Thursday, April 28, 2011

Verizon Restores LTE, But Puts Second 4G Phone on Hold

Verizon Wireless said Thursday that the outage on its fledgling high-speed 4G Long Term Evolution network has ended. But the wireless carrier postponed the launch of its newest LTE smartphone.

"Our 4G LTE network is up and running," Verizon spokesperson Jeff Nelson told us in an e-mail. "Our network engineers and vendors quickly identified the issue and solved it."

Reconnect Your Modem

"Customers using the Thunderbolt have normal service," Nelson said, referring to HTC's LTE smartphone, the only 4G handset currently available from Verizon. "Laptop users with USB modems may need to reconnect to the network when moving between 3G and 4G. This will continue to improve."

The company declined to comment on the cause of the snafu, which started Wednesday, days after the network's LTE footprint was expanded to six new markets, for a total of 46 metropolitan areas. LTE devices can roam to 3G coverage when leaving an LTE area. Rival AT&T warned in December that this roaming could cause "jarring speed degradation" for LTE customers unless 3G networks are upgraded, as AT&T says it is doing before moving to LTE.

Verizon told Thunderbolt customers via Twitter on Wednesday that their data speeds would temporarily be slower because of the outage, reverting to the 1xrtt standard that preceded 3G. Voice calls were not affected.

The company also said that activations of new LTE phones will not be possible, which may explain why the launch of the Samsung Droid Charge was delayed, with no new date given. Verizon has announced 10 devices, including smartphones, USB modems, and Wi-Fi hot spots, for the LTE network. Verizon says LTE users can expect average data rates of five to 12 megabits per second for downloads and two to five Mbps for uploads in "real-world, fully loaded network environments."

Verizon hopes to serve 175 markets with LTE coverage by the end of the year.

Explosion of Data

This week's snafu isn't a near-term issue for Verizon LTE customers, said Weston Henderek, lead wireless analyst at Current Analysis.

"Overall, the load on the network is still relatively low, given that they just started launching LTE phones, and there are not many users on the network," Henderek said. "However, in the long run Verizon Wireless will face the same issue with its LTE network that it and its major competitors have faced on the 3G side. That is, that data usage is exploding at such a high pace that the carriers are having a hard time keeping up with capacity demands. Verizon is claiming that they are on top of this issue, but that remains to be seen, based on how quickly data usage grows."

Making matters worse, Henderek noted, is that all major wireless carriers face a looming spectrum crunch that could affect their networks further if more is not made available soon by the Federal Communications Commission.

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