For the third time this December, Verizon customers around the U.S. reported widespread outages of the company's newer, faster 4G LTE wireless service. Although the bug was fixed this morning, customer complaints have made many wonder what has been causing the outages in teh first place, and whether Verizon will still be considered the most reliable service come 2012.
Third Outage in December Alone
On Dec. 28, Verizon customers from more than a dozen states, including Arizona, Texas, Washington, Maryland, North Carolina and Illinois all called with complaints about the 4G outages, as well as issues with the older 3G service, too.
If I am lucky enough to get 3G, it lasts for about 5 minutes and then I lose data completely, wrote one customer on Verizon's web stie. I haven't seen 4G yet today. GRRRR... super frustrating.
Verizon, which dubs itself America's most reliable wireless network, is going to have trouble living up to its name as frustrated customers approach New Year's and many families consider switching services after the holidays.
Issues With 4G, 3G Networks
The 4G LTE service, which Verizon heavily promoted before its unveiling last year with a series of 4G smartphones and expansions, is supposed to be 10 times faster than the 3G still used by most U.S. customers.
But that was before Verizon's first of four massive 4G outages since April 2011, with three of them just in the month of December and the recent recent Dec. 28 outage coming only seven days after the last one.
Verizon has not offered any details on the cause of the 4G outages or spotty 3G service, and customers who bought 4G phones in the summer are already beginning to jump ship.
Good thing I upgraded to a Galaxy Nexus today, another commenter wrote on Verizon's online forum. It's a really pretty brick right now.
Verizon Keeping Mum
December's mass outages, meanwhile, has only been exacerbated by Verizon's response (or lack thereof).
Verizon really needs to work on its PR, another customer grouched. Not even a statement? At least acknowledge the problem... do you really expect your paying customers not to notice?
Yet despite the customer backlash, all Verizon has done to assure wireless customers is post a terse tweet a few hours ago. 4GLTE issue resolved overnight.
It even asserted that the 3G service had suffered any issues, contradicting numerous customer complaints over a period of hours.3G operated normally, the company's Twitter post read. Calling, texting were unaffected.
What's Causing 4G LTE Outages?
The issue with LTE technology is that it's a lot more intricate, and therefore a lot more temperamental, than many of its predecessors.
Unlike previous systems that have used switches to control phone traffic parsed into city blocks, 4G LTE uses cores, which according the CNN act as centralized command-and-control operators that span multiple states.
This is what makes 4G LTE so much faster. It also means that if one system goes down, entire regions can lose service.
As for what causes the problem to begin with, experts point to when the outages take place. In a good sign for Verizon, all four outages began in the middle of the night, when traffic volume is at its lowest.
This indicates that the issue is almost certainly caused by teh 'growing pains from upgrades and patches to the network rather than excessive traffic.
Will Customers Drop Verizon in 2012?
Verizon's new wireless networks are expected to have some growing pains, and the company has been quick enough in its response times to stop customers complaining too loudly. After so many 4G outages, however, the wireless service may be pushing their luck.
The big attraction for Verizon is its network superiority, said Roger Entner, founder of the market research firm Recon Analytics. He points to Verizon's reliability slogan as something that has roped customers in in the past.
But once Verizon's famous can you hear me now? slogan starts sounding false, the result could be worse than if it hadn't been heard at all. People pay a premium for this superiority, Entner told CNET. But if that goes away, they are merely expensive.
For now, it's likely that most Verizon customers will stick it out with their 4G smartphones, despite the recent outages. The network offers many benefits for its 4G LTE customers, including faster Internet service and the capacity to hold more data.
But as Verizon expands it operations into the New Year, this most recent 4G outage should be a big wake-up call. In 2010, the company launched the 4G LTE network with 38 markets. By the end of 2011, it's expected to have 190, and more than 200 million customers. If these 4G outages continue after New Year's Day 2012, those 200 million customers are likely to be far less understanding.