Verizon 3G in Cumberland County

While AT&T has branded Crossville as a third world wasteland in terms of wireless data speeds. Verizon seems to be taking us much more seriously.

I noticed on a friends newish Motorola Droid, that the “3G” icon was lit. After some research, I discovered that Verizon have quietly activated 3G between Nashville and Knoxville some time ago. AT&T’s 3G in East/Middle Tennessee has basically stayed the same.

A client of mine had an application that required higher speed mobile data. After some research, I opted to recommend the Novatele MiFi 2200, and given that Verizon now has 3G here, I also recommend their Data service.

Of course we got to play with the MiFi and the service for a bit. The MiFi works by having 2 radios in it. One connects to the cell towers for data, and the other one creates a small bubble of 802.11g wifi network around the device. The unit itself is very small and very light. About the size of a business card holder. The ideal is that you can switch it on, leave the MiFi in a purse or pocket and use your laptop or other network wireless device just as you would on any normal computer wireless network. There is very little interaction with the MiFi itself, it has just a single on/off button and two indicator lights.

No mater what the sales person tells you, you DO NOT have to have the Verizon crap-ware installed to use the service. Once the unit is activated, ANY device can connect through it to the internet. The security comes from either hiding the SSID (network name broadcast) or from creating a password protected WPA wireless computer network. Both of these security features are normal for securing fixed location computer wireless networks, so any desktop, laptop, or PDA should hookup just fine.

Where you do need the Verizon crap-ware is for the “activation” of the MiFi. But while it’s completely unnecessary for normal use, at least the install method is brilliant. The MiFi does not come with any driver disks. Instead, when you plug the MiFi up to a computer via USB, the MiFi has a small amount of flash storage in it, which contains the software. Your computer can simply install the software directly of the MiFi itself. A brilliant delivery mechanism, despite it’s dim payload. I wish printers did this.

Other than activation, you can theoretically send and receive text messages with the software, but why would you want too? The software can also “configure” your MiFi, but you can just as easily “configure” the unit via a web browser in much the same way as you would a home router. The MiFi can be used in wifi mode, or tethered via the USB port. USB tethering does require drivers, but those are separate from the Verizon software, and can remain after uninstalling the Verizon branded software. While this USB tethering is a physical (and perhaps ackward) connection, the benefit is that the MiFi is powered/charing off the USB port while in use.

As to the charge, we did not have the MiFi long enough to test it’s battery life. There was some disappointment that the MiFi used a USB micro plug instead of the more common USB mini. But USB mico is the comming standard for chargers, so I gather in 2 years this complaint will be moot and we’ll mutter about things still using USB mini. :-)

Now here’s the best part, the speed was AWSOME!

We fired up the unit in our testing lab, and quickly linked up 5 devices to it. (The MiFi is limited to just 5 networked devices at a time. ) We started out with a basic speed test. The Verizon network really shocked me in terms of speed.

Picture 1These were the numbers, 1111 kbps down and 418 kbps up. To put that into prospective, my entry level home DSL numbers are here:

Picture 21248 kbps down and 545 kbps up.

We were able to do Skype Calls with video without any issue. In fact we did 2 Skype calls, one from a laptop with a two way video feed, and anther skype to landline call from an iPod touch. We watched a few minutes of a Netflix film, and some Hulu, no problems at all.

Where Verizon didn’t do so well was in latency dependent things like Remote Desktop and Gaming. We noticed alot of stutter in trying to use for remote access, and a typical First Person Shooting game had some issues. I think this stems from the way Verizon prioritizes its traffic. The top speeds seem to come from applications that do sequential streaming, like video, or any sort of downloading. Random hits and bursts, like with remote access and gaming, seems to move much slower.

In the end, we really did like the device. Verizons 3G is a hundred times better than the whimpy EDGE that AT&T has in Crossville. I’m not sure I personally could justify the $60 a month fro data, but the real deal-breaker for me is the 5GB cap. If not for the cap, I could almost see using this as a functional replacement for someone who needs Broadband at home and on the road.

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