chance to enjoy
Verizon Wireless' LTE in a broader area.