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Friday, February 24, 2012

Why the (#*$&!!* is Verizon's Network Not Working?

It used to be pretty simple to be a Verizon customer. You buy a phone, and you knew that while you might be paying a more than the average customer, you knew that not only was your network everywhere, it worked all the time. There was a time when Verizon customers would make fun of AT&T or Sprint customers when their phones lost data, or text didn't work. You really do get what you pay for, especially at a sporting event or other large gathering of people in a small area. Verizon always seemed to work better than the competition.

As more people are buying LTE devices on Big Red, there are more and more people grumbling about Verizon's phones not working as intended. Dropped data is a big one, or getting stuck on 1X. It isn't any fun when you expect 4G and get 1X. So what's going on? Let's take a look at what's going on with Verizon today.

There aren't any engineering degrees hanging on my walls, I am a chef by trade. However, explaining what's going on with Verizon right now isn't rocket science. It is just a matter of math.

Currently, Verizon is supporting quite a few different kinds of networks. Most of the USA is covered in 3G, and that's what most people are thinking of when they buy or use a phone. 3G works great, it transfers data to your phone relatively fast, and the phone and tower talk to each other with a minimal delay. That's to say that the 'ping' or 'lag' is low. What that means is stuff starts happening almost right away when you press a button in your phone's browser.

In areas that are far away from towns, or fringe coverage areas, your phone might pick up 1X. That's an old network. It is 1G so to speak, compared to 3G and 4G. (2G wasn't really adapted.) It works fine for calling and texting, but you might notice that data doesn't work all that great on 1X. Not only does the data crawl along at a snail's pace, slower than dial-up speeds, it also has a very high amount of lag. It might take 2 seconds for data to travel back and forth from the tower, so browsing websites and apps might act like they are not connected at all when you start using them.

The technology used above is CDMA. You don't need to know what that means, except that CDMA phones don't need SIM cards. But wait, 4G LTE uses a SIM card so what's up with that? LTE technology is based on GSM, like your friends on AT&T there is a SIM card involved, and all Verizon 4G phones have a SIM card tucked under the battery cover.

Here's where the issue comes in. CDMA doesn't talk to GSM. It just doesn't work. So Verizon had to make another network to manage the handoff between 4G and 3G. That network is eHRPD. If you have a Verizon LTE phone that's on 3G, it's hanging out on the eHRPD network. You can check this yourself by going into your phone settings--> About phone--> Status and it's listed under Network.

This go between network is what's causing most the issues with Verizon's network lately. It is also why when the LTE network goes down, 3G tends to go down for 4G phones, despite what Verizon's PR teams might say. It is also why the transition from 4G to 3G can be painfully long, as the phone tries to handshake back and forth from 3G to 4G.

Well if eHRPD is the problem, can I just disable it? Well there is a way to do it on most phones, but it doesn't always stick if you reboot the phone, not to mention it involves digging into test menus that Verizon really doesn't intend the general public to get into.

So where does that leave us now? Well Verizon is in a transition phase right now. The idea is to get the whole country in LTE coverage by the end of 2013, that means phasing out 3G and also 1X. Once Verizon has us all on LTE phones, then you will see phones that don't have 3 different radios in them-and hopefully battery life will be much improved by then. Verizon is going to have your voice data over LTE soon, the concept is just now breaking. This isn't ideal for us now, and believe me, if you buy a LTE device now or in the next year, you are an early adaptor of this new technology. Things are going to be so much better when these legacy networks go away.