Verizon’s embattled LTE network has one issue that hasn’t gotten as much attention: Mobile Hotspot. Timeouts and dropped connections plague the service since its launch. Meanwhile, consumers pay $30/month hoping to be grandfathered into unlimited hotspot data, for life.
The carrier that boasts “It’s The Network” does indeed have the most pervasive LTE network in the nation, so growing pains are something that would be a bit forgivable. However, this one issue has persisted since launch, and affects not a few, but all of Verizon’s LTE phones.
Read more for the analysis, technicals, and what we’ve done to try and work with Verizon on the problem.
Background on the behind-the-scenes deal
Around when Verizon Wireless announced its LTE network, they also began capping new customers’ data, a la AT&T. Also like AT&T, they grandfathered in existing customers, although not all of them would be allowed to upgrade to LTE.
That move wasn’t much of a surprise. AT&T and Verizon both have dominant holdings of customers, and want to encourage them to stay… by making it unfavorable to give up their no-longer-available plans.
What made Verizon stand out from the pack, was sweetening the pot even more. For those with grandfathered smartphone data, the carrier offered a $30/month add-on that netted unlimited LTE Mobile Hotspot. Visions of Verizon replacing home Internet drove people to sign up for the plan. With speeds of up to 20 mbps, why not? Uncapped, unthrottled, unlimited… it beat the offerings from Comcast and others. Combined with a Wi-Fi router in bridge mode, you could power every Ethernet-connected gadget in your house to faster-than-DSL for $30 per month, all driven by your cell phone.
The issue in detail
It’s not quite clear why LTE Mobile Hotspot has frequent timeouts and disconnects. Some believe this is part of Verizon’s network management. Unlike 3G Mobile Hotspot, which requires a capped data plan, the unlimited 4G Mobile Hotspot may utilize IMS to lower the priority of mobile hotspot traffic in prolonged usage. On an impacted tower/area, this could cause the connection to timeout. Users report rebooting the phone often brings the connection back.
Indeed, while researching this report, we found hotspot data traveled through a separate IMS gateway than handset data. While this is similar to the “Modem NAI” method of having two data connections, that Verizon used in the 3G era, this is more sophisticated. It allows the handset data to use one path onto the Internet, while hotspot data uses another path… a path that Verizon can filter, throttle, and proxy more than the handset experience.
Again, we’re not saying we know why LTE Mobile Hotspot has this issue, but Verizon has had other data outages on LTE related to their advanced IMS implementation of late.
Pinging Verizon Mobile Hotspot for Info
The most common symptom by affected users is high packet loss, across all client devices. Handset traffic continues to work fine. Pings to even Verizon domains and IP addresses begin to endure packet loss around thirty to forty percent. For consumers, this is resonated in the form of pages timing out, and even DNS not resolving on domain names.
Different devices report different statuses. Our LG Revolution and HTC Thunderbolt insisted all was fine with Mobile Hotspot. Motorola and Samsung devices appear to report a cycling between connecting and disconnecting.
All devices we tested had the latest, official firmware. Some users report rooting their phones, and bypassing Verizon’s mobile hotspot gateway and software, work around this issue.
Several users have reported these incidents to PhoneNews.com, and we were able to confirm it on over five different Verizon LTE handset models.
Worse, we were able to confirm these issues in non-4G markets, while using a Verizon LTE handset on their CDMA EV-DO Rev A network. The same issues occurred with an excellent 3G EVDO signal. Much like in an LTE market, data on the handset was not affected, only hotspot data. A 3G-only iPhone with a metered mobile hotspot data plan did not reproduce these issues. We tested three LTE phones and re-created the issue… even going as far as to have our SIM cards replaced, and accounts completely reprovisioned.
We’re not alone on this…
PhoneNews.com is not alone in confirming these issues, other publications such as The Verge have also confirmed the issues. Engadget has also reported on these issues in the past as well. At the time, Verizon acknowledged Engadget’s issues as firmware-related, but updates since claiming to fix known issues with LTE Mobile Hotspot on phones like the HTC Thunderbolt, have done little to remedy widespread issues.
Verizon Wireless responded to our requests for comments, suggesting affected users contact Verizon technical support. A spokesperson for Verizon declined to comment, however, on if Verizon is aware of the hotspot issues that we chronicled to them in-depth. PhoneNews.com did offer to assist Verizon in diagnosing these issues, an offer that went unresponded to.
Unfortunately, technical support is of little help to affected users, even going as far as to blaming client Wi-Fi devices… flying right in the face of consumers who point out that the problem affects all client devices connected to the phone. PhoneNews.com staff have submitted multiple trouble tickets on this problem. Our first ticket was closed, blaming the PRL device on the handset as out of date. We quickly confirmed the PRL was up to date. Our second trouble ticket was closed, as many others have, blaming client Wi-Fi devices as the issue.
Technical support refused to allow us to talk to the trouble ticket team, claiming it was impossible. They insisted we were at fault for purchasing faulty client Wi-Fi devices.
Wrapping it up, dropping the service
In all, we’re tired of paying $30/month for a feature that just doesn’t work. It’s a pipe dream that we believe Verizon should not have rolled out, unless it was sustainable enough to utilize. We hope Verizon does respond with a more in-depth explanation, and a timeframe for when the issue will be fixed… or the feature simply scrapped.