First Hands-On Impressions of Verizon 4G: It’s Fast!

Verizon Wireless’s (s vz) LTE mobile broadband network, which the carrier is calling 4G, was introduced today, and goes live for consumers on Dec 5. We received a 4G USB stick from Verizon, the $99 LG VL600, to test the network, which will initially be available in 38 markets and 60 airports. Nearest me is the Phildelphia market, so I took a drive from my home office to the LTE coverage area to get some hands-on time with the new network. First impressions are everything, and my first speed test yielded a download rate comparable to my fast FiOS home network!

Yes, I expect to have good network performance on a network with one user, but at least some testing gives me a starting point. Verizon claims the new network offers half the network latency, and up to 10 times more speed than its 3G network. Using the site, I ran several tests against that claim and found very consistent results: an average of 11.7 Mbps for downloads, 5.6 Mbps for uploads and network latency nearly always at 42 milliseconds. For now, then, Verizon’s LTE network delivers on the carrier’s 4G promise, and it does so at 3G prices.

Speed tests are just a benchmark, though. How does the network perform when you actually use it? No matter what I threw at it, Verizon’s LTE network made me feel as if I were on my home Wi-Fi connection, where I have 20 Mbps fiber-to-the-home service. I had a video chat with my son, for example, and he thought I was at home on my fast wired network. I downloaded the iTunes (s aapl) application — a 78.3 MB piece of software — in just over 90 seconds, then uploaded that same file to Dropbox in about 3 minutes. Surfing page after page of the web was speedy, and watching a high-quality YouTube (s goog) video was like watching a locally stored video: The 3:33-minute media was fully loaded in just under 40 seconds. Overall, my real world speeds didn’t equate to the basic speed test results, but were impressive nonetheless.

The LG VL 600  modem is a bit bulkier than mobile broadband dongles I’ve used in the past, but that makes sense, since the device has to support two different network technologies. In a 4G coverage area, it connects to Verizon’s new LTE network, but outside of that, the device must fall back to EVDO for 3G coverage. I haven’t tested that fallback yet, but on a conference call this morning, Verizon said the transition from 4G to 3G is fairly seamless. From 3G to 4G isn’t quite as fast though; the device won’t transition to the faster network until it becomes idle. That transition could mean a pause in video watching or a download while the device switches networks.

We’ll have to re-test the network once Verizon actually gets customers on it, but for now, the network performs like a champ. Before jumping on-board, however, it may be worth waiting a few weeks for additional LTE devices. The LG VL600 is available on Sunday, while a Pantech model follows soon after. Verizon said it expects to add several more LTE data devices over the coming weeks and months. I can’t help but think a portable hotspot unit would great to share the LTE goodness with several devices like my iPad! One other downside for now: the LG VL600 doesn’t support the Mac OS X operating system, so Mac (s aapl) users definitely want to hold off or plan to use Verizon’s new network with Boot Camp or a virtual machine.

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