Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Verizon AWS 4G LTE Speed Myth explained

Over the past few days several tech blogs published news that Verizon Wireless launched AWS LTE (Band 4 1700/2100Mhz)  in New York City and Los Angeles California. Accompanying these articles were screen shots of speedtests where users were getting 80Mbps download and 15-25Mbps upload. What a lot of people don’t realize is the speeds reflected on these tests aren’t 100% accurate and will change as more devices become “Band 4” AWS enabled. For example look back to when 4G LTE originally launched and only a few handsets offered the capability, users were posting speeds upwards of 60Mbps download and 20-30Mbps upload. 

After more and more devices became LTE enabled speeds started to be reduced to the original quoted average of 5-12Mbps download and 2-5Mbps upload. In high traffic areas where Verizon doesn’t have enough 700Mhz spectrum available to provide the average speeds customers expect they’ll be adding the AWS LTE spectrum. The additional spectrum will allow devices to connect to either Band 13 (700Mhz LTE) or Band 4 (1700/2100Mhz AWS LTE) based on tower load. 

To put this in simple terms think of a 2 lane highway vs. a 4 lane highway. In most smaller cities a 2 lane highway is enough, but in larger cities you’ll often see 4 or more lane highways. This is designed because more people live in these areas and more traffic passes through these points. AWS LTE is the equivalent to turning that 2 lane highway into a 4 or more lane highway for larger cities where additional capacity is needed. Right now in New York City and Los Angeles customers are able to show 80Mbps speeds because only a few devices are on the network, but when more devices update to band 4 the “traffic lanes” will slow down back to the average 5-12Mbps down and 2-5Mbps upload. 

Most sites are confusing this speed for something that will be seen down the road when LTE-Advanced gets released in a few years. The LTE-Advanced network has a much higher throughput rating than current LTE and when that launches down the road people will see average speeds increase substantially. The new AWS LTE bands are still running the same LTE technology, just on a different frequency and doesn’t offer any additional throughput, just more overhead for larger markets. 

What data devices have band 4 AWS enabled? 
At this time the only data only device that supports Band 4 is the Pantech UML295. Verizon released an OTA (Over the air) update today to support the AWS band. For customers already using UML295 modems in a router you’ll need to insert your USB modem into a computer to pull down the AWS LTE support update. In the coming weeks both the 291 Orbit and MiFi 5510L hotspots will receive this update too, but currently don’t support AWS LTE. Older devices like the Pantech UML290, USB551L etc will not receive an update for band 4 support, but will still function as normal on the standard 700Mhz Band 13 LTE network. If you do have a device that supports the AWS band, like the Pantech UML295, and you happen to be in an area that is using the new AWS band, you may temporarily see better speeds since there aren't as many devices using that part of Verizon's network yet. Eventually, though, everything will even out and Verizon's 700mhz network and AWS network will average out to provide the same speeds.