4G LTE: One Writer’s Switching Plans: Bye-Bye AT&T, Hello Verizon

After having been an AT&T customer for 12 years–it started with PacBell Wireless in San Jose, California, which evolved to Cingular, which then became the ‘new’ AT&T–I am finally ready to leave the AT&T family to say hello to Verizon Wireless with the HTC Thunderbolt, the carrier’s first 4G LTE smartphone, on March 17. Unlike what many analysts had predicted, my switch to Verizon isn’t about ‘switching‘ now that the carrier is also carrying an iPhone–instead, with 4G, I’ll be shelving my love affair for iOS. Instead, it’s about openness, customer service, cell service, and fast mobile broadband thanks to a nascent and expanding 4G network. It’s a geek’s dream come true, right?

The grass is definitely greener on the other side of the fence. Promised speeds of 5-12 Mbps on the downlink side and 2-5 Mbps on the uplink side means instantaneous search results delivered on devices like the forthcoming HTC Thunderbolt, tablets like the Xoom that promises to deliver ‘the full web experience,’ and devices like the forthcoming Samsung and Novatel mobile broadband routers that create instant hotspots whenever make the dream of a hyper-connected, instant-on, always-on world a reality. However, as happily optimistic as I am for March 17th, the launch date of the HTC Thunderbolt, I am also realistic about my choices out there.

With Verizon’s 4G LTE network, the only promised 4G smartphones, at least in the near term, are those running on the Android platform. Microsoft’s barely rolling out CDMA support so it may take a while longer for Windows Phone 7 to arrive on 4G and iOS won’t be 4G-ready, at least in terms of LTE support, until at least another year. Research in Motion has tossed the term LTE around when we had last spoken with them in regards to a BlackBerry PlayBook, so I am optimistic that an LTE BlackBerry smartphone is at least being developed. For now though, unless you’re married to the Android platform, or require just connectivity via USB modems or mobile hotspot routers like the upcoming MiFi 3G/4G unit, 4G LTE is still a niche offering for those who don’t mind Android.

SIM is present, but there won’t be a world-phone 4G LTE smartphone for a while. Moreover, despite SIM card support with Verizon’s transition to LTE, another problem that users will encounter is that carriers may be utilizing different bands and frequencies for 4G than other carriers. For example, Verizon will be using its newly acquired 700 MHz spectrum for 4G. This means, at least in the near term, roaming won’t be possible as other carriers may use other frequencies, both in the U.S. and abroad. For roaming and a truly world-phone 4G LTE smartphone to arrive, we’ll have to wait a few more years to see what other countries and carriers are doing with 4G. Then, manufacturers may begin to design and build smartphones with multi-bands for 4G, like the tri-band HSPA phones today on 3G, that will be capable of roaming when traveling overseas.

Broken promises by AT&T is the impetus for my switch. For one, the carrier’s promise for 4G is sorely lacking, if not misleading. After having launched the HTC Inspire 4G and the Motorola Atrix 4G–the Samsung Infuse 4G is coming soon–upload speeds on those devices are clocking in at 300 Kbps, which is under the 1-2 Mbps of 3G devices like the iPhone 4. Also, further frustrating early adopters of AT&T’s 4G network, while those 4G HSPA+ devices promise download speeds–which is what’s important for web browsing, downloading, and watching YouTube videos, for example–of up to 14.4 Mbps, real world usage is far under what’s theoretically possible and is under a quarter of that quoted rate. While I get up to 3 Mbps on my iPhone 4 on a good day in the San Francisco, CA area, AT&T’s 4G smartphones give me download speeds of around 2 Mbps. As AT&T has done major repair to its reputation since the iPhone’s launch by admitting faults with its network and strengthening its network to deliver quality, the carrier in one quick move had destroyed its reputation with me.

Additionally, the AT&T stores in my area won’t even sell me a 4G smartphone without a contract, even as a long-term customer of well over a decade. According to AT&T, it is reserving its popular phones for those who are eligible and willing to sign a contract and can’t sell me one, even at full, un-subsidized pricing.

AT&T says it is working on its network to remedy the issue, but for now, things don’t look so rosy. AT&T will also be moving to LTE for 4G in the latter part of this year, which is the same mobile broadband protocol that Verizon is now rolling out. However, it is likely that AT&T’s devices won’t be able to roam on Verizon’s network and Verizon’s phones can’t use AT&T’s network due to different frequency support by the carriers.

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So what am I giving up for joining Verizon? As an iOS user, I will most likely give up my iPhone experience. While it’s true that Verizon does now offer the iPhone 4–and will most likely offer the iPhone 5 and future generations of iOS smartphones–I am not switching to Verizon for a 3G smartphone. Current speculations posit that the Apple iPhone 5 will be a 3G smartphone, possibly a dual-mode 3G smartphone utilizing Qualcomm’s Gobi chip so that a single iPhone model can be programmed for either Verizon or AT&T rather than requiring two separate models for the different carriers. That said, I am holding out until Apple introduces a 4G LTE smartphone on Verizon.

Additionally, while I am an iOS user, users of other platforms will most likely be giving up the experience of webOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, Symbian, and Maemo/MeeGo when they decide that network speed outweighs the perceived benefits of any single mobile platform. For me, as I am mostly tethered to my laptop and spend most of my time with a laptop, a mobile OS choice becomes secondary to the network and speeds that I’ve come to expect with 4G LTE. For that reason, I’ve decided to, for now, to weigh my decision more heavily on network speed as 4G LTE speeds are far in excess of AT&T’s 3G or 4G speed claims at this time. Additionally, unlike with AT&T, Verizon’s under-promise and over-deliver philosophy is humble and honest rather than misleading and incorrect. However, there will also be limitations, which we’ll discuss later in this editorial, to the Android platform, and some will have to think twice before giving up their beloved mobile platform in order to experience 4G on Android.

With 4G LTE, however, Verizon is closing the gap between its network and AT&T. For the first time, Verizon’s smartphones will now feature simultaneous voice and data, a unique selling point AT&T’s been using to keep people on its network rather than switching to Verizon when the CDMA iPhone debuted. Also, Verizon will also be using SIM card, another feature that was unique to GSM networks, like those employed by AT&T and T-Mobile USA. While Verizon’s 4G SIM cannot in the near term be loaded into any device for those who travel or need to roam, it does bring the added benefit of ease of switching devices within Verizon’s network. You can’t for now put a 4G Verizon SIM into an LTE AT&T phone when AT&T makes those devices available, but if you’re a geek and can’t decide between the Droid Bionic and the Thunderbolt you can now get both and just pop the SIM back and forth so you can switch out your devices easily. The old way with Verizon 3G required you to log into your Verizon account or call customer support to change out the electronic serial number associated with your account. Now, like on AT&T, you’ll be able to just swap out SIM cards.

Why am I making the switch now instead of waiting? For those looking to hop onto 4G, switching now versus later is important for one reason: mobile data caps. Verizon Wireless, at the this time, is still promising unlimited data for the Thunderbolt. Though it’s unclear when the carrier will implement caps or meters, it hasn’t been shy in the past of saying that it will move towards a model like AT&T’s and do away with unlimited data plan. With 4G, this is more important than with 3G. With faster data speeds, I’ve noticed that I consume more data on my laptop while being away from a WiFi network now that data is faster. Rather than saving my video watching for later when I get home to a faster WiFi connection when I was on a 3G connection, I find that 4G data speeds are fast enough where I am now moving towards the instant gratification model and watching videos and browsing more when connected to Verizon’s 4G LTE USB modem. On a smartphone and on a tablet, having 4G data may lead to even more content consumption now that the speed bottleneck is gone, making unlimited data plans even more valuable. I recommend users to jump now, if and while they can, before Verizon does away with unlimited. Of course, if you’re a data hog, you should read the fine print as Verizon still reserves the right to throttle your data speed.

Will there be content to consume? The problem with having faster mobile broadband data speeds with 4G is that the bottleneck shifts away from the network, in terms of speed as described in the above paragraph, to the platform. Instead of network limitation to what you can do, 4G shifts the paradigm to the platform in defining what you can’t do. With Android, what’s lacking now is support for various services that can, and should be able to, take advantage of faster speeds, such as streaming services from cable networks, Netflix, and Hulu Plus. As it stands currently, Android doesn’t currently have system-wide DRM so when Hulu Plus and Netflix comes, it will only come to certain Android devices where the manufacturer implements additional copyright protection to streaming videos. Until that day comes, I will be missing my movie and TV show streaming that I’ve enjoyed on iOS, a paradox that’s created by a capable mobile network that’s limited by the mobile mechanisms of Android.

Also, what is the point of boasting about delivering the full web experience when the Android browser still identifies itself to web servers and hosts that it’s a mobile browser? Even on Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the tablet OS of Android, the browser’s user agent ID as a mobile browser prevents content from Hulu from working. Until Hulu Plus gets released, Android users are blocked from viewing videos through Hulu sites despite support of Flash.

Other media content is also missing from Android as Google doesn’t yet have a movie, TV show, video, and music download store. For Android to rival iOS in the multimedia and content department, Google will have to build a decent iTunes competitor, and the company is starting to. With Google Books now appearing as a hub on Android Market, and Google rumored to be working on a music service, we’ll begin to hopefully see more from Google. Until that happens, Android users are on their own when it comes to buying content on the go to keep them entertained–sans Hulu Plus, sans Netflix, and sans iTunes. Shame.

Moreover, when compared to iOS, there are still a number of apps that are missing from Android.

Hacks and community will sorely be missed. Despite being open, or at least claiming to be open, Android still comes with some limitations that leaves me looking behind at iOS. Right now, my daily device is split between a GSM iPhone 4, an HTC EVO Shift 4G on Sprint’s 4G Now Network using WiMax technologies, and a Motorola Atrix 4G on AT&T. The good part about transitioning to an Android device on any carrier but AT&T is that most other carriers leave Android open, rather than locking it down. That means, on Verizon, an Android phone can install apps from third-party sources whereas AT&T limits apps that are capable of being installed on a device to those obtained from Android Market; it’s unclear how Amazon’s Appstore will be affected by AT&T’s decision and whether or not the carrier and the digital services provider can ink a deal before the Android Market rival Appstore launches for Amazon. Additionally, another area are the tweaks and hacks. With a robust community on iOS, a lot of the limitations of that platform can be solved through jailbreaking the device. Want the 20 MB app download limit to be gone? There’s a jailbreak for that. How about fooling your iPhone to thinking it’s on a WiFi connection when it’s actually connected to AT&T’s mobile broadband connection? There’s also a jailbreak for that. These simple hacks do not exist on Android despite rooting availability, at least not yet, and they provide ample use.

When developers develop new apps for a given platform, they become more complacent to the platform’s and carriers’ wishes. That means that large, data intensive files, downloads, and uploads are often vetted through a carrier or platform. For example, when Sling Media launched the Slingplayer app for iOS, the company had prevented 3G streaming through an iphone and limited streaming video to only WiFi use. The jailbreak into fooling the iPhone into thinking it was connected to WiFi remedied that problem until AT&T and Sling Media worked out some kinks to allow Sling Media to stream video. Additionally, with FaceTime’s WiFi limitation, I am able to stream over 3G with adequate and reasonable quality that I can use the jailbreak utility into deceiving my iPhone so I can video chat with loved ones from the beach, for example, where WiFi is non-existent but I am still covered by AT&T’s 3G network. On Android, these system hacks and utilities aren’t available yet, and I am left to the will and whims of Google and Verizon (or whatever carrier I am on).

Concluding thoughts: I was very impressed with Verizon’s strong 4G LTE network. The network won Notebook.com’s Best of CES award for its aggressive roll-out plans earlier this year, and I am looking forward to experiencing it for the first time on a mobile handset. 4G LTE isn’t perfect yet, given the compromises that I have to make, but in the end network speed is important enough for me to make my iOS concessions until Apple delivers a Verizon LTE iPhone. I am now ready to pay AT&T my early termination fees (ETF) on my family plan. Are you ready to make the jump? What’s stopping you or what are some of the attractive features of 4G you’re looking forward to?

Comments

  1. Chillipepper says

    Wait till you get charge for everything! I am a verizon subscriber.. but I chose only to have a voice plan.. nothing else..

    Warning Charges are exorbitant and it comes from all corners. Just be careful.

    Note also that LTE or not it is not going to be UNLIMITED. They are moving to tier consumption..

    Download movies … music.. good luck. You will see your bill approaching $300 a month that is about $3500 a year just for a phone.

      • Triplec92 says

        I believe Verizon and all cellphone companies will eventually do away with unlimited data. This is stupid especially when 4g/lte is coming. The whole point of 4g is faster speeds, more bandwidth thus reducing the network congestion problems of 3g. However i will say that the cellular companies excuse for limiting data is bullshit!!!! They will tell you that they are limiting data due to network congestion. In the 4 years i have had an Iphone on AT&T’s unlimited data i never had slow or congested speeds. Not in my hometown of Detroit or even when traveling the country. The minute i am limited to small data caps or large fees i will simply switch to whatever/ if any company has unlimited data. I use way over 256 megs a day let alone a month and with 4g even more. I cant afford to pay over $45 a month. I would rather have a sometimes congested network with unlimited data than being without any data for most of the month. slower data is better than nothing. BTW as long as i am getting a signal of 90db or better my iphone pulls in 1mb-6mb and that’s almost all the time in the Detroit area. the customers need to not give into these ridiculous limited plans and demand unlimited data. 

    • Anonymous says

      Actually, Verizon is offering unlimited data for $29/mth for early adopters who get the phone in the first month or so. While the small print does give them the right to adjust their prices at any time they have never raised people’s plans in the middle of a contract, or after their contract is done.

      • Jack Briss says

        First off if your going to give advice be accurate. You like many others use this $29.99 a month as god, You did however fail to tell anyone that there is also a charge of $39.99 min for the phone usage, and then ON TOP of that comes the data plan of $29.99 .. now where i come from that adds up to a min with out TAX, of $69.98 a month. You must work for the phone company since they like to deceive people.

        • Xavier Lanier says

          Huh? You really think people aren’t aware that there are several components to a phone bill? I mean, most of us do pay a bill from Sprint, AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile each month.

        • Dawn says

          How was he deceiving. He started data plans were $29.99 for unlimited. However I will disagree about price raising. If you are locked into a contract VZW cannot change your pricing or terms. They may change them non contract customers but if they do you have the right to cancel with no ETF for I believe up to 30 days.

  2. Anonymous says

    Completely disagree with you Chillipepper, I have continuously gone over the 5GB “softcap” of my unlimited data plan, downloading movies, music, etc. I have my device rooted and have used it as a modem for my netbook for some time now and have never once incurred excess charges for data overages.

    Also currently the data packages are still “unlimited” when they do switch to tiered data consumption I don’t believe they have the rights to take away our “unlimited” package much like there are still mobile broadband users with the usb sticks that still have unlimited data.

    Also the reason for your extensive bill seems to be the fact that you chose a “voice only” plan, you can’t just use data and expect it to not cost you extra if it’s not on your plan, same applies for texting.

  3. Technoscout says

    Gee another tech writer from the San Francisco area, yeah we get it, ATT not very good there, but where I am, AT&T rocks and NO phone issues with my iphone.

    • Chuong Nguyen says

      Technoscout, I am actually not complaining about service quality of AT&T here; sorry if that wasn’t clear. AT&T has since resolved, at least for me, issues with dropped data and dropped calls in the SF area. However, my complaint is their marketing with 4G HSPA+ phones–if you’re releasing a phone, your network ought to support it out of the gate, and that hasn’t been the experience I had with the Atrix 4G or Inspire 4G. AT&T’s 3G data is among the fastest in the industry but when you’re comparing a $25 2 GB data plan versus a faster–at least twice as fast as AT&T’s 3G if not more–$30 unlimited 4G data from VZW, then the choice for me is to go with Verizon. I admit that I am among the few who rely on my phone more for data than for voice calls, however.

  4. ____ says

    Can’t wait for the trolls to start calling you a mouthpiece for verizon and an att-hater.

    It’s an interesting human trait to keep insisting that something is true, great, wonderful even when face with overwhelming facts to the contrary; just like att is a 2nd rate network that has lied and mislead while willing taking our hard-earned $$s and provide little in return.

  5. Disgusted says

    mind boggling that there is an actual press release with a real release date on it of march 17th, yet the magnitude of this PR fail is still enormous. can’t you tell us when it’ll be available online to buy – because your website still says “strikes soon” and “sign up to be the first to know BEFORE it strikes”? no emails or text messages or any updates have been received by me!
    REALLY? this PR debacle is completely ridiculous: everyone in the verizon marketing department should be fired.

    • Sasha0625 says

      You are so wrong. I personally added my email address to the notificatiin list and got the email as soon as the phone was launched. Purchased it got a free overnight delivery. Look closer at the website.

  6. Anonymous says

    BTW – First I will like to welcome you to Verizon and the ever growing Android Community.

    As regards about the following statements:

    “There’s also a jailbreak for that. These simple hacks do not exist on Android despite rooting availability, at least not yet, and they provide ample use.” & “On Android, these system hacks and utilities aren’t available yet, and I am left to the will and whims of Google and Verizon (or whatever carrier I am on).”

    Believe it or not but rooting your Android will allow you to do what ever iOS allowed by jail breaking and then some. The tech community for Android is amazing and they are making improvements daily. I think once you have made this your dedicated device and mobile OS of choice, going back to iOS will feel like your taking steps backwards.

    You will finally realize what wireless really means when you don’t have to plug into any computer or download any software to activate or update your device. In all honesty in this modern age and the advancements of smartphones why should you need to manually plug anything in unless you need to charge the battery and even in some cases that can be done wireless as well.

    • Chuong Nguyen says

      Thank you for the warm welcome Google4Life. I agree with you that there are a lot of benefits for jailbreaking and rooting and the support of the Android community via various forums, sites, and discussions are immense. That said, I still haven’t found any solutions post-rooting on Android handsets for the issues that were mentioned in the article, including fooling the phone to think it’s on WiFi when connected to 3G. Additionally, until Google ramps up its DRM mechanism, we’re going to see more limited support for games, streaming content (fragmentation is going to be an issue and users may then be forced to choose which handset based on if they want services like Netflix, rather than the build quality and other factors if streaming video is a priority for those consumers), and then CPU (there are now certain Tegra 2-specific and Tegra 2-optimized games that may not work with non-Tegra 2 chips).

  7. Greekboy says

    Check out YouTube by greekthuglife69 see Verizon treats their workers u already know how they treat u

  8. Rob Jaworski says

    I am curious as to why you would want to fool the Android device into thinking it was on WiFi when it was using the 3G mobile connection? There are plenty of apps to tether, even without rooting your phone, and a rooted Android phone can access many network connections (both with and without the meter running). I can see why on iOS this could be important (facetime, etc.), but can’t think of a single reason why an Android user would want to do this?

    On a side note, I also can’t wait to get the 4G Thunderbolt. I am currently using an Incredible and I love the Sense overlay, and this phone seems to upgrade everything I want upgraded on the Inc. It would be nice to have a little higher resolution on the screen and a dual core processor, but this phone should fit the bill for another year or so!

  9. SWfan4life says

    I like the details that you go into regarding the choice (that has become tougher to justify staying with AT&T) between Verizon and AT&T. I myself have also been a Bellsouth, then Cingular and now an AT&T customer. As a light to medium user of data (with an iphone4) and knowledge of what smartphones can do to make my life more convenient, it’s important for me to continue to monitor the price, value and options that each carrier/smartphone can offer.

    • Robert Gladstone says

      Not sure how many r using it, but when u r getting 20+ mbps down and 30+ up you know the competition is toast. No iPhone is worth that speed. Full site pages load in a couple of seconds with fully functional flash. And the flash works great on the Thunderbolt. So much for Apple saying.g it couldn’t work sell. Lies.

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