Why Verizon’s 4G Limits May be the Droid Bionic’s Achilles Heel

The Droid Bionic might be the best 4G LTE phone you can buy, but Verizon’s limits will prevent the device from living up to its full potential. Both Motorola’s Droid Bionic and Verizon’s 4G network are speed demons, but what’s the use if you have to worry about burning through your data allocation before the month even ends?

Rationing gigabytes and worrying about streaming multimedia content will damper many users’ excitement over 4G. Instead of enjoying the Droid Bionic to its full potential, they’ll have to consider the cost of data every time they consider downloading a large file, or want to stream any multimedia content.

(Click here for our full Droid Bionic Review here.)

The problem here is that most consumers don’t have a clue what a gigabyte is, much less how much bandwidth it takes to do any of the cool things Verizon promises you can do on its 4G devices.

Verizon offered unlimited 4G access when it launched the HTC Thunderbolt back in March.  For $29.99 per month, Thunderbolt owners could run wild and even use the mobile spot feature without paying additional fees. That party ended back in July when Verizon started charging an extra $29.99 per month for the mobile hotspot feature to early adopters who were already signed up for Verizon’s unlimited 4G plan.

Verizon now offers new 4G LTE subscribers decidedly less-attractive plan options. The new 2GB per month base plan now costs $30 per month. There’s also a 5 GB ($50/month) and 10 GB  ($80/month) plan available. Overage charges are $10 per GB. The optional mobile hotspot feature is an extra $20, but gives you another 2GB of bandwidth to play with. All of which can add up quickly.

Verizon obviously needs to make a profit, but unfortunately data caps will make users think twice before actually using 4G LTE in ways that really make Verizon’s network shine. Want to stream Netflix movies or watch a ballgame through MLB’s At Bat 2011 app? Better check your Verizon account, unless you’re willing to get bumped to the next $10 tier.  Want to axe your home Internet service and replace it with your Droid Bionic and 4G LTE? Forget about it unless you managed to get grandfathered in like I am.

4G Downloads eat up limited data fast.

4G Downloads eat up limited data fast.

All things considered, $60 for unlimited data and the mobile hotspot functionality is a price I’m happy to pay.

The keyword in this for me is “unlimited.” As in, I don’t have to tell my wife to not watch movies via Slingbox or listen to music via Slacker when traveling for fear of overage fees. It means I don’t have to worry when visiting my in-laws, who ironically have a .5 to 1 Mbps Verizon broadband connection. I don’t have to worry about uploading and downloading large files with connected notebooks or tablets. Unlimited also means I don’t have to worry about checking in on my Verizon Wireless account to figure out when I get a new batch of gigabytes.

Sadly, Droid Bionic users are always going to have data limits looming over their shoulders. Even those with deep pockets will be reminded to throttle back every time they opent their Verizon Wireless bills.  During my three-week trip to the East Coast this summer I pumped more than 17GB of data through my HTC  Thunderbolt. The total bill for data for the month was $60 thanks to being on the no longer available unlimited plan. Under Verizon’s new plans the cost would’ve been $190, $180 or $160 depending on which tier I was subscribed to.  If I had one of the newer 4G plans I likely would’ve had to have kept an eye on how much data I was using, and rationed my usage accordingly.

Here’s an LG Revolution ad that highlights a bunch of the things you can do with Verizon’s 4G LTE network. Think about how many of those thing you would hesitate doing if you have to to pay overage fees. The first thing I’d stop doing is sharing my 4G connection with friends at tech conferences.

So what’s the answer here? I’m not suggesting Verizon grant unlimited access to anyone with a 4G phone, but how about a truly unlimited plan for those that are willing to pay for it? Yes, users can technically use as much data as they wish and pay a varying amount each month, but the lack of an unlimited plan will keep the Droid Bionic and Verizon’s 4G LTE network from living up to their potential.