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Verizon 4G Device Has 3G Problem

Stocks in this article: NVTL VZ

Estimates on that fix range from September -- made by a technical support rep over the phone phone -- to anytime in the second half of the year, up through Dec. 31, according to two in-store reps citing an internal Verizon Wireless memo. A version of this email has been available since mid-July, a store manager says.

During a visit to a second Boston area store this past weekend, a salesman declined to give warnings about the 4G glitch at least twice, including when asked point blank about it: "Are there any issues with this device at all that I should know about?"

No simple fix
The bigger business problem of course is that none of the technological explanations or remediations Verizon Wireless offers are of much help to businesses looking to use their spiffy new 4G hotpots.

Novatel says getting back 4G access can be as simple as turning the device off and on again, but that did not work in our testing or for the support people in the Verizon store trying to fix these bricked devices. The next suggestion is to set the device to get only 4G, meaning that instead of finding a 3G signal when 4G isn't available, there will be no signal at all. That might make a user wonder at the point of having a mobile 4G device at all; it's a fast way to discover the LTE network isn't as pervasive as Verizon might want you to think.

Novatel went on to say it has seen the problem only in the home markets where the modem was bought. These home units fail when they are turned off in a 3G area and back on in a 4G area. But if that were true, wouldn't anybody flying in a plane -- or traveling a distance in a car -- trigger the bug?

Hardware's hand holding
So what do wonky hotspots mean long term for your firm? I am afraid it's not pretty: For a device like this -- that has been so deeply deployed for so long -- to go so utterly south indicates that 4G deployment is a much more complex technological endeavor than we all thought. It turns out, the network is often not stable enough. The hardware is often not stable enough. Which means, along with the usual headaches a business must face when deploying 4G -- Do my people have coverage? Can I get control software to work on my existing computers and smartphones? -- comes a new one:

When you buy a 4G device for your business, you had better factor in some downtime to not only make sure you have coverage and working communications software, but that the networking device itself works. A fatal bug may appear out of nowhere. And that's not good if you or your people are on the road and can't get to a Verizon Wireless store to get a replacement device ... and then another one. And then another one.

In the end, we swapped our Novatel MiFi unit for a similar Samsung modem, which appears to be working fine.

But who knows for how long?

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.
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