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Verizon 4G Device Has 3G Problem

Stocks in this article: NVTL VZ

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Here's yet another business wrinkle with fancy, schmancy 4G networking hardware: the hardware itself.

One of Verizon Wireless' (VZ) popular 4G wireless devices, the Novatel (NVTL) MiFi 4510L mobile hotspot ($49.99 with a two-year contract), has a glitch that can get some units stuck permanently in 3G mode if they enter an area without 4G, the company confirms. Verizon says it has sold millions of the devices, which turn Verizon's fast new 4G LTE network along with its 3G and 1G digital cellular services into a mobile access point to the Web for up to five users.

Verizon and Novatel say they are fixing the problem. Which is good, because as it stands they basically amount to a single-use 4G hotspot. One of my editors bought a Novatel MiFi -- based mostly on my recommendation, by the by. And then a replacement the next day. And then a replacement for the replacement the day after that. His brand-new 4G modems "died" not once, not twice, but three times. These units, bought in and around Boston, could connect to Verizon's cutting-edge LTE 4G signal at first. But if, for some reason, the device went into 3G mode -- say, by taking it into an uncovered area or going deep into a building -- it could never acquire a 4G connection again.

A running joke in the news business is that what happens to big editors is big news. But here in the gadget-o-sphere that's nonsense. When an editors has a tech problems, it's usually exactly that: an editor having a problem. So I was skeptical that this particular string of bad modems indicated Verizon had a larger problem with this product.

In fact, it did.

Bad network bug
Verizon confirms a connection problem similar to what we experienced. But it emphasizes that the company has sold many of the Novatel MiFi hotspots nationwide with few issues. (In fact, I have one in the test fleet in my shop and it has worked well for several months, including on a long drive around Boston this past weekend to confirm its working status.)

"There is an issue with some of the Novatel MiFi 4510L devices," Brenda B. Raney, executive director of corporate communications at Verizon, said via email. "But at this point, there have been a very few customer complaints. Novatel is aware and is working closely with our team to correct the problem and will do so in a maintenance update."

Novatel confirms that.

"Novatel Wireless and Verizon Wireless are aware of the issue," says Charlotte Rubin, senior director of public relations for Novatel, "and are working on a maintenance release/firmware update to be available in the near term for current subscribers."

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