Verizon Stumbles Into 2012, Extends LTE Data Promotions Into January

January 3, 2012

Once the Tom Brady of the cellular-services league, Verizon Wireless is looking a lot more like Tim Tebow these days, struggling from some uncharateristic lapses in service and a major public-relations gaffe as the calendar turns to 2012. And in what might be a signal that its 4G LTE service still isn’t generating the kind of sales Verizon would like, the company is continuing its double data promotions for new 4G LTE phones in January, as evidenced by some new TV commercials airing during the big bowl game broadcasts.

In December, Verizon suffered not one, not two but three separate LTE outages, a breakdown so unusual that the company actually provided a spokesperson to speak with the GigaOM blog to explain its side of the story. In previous LTE outages Verizon had taken the silent approach, not commenting other than to say “the network’s working again.” But its mea culpa to GigaOM’s Kevin Fitchard (where Verizon tried the sympathy route, saying as the leader they deserved to have some “growing pains”) is just one sign that the big rule-the-air thing isn’t up to the usual Verizon network standards.

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Verizon Hits Half-Million Mark for LTE Subscribers

April 21, 2011

Will Verizon Wireless be the U.S. 4G market leader before the end of the year? It certainly looks that way if Big Red can keep up the pace from its just-announced first fiscal quarter, which saw Verizon add 500,000 subscribers for its Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G network. According to Verizon that number includes 260,000 activations for its first LTE phone, the HTC Thunderbolt, which was only on sale for two weeks of the 90-day period.

According to Verizon the 500,000 number (which they say is “more than 500,000″) is new for Q1, meaning the running total of subscribers on Verizon’s new network is about 565,000, including the 65,000 subscribers signed up in Q4. That’s pretty rapid growth that will only likely accelerate as more Verizon LTE devices (like the recently announced portable Wi-Fi hotspots) become available. The question for 4G market watchers like ourselves is when might Verizon overtake early market leader Sprint, which likely has a few million 4G subscribers right now? It’s not an easy answer to find, simply because Sprint hasn’t ever broken out its 4G subscriber numbers out of its main totals.

Why hasn’t Sprint been more granular with its 4G data? Some of it probably has to do with the ongoing dispute between Sprint and Clearwire over how much Sprint was supposed to pay Clearwire for each customer on the 4G network. With that issue now resolved and Sprint and Clearwire in much better lockstep, we hope to see more clarity over the 4G subscriber numbers either during Sprint’s call next week or Clearwire’s in early May.

Right now the best guess at how many 4G customers Sprint has is somewhere around 2.4 million — we get this figure by taking the total number of Clearwire wholesale 4G subscribers, 3.3 million, and subtract the 900,000 or so customers who bought a Sprint 4G phone but don’t live in a 4G coverage area. (Clearwire also doesn’t break out its wholesale numbers by service provider, but compared to Sprint’s numbers the other wholesale partners are most likely a rounding error at this point; maybe we’ll hear more about who is selling how much for Clearwire during its next earnings call.)

So will Verizon overtake Sprint? Or will the “tiered pricing” that Verizon is now hinting at discourage a true groundswell of customers, and drive more toward Sprint’s true unlimited 4G data plans? Sounds like the next quarter will tell a lot when it comes to U.S. 4G market leadership. But it’s clear from Verizon’s recent performance that the battle is on.

Verizon’s LTE Smartphone Data Pricing: $30 a Month for Unlimited 4G/3G Data

March 15, 2011

Finally — Finally — we have the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to Verizon’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) smartphone strategy, namely the price of the LTE data plan. After dropping $249 on the HTC Thunderbolt device itself and signing up for a 2-year contract your data plan from Verizon is $29.99 a month for unlimited data downloads, a plan that Verizon says covers connections via both the 4G LTE network or the company’s 3G network when a 4G connection isn’t available.

With the mandatory nationwide voice contract (the lowest is a $39.99 plan for 450 minutes) that means it will take approximately $320 out of your wallet to get connected to what is arguably the quickest and certainly the least-used mobile broadband network in the country for now. While that price may be a bit steep for some, Verizon is offering a bit of a sweetener for those who move quickly, throwing in the mobile hotspot capability embedded in the Thunderbolt for free until May 15. After that date, all Thunderbolt customers old and new will pay an additional $20 for each 2 GB of data that they use via the hotspot function.

Our quick take on this pricing breakdown is that Verizon doesn’t see itself getting snowed under from users connecting to its LTE network via the handsets themselves, but it is protecting itself from the potentially huge data downloads that could come by using the phone as a mobile hotspot, since it can connect to up to eight additional devices. For right now, Verizon is holding still on its 4G LTE USB modem data plan pricing, charging $50 for 5 GB per month and $80 for 10 GB per month of data downloads; prices on the devices, however, have fallen to $69.99 with an online discount. Potential customers however might do well to peruse the reviews on the Verizon website and ask your local salesperson politely if the connection problems for the modems are being fixed.

While the 4G LTE data plan for the Thunderbolt may not be revolutionary, it certainly offers heads-up competition to Sprint’s unlimited 4G data plans for its WiMAX-based smartphones and mobile hotspot devices. At the very least we should have some fun debate about the term unlimited at the wireless CEO panel at next week’s big CTIA show in Orlando. If unlimited is the new table stakes for 4G, the real winners already are the potential customers of the faster data networks.