Monday, October 26, 2009

Verizon: Metered Broadband Is Coming As long as consumers are stupid enough to allow it...Verizon: Metered Broadband Is coming As long as consumers

There's not a broadband provider out there who wouldn't instantly begin billing you by the byte if they thought you (the consumer) would sign off on it. Unfortunately for them, Time Warner Cable's recent PR disaster illustrated that consumers aren't sold on low caps and high overages when broadband delivery costs continue to drop. Many customers may be stupid, but they can apparently read an ISP's 10-K form, which shows that flat-rate billing provides broadband operators with very healthy profits.

There's only one way that the broadband industry is hoisting metered billing on a wary public, and that's if all broadband carriers embrace the idea at once. Since most broadband users only have the choice of one or two carriers, if the industry made a collective shift to per-byte billing there's very little consumers could do about it. With AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable all either engaged in metered billing trials or consistently thinking about it, that leaves Verizon standing in the way of the ultimate investor pipe dream: billing you by the byte.

Right now, the competitive threat of uncapped FiOS acts as a deterrent to companies in Verizon's territory eager to cap or meter. Verizon has consistently told they have no plans for metered billing, though they've been careful to use vague language that left the door open to the possibility. Back in May the company's CEO strongly hinted at a metered future, and today Verizon CTO Dick Lynch gave investors the strongest hint yet (see Telephony Online and GigaOM) that a per-byte future awaits you:

When asked how Verizon would meet the burgeoning demand for bandwidth for Internet video and other services, Lynch admitted "the concept of a flat-rated infinitely expanding service for everyone just won�t work." "We are going to reach a point where we will sell packages of bites," (sic) Lynch said. "Now I�m not announcing a new pricing plan. But we have already gone this way in wireless because that is where the resource is most constrained."
It's pretty clear right now that Verizon's primarily interested in making sure that net neutrality rules don't prohibit creative pricing models (not that the industry has presented any), but it's also pretty clear they're interested. For now Verizon will use all that uncapped GPON capacity to sock it to cable competitors. But eventually, execs like Lych will realize that the only way Verizon can retain the kind of power they're used to in an evolved broadband ecosystem is by creating artificial scarcity and squeezing the bandwidth pipe.

It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when. And when Verizon decides to fully embrace metered billing, watch out. While Time Warner Cable flubbed their attempt to ransack your wallet like a randy teenager over-eagerly fumbling with consumer bra straps, Verizon, who's a little more experienced in nickle and diming, will make no such mistakes. Verizon's shown they're a lobbying, PR and spin juggernaut, and if anyone can convince American consumers that paying already very profitable companies more money for less product is wonderful and fair, Verizon can.

Choosing a Broadband Card (Verizon or Sprint)

For the better off of ten years, I’ve been a fairly frequent business and pleasure traveler. And staying connected has always been a top priority. Back in the old days, our options were quite limited – usually involving dialup access of some sort. I distinctly recall using a Palm V and modem to quickly check email, without firing up a laptop, while on the road in 1999 or 2000. The situation is much better these days, with numerous and exponentially faster wireless options.

Although both can be great options, for the purpose of this post, we’ll set aside mobile phone tethering and pervasive WiFi services to focus on dedicated data cards. If your (or your employer’s) budget permits, broadband cards (or integrated services
) generally provide the quickest and most secure way to hit the Internet from a laptop and run about $60/month. The last few years, I’ve utilized several 3G cards from Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T (plus a 4G Xohm card, pictured above) all over the country.

In choosing a broadband card and service, most modern 3G hardware should be fine. Assuming you can get a good deal (which you usually can), the key factors in making a decision are access, coverage, and contract terms. Of course, if your employer is providing the card, this could be out of your hands. But notice I said 3G. That should immediately rule out T-Mobile with their fledgling 3G network and Clear/Xohm+Sprint with their slowly expanding
4G WiMax network – the footprint is small, and only suitable for folks who rarely need to access data services outside their home area. So that leaves AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint (3G).

I’m a mostly satisfied AT&T iPhone customer these days. But my experiences on their data network haven’t been great – I cannot recommend them. While at Dash, I used an AT&T card. Which worked out just fine for typical web browsing, and the like. However, this was for business use… and our Cisco corporate VPN was blocked. 100% of the time. For a service catering to enterprise customers, I don’t get it. But I do know my card wasn’t very useful. Fast forward a few months, and Kevin Tofel loaned me his Quicksilver review card while at CES . In Vegas, the card was unusable. Granted, the cell networks were probably saturated, but at various times and locations the best I could get was dialup speeds. Back home on the east coast, the Mac OS X connection manager couldn’t even register the card on the network. Total fail. Now my experience could be unique, as Kevin had better luck. But, are you willing to risk a two year contract to find out?

Now we’re down to just Sprint and Verizon. I’ve had a pair of cards from both providers. And there’s not much to say: speeds and coverage were great. Either would be a good bet. It’s probably worth mentioning that Verizon is known for “the network” and Sprint’s customer service hasn’t always been great, if you need to further refine your choice.

And now a word on contracts. Just about all of these require a two year contract. Which can add up. So make sure you’re prepared for a long-term commitment. Additionally, access. The “Unlimited” never really means unlimited current industry standard appears to be a 5GB cap on data usage per month. I’m not sure how strict the carriers are in enforcing that number – I know I’ve gone over without hearing from anyone. However, it’s there and you need to be aware of it. In fact, I’ve got a great new example today. The Boost Mobile (Sprint) brochure I photographed (below) advertises “Unlimited” cellphone service… yet prohibits “abnormally high numbers of calls”, “calls of unusually long duration”, and “unusually high numbers of messages.” How, exactly, does one quantify that?

Road Tested: the Verizon MiFi portable broadband router

For the last couple of weeks, I've been testing the Verizon MiFi portable WiFi hotspot. After writing about the MiFi, a few months back, I was placed on a waiting list to receive a test unit. Could the MiFi enhance the iPod touch experience to bring it into the realm of the iPhone? A unit finally came free and I finally got my hands-on experience to discover whether my assumptions would be proved right or wrong.

The MiFi, which is a portable EV-DO router, provides a 3G connection through an absolutely tiny unit. All plastic, it's about as thick as an iPhone and about two-thirds as large as its front face. The MiFi's entire user interface is its single button (seen at the bottom right of the image here). When pressed, the button switches on and glows green. Pressed again and held, the unit turns off and the green glow disappears. Sprint offers a near-identical unit, except it's finished in brushed metal instead of black.

Read on to discover how my MiFi testing went...

What the MiFi offers you is wireless connectivity on the go. It creates a protected wireless network, which you can reach with any nearby system: Mac, iPhone, PC, etc. The password for the network appears on a label physically attached to the unit and consists of an 11 number sequence. My iPod touch had no trouble remembering this sequence and automatically rejoining the network whenever it was switched on.


3G connectivity depends on the 3G coverage in your area. AT&T dead spots seemed to be highly correlated with Verizon dead spots. I found the coverage was neither better nor worse. There were places I was hard pressed to get a steady signal. Other locations easily passed my Pandora test.

My Pandora test goes like this. You run the Pandora music application on an iPhone or iPod touch while driving through the city. Points are awarded for steady uninterrupted playback; points are deducted for hesitations, rebuffering, and any other audio glitches.

The MiFi pandoraed almost identically to the iPhone using its native AT&T 3G. Locations along the major expressways scored highest. Residential areas outside of the city center scored poorly. The "park and wait" outside my son's school and my local Albertson's stores proved completely dead, meaning I can't listen to live Pandora music when waiting for my son or shopping for food. Fortunately, my 32GB iPhone has plenty of onboard music.

Laptop Use

The MiFi absolutely rocked for laptop use. Several users can connect simultaneously and do light Web-browsing, e-mail checking, and so forth without any significant delays in good coverage zones. That's perfect for commuting in a carpool and for family trips. My kids were able to play games and watch YouTube videos on separate iPhones and iPod touch units, while sharing that MiFi access.

Admittedly, not everyone can drink at the YouTube well at once and YouTube definitely sucks up bandwidth. Like most netbook-style plans, the MiFi is capped at 5GB per month for the $60/month plan and 250 MB per month for the $40/month plan. Overages run at $0.05/MB and $0.10/MB respectively, so you want to pick a plan that matches your data consumption. Even so, my dad left sure that he was going to sign up for a MiFi as soon as he returned to Florida. That's how much he loved the convenience.

The MiFi, the Blackberry, and the iPod

One of the nice things that the MiFi does is it gives Blackberry users a sense of what it is to own an iPhone. I know many, many people who cannot, who will not, who shall not give up their Crackberry. Not for money, not for blood, not for any reason. At the same time, these people really want to experience the iPhone lifestyle. With a MiFi and an iPod touch, you do get a sense of that -- although it's not a perfect representation.

Using an iPhone, the Internet lives in your pocket. You pull out the phone and you're online. You do stuff, you turn off the phone, and stick it back into your pocket. It couldn't be simpler or more seamless.

With a MiFi, it's not quite that simple. With its 4-hour expected life, you need to switch the system on when you want to connect and wait a few moments for the system to find and connect to 3G service. There aren't any cute little bars to tell you how good your signal is. So that's a second device and there are definitely usage delays involved in getting started each time.

Also, while the MiFi fits in your pocket, you do need to take it out during use. The unit gets very warm. Not egg-cooking warm, not pants-on-fire warm, but warm nonetheless. That's an important consideration when you think about on-the-go use. There's another device you have to keep track of. The MiFi is small enough that it's easy to misplace, although I did not (fortunately!) lose the review unit at any time during the loan period.

Multiple Devices

So instead of a single iPhone, you may end up lugging around three devices at once: a phone like a Blackberry, an iPod, and the MiFi. But if you think that's a real problem, you may be surprised at the reactions of some of my friends and their capacious handbags. I recently visited California with the MiFi in hand. Dedicated Blackberry users, several of my friends already owned iPod touch units. They used them at Starbucks and other WiFi hotspots. They loved the iPod experience but didn't want to enter an iPhone contract.

Seeing the MiFi in action, where they were able to use the iPod at lunch or in the park, really appealed to them. It was like having an iPhone without actually, you know, having an iPhone or at least without having to enter into an iPhone contract.

Several already were paying Sprint for plug-in EVDO devices for use with their laptops. They hadn't known that Sprint offers the MiFi as well as Verizon, and that they could include the MiFi as part of the $150/month "Simply Everything Plan + Mobile Broadband".

"Oh yeah, of course!"

With the MiFi, the "oh yeah, of course" factor is high. Users get it right away: why the system is cool and how easy it is to use one with your equipment. MacBooks in particular work really well with the MiFi because you can stick the system into the mesh part of most backpacks and laptop bags, providing enough ventilation and close enough proximity for use while guarding against accidental loss. Juggling with handbags, iPods and MiFis isn't quite as clean, but for some people it provided the extra coverage lift they needed.

There are laptop negatives too. In its standard release configuration, you cannot use the MiFi while it is tethered via USB to your computer. Several sites offer hacking instructions
to let you do so, ensuring your system can re-charge during use. But unless you're willing to deal with those kind of cable hacks, and most people are not willing, you'll have to live with the four hour limit or stop using the network as the device charges.


In the end, the MiFi isn't all that cheap (just $10 less than the least expensive iPhone monthly plan), and it does require a 2 year commitment. At the same time it delivers uncomplicated multi-user tethering in an extremely easy-to-use package. If you're a MacBook/iPod user, you will definitely find something to love with this device.

If you're an iPhone user, you might want to wait and see what kind of tethering options AT&T will be providing (and at what cost!) before signing into a contract. I really enjoyed using the MiFi and am definitely going to miss using it with my non-standard OS X netbook. But I appreciate even more the iPhone's single "Internet in your Pocket" portability that gives me direct net access from almost anywhere that isn't my son's school or local Albertson's supermarket.

Verizon MiFi 2200 Review- Mobile Broadband Done Right


The first I heard of the Novatel Wireless (NVTL) MiFi 3G modem/router, I realized how big an impact it could make with my mobile work . The only negative was that I am a longtime Verizon 3G customer and I needed a version from them. You can understand my excitement when I heard that Verizon would be releasing their branded version of the MiFi on May 17, and that excitement was increased when the good folks at Verizon asked if I wanted to get an early look at it. I’ve only had the Verizon MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot for a day, but I can state emphatically it is everything I thought it would be and more. The MiFi is mobile broadband done right. Read on to see why I am definitely buying one of these.

I have been using Verizon 3G service for years. I started with a PC Card modem, migrated to an ExpressCard solution, and most recently I switched to a USB modem (USB727). These have all worked fine, but a little limiting for me given the multiple devices I use while mobile. These all require the Verizon Access Manager software to be installed on each laptop so the modem can be used. The process with a new device is to download and install the Access Manager, unless the software is already included on the device. In that case, you still need to install the software. This process installs all of the modem drivers for the given notebook. Once everything is installed, connections can be manually started as desired once the modem is inserted into the system. It’s not bad for a one-shot process, but it’s a pain given all the various notebooks and UMPCs I evaluate.


The Verizon MiFi is a combination 3G modem and Wi-Fi router that is battery-operated for full mobility. Once the MiFi has been activated (more on that later) the device connects to the Verizon Mobile Broadband network (renamed from BroadbandAccess) simply by pushing the power button. In just a few seconds, the MiFi is connected to the 3G high-speed network and the Wi-Fi router takes over. The MiFi appears as a hotspot to any device with Wi-Fi capability, and making the Wi-Fi connection is as simple as entering the network security code which is printed on the back of the MiFi. That’s it: The notebook or other device is now connected to the Verizon network via Wi-Fi. The network code only has to be entered to make the first connection, after which it’s an automatic process. That’s the beauty of the MiFi method: Push the power button and the laptop/UMPC/phone is connected to 3G.

Taking a look at the specs of the MiFi shows just how small yet full-featured this device is:

  • Dimensions: 3.5″ x 2.3″ x 0.4″ (90 mm x 60 mm x 8.8 mm)
  • Weight: 2.05 ounces (58 g)
  • Battery: 1,150 mAh (user replaceable)
  • Antennas: internal; 800/1,900 MHz, CDMA (EV-DO Rev. A)
  • WiFi: 802.11 b/g
  • Usage: four hours (one Wi-Fi client); 40 hours standby; charge time 2.5 hours charger, 7-8 hours USB cable
  • LEDs: Power- 4 color; Status- one color
  • Connectivity Features: auto connect; EVDO/1xRTT; VPN compatible; dial-up; NDIS support
  • Text messaging: VZAccess manager in USB mode required; message received notification; delete/reply/forward
  • Security: CDMA authentication; dynamic MIP key update; CHAP; Wi-Fi- WEP/WPA/WPA2-PSK, SPi firewall; MAC/ port filtering; NAPT/DHCP server enable; VPN pass-through
  • OSes supported: Windows 2000, XP, Vista; Mac OS X 10.4 or higher


The MiFi is not much bigger than a credit card and can be easily carried around. Verizon is offering three ways to get the 3G data service:

  • $39.99 month for 250 MB with $0.10 per MB overage
  • $59.99 month for 5 GB with $0.05 per MB overage
  • $15 per day with no contract

Those expecting to use the service more than a few days per month will likely want to consider one of the monthly options, but it’s nice to see the day option for those who don’t travel much. The MiFi will be available online and in Verizon stores on May 17 and will cost $99.99 after a $50 rebate. Those who want to go the daily rate route can pick up the MiFi from Verizon for full retail price: $269.99 without a contract.

Getting going with the MiFi

The MiFi ships from Verizon with the device, battery, USB cable, power adapter and cloth carrying pouch. The unit is glossy black, and the pouch can be used to clean fingerprint smudges from the surface. It’s a simple process to open the battery compartment and pop a battery into the MiFi. The next step to get going is to connect the MiFi to the either a Windows or Mac system via the short USB cable. Windows recognizes the MiFi as an EVDO modem and auto-installs all the drivers needed to use the modem via USB. The VZAccess Manager software must be run once to activate the modem and prepare it for use, and it auto-installs from the MiFi. The whole process takes just a few minutes, and the MiFi is ready to go.

The MiFi is designed to be used as a modem via Wi-Fi, and it shows up as a Verizon Secure hotspot to any device. It is encrypted, and the password is printed on the back of the MiFi for one-time entry: After that, the notebook or device will connect automatically like it does to any other Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s simple and hassle-free, which is the strength of the MiFi over traditional modems.

Since the MiFi works as a Wi-Fi router, the Verizon 3G network appears to all devices as a simple hotspot. This means the MiFi can be used with any notebook, netbook, UMPC or phone, with no software required. It is, thus, the only 3G modem solution that has both Wi-Fi and 3G integrated, so it can be used easily by any phone with Wi-Fi capability, and also with Linux-based netbooks, without worrying if drivers are needed. This makes the MiFi the most versatile 3G solution currently available — and why I say it is “mobile broadband done right.”

Up to five devices can share the MiFi connection simultaneously, although they share the single 3G pipe. I have connected three devices with no detectable lag, so I don’t think five would be too heavy a burden for the MiFi. Just remember that the monthly data cap (250 MB or 5 GB) will be tapped by the total throughput, so I wouldn’t have five devices running around the clock. I personally have the 5 GB option with my current Verizon plan, and I don’t see that being a problem with the MiFi.

The MiFi can be used with a USB connection should the battery run out during the day. This requires using the VZAccess Manager program to connect to the network, however, so it will need to be installed on whatever device it is connected to. Remember, this is done automatically when setting up the MiFi, so it’s not a big deal.

The status LED flashes green to indicate data transmit/receive during normal usage. The power button on the MiFi changes among four colors to indicate the following conditions:

  • LED not lit — no power to modem
  • LED Blue — modem is powered on and roaming
  • LED Green solid — modem is powered on and fully charged
  • LED Green glowing — modem is in hibernate
  • LED Red blinking — modem battery is critically low
  • LED Amber solid — modem battery is charging
  • LED Amber blinking — modem error, see user manual

The MiFi can be used on Macs without the VZAccess Manager software, according to Verizon, but I did not try that since I had already activated using Windows. It’s a standard Wi-Fi hotspot after activation, so it will work on anything that can access hotspots.


MiFi card

The Verizon MiFi is a simple-to-use 3G method that allows up to five devices to access the 3G network at a time. It is a full-blown Wi-Fi router and can be controlled via a web browser interface the same as any other router. I am able to access the MiFi easily on any device within ~30 feet, farther than that and the signal strength drops dramatically, which is expected for such a small router.

I have been so impressed with the operation of the MiFi I intend to get one as soon as this evaluation unit goes back to Verizon. I feel it is worth the subsidized pricing, and the 5 GB plan is adequate for my needs. Bear in mind I am already paying the $60 per month, so in my case, I am simply going to switch from a USB stick modem to the MiFi. Your needs are likely different, and you need to weigh those needs with the various costs associated with the Verizon plans.