Will Verizon’s LTE Outage Harm the “Most Reliable” Network?

Verizon Wireless (s vz) this morning restored service on its new LTE network, which had been experiencing an outage for roughly 24 hours. During the downtime, consumers with an LTE device or handset, were unable to connect to the operator’s data network. Possibly related to the outage is Engadget’s reported delay of Verizon’s second LTE handset, the Droid Charge, which Verizon previously said would launch today. Although the network issue is fixed, it could shake confidence in consumers that are told in Verizon advertisements that the carriers offers the most reliable network in the U.S.

Strangely, the outage hasn’t yet generated any press releases from Verizon, nor have any details of the problem, or resolution, been shared. All of the communication I’ve seen so far has been through social networking channels, such as Twitter, which is where I found information on the service restoration this morning:


In the grand scheme of things, the LTE service disruption didn’t affect a large percentage of customers. According to the company’s most recent investor call, held earlier this month, it has approximately 560,000 subscribers on the LTE network. That works out to only 0.5 percent of the total Verizon customer base affected by the outage. But not having access to a data network for a full day was likely an annoyance at best for those people. I just received a new 4G MiFi review unit yesterday but couldn’t use it at all; luckily it wasn’t a primary connection for me.

For some of those 560,000 LTE subscribers, however, it likely is their one and only mobile broadband connection, be it the HTC ThunderBolt handset, a USB dongle or the MiFi I’m going to review. These are supposed to fall back to 3G networks but during the outage, that didn’t happen. And that’s a problem because having a reliable mobile broadband connection is a key reason consumers and enterprises alike invest in the devices and monthly data plans. As much I enjoy using the fast network speeds afforded by the LTE network, it’s clear that some issues are yet unresolved with the network and devices that use it.

The network outage is the most recent issue, but others still loom, especially with the devices that use LTE. Devices don’t yet hand-off quickly between Verizon’s 3G and 4G networks when leaving an LTE coverage area, for example. Battery life on a 4G smartphone is terrible when the device uses the faster network: Think in the range of two to three hours instead of all day. And there’s no simple way to turn off the 4G radio on the phone in order to reduce the battery drain, although there are third-party widgets that can help. Plus, one of the Motorola Xoom tablet’s main differentiating features — the ability to use the 4G network — isn’t yet available.

Mobile broadband networks are complex beasts; difficult to roll-out, maintain and support. And Verizon’s LTE network is completely new for the carrier: This wasn’t an upgrade to the existing 3G network. But between a reasonably lengthy nationwide outage, a potential handset delay, and both usability and battery issues, some may think twice about how reliable the service really is.

I know we have readers that use the operator’s LTE network, so chime in if you feel any differently about the carrier after this latest problem.