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Verizon LTE: The Fine Line Between Truth and Deception

Verizon Wireless says you should "see how mobile entertainment was meant to be seen" in an "unparalleled streaming experience." As an informed smartphone user, do you feel deceived?

I have to admit that I almost fell off the family room couch when I saw the commercial and the claims being made. Perhaps it was an amplified reaction as I had discussed AT&T's gutsy decision to blackmail the U.S. government earlier that day, but I have to say that I am somewhat shocked by the claims wireless carriers can make these days without being held accountable. You have those questionable claims of T-Mobile stating that it has that nations fastest 4G network (while it doesn't claim that when you talk with them about the AT&T merger) on the one side and you have, on a more serious note, commercials that promise users that they can stream Netflix movies via their cellular broadband connection.

Don't get me wrong, I do not doubt that you can't stream Netflix movies over LTE. The problem I have is the fact Verizon killed its unlimited plan and now offers the most expensive, limited data plans in this country. You can get 75MB per month for $10, 2GB for $30, 5GB for $50 and 10GB for $80. While I personally believe that limited data plans and, at the very least, limited data plans at this price level are counter-productive and are a threat to innovation of mobile services, a commercial that says you should stream Netflix over LTE while being strangled by such a plan is, in fact, deceptive.

A typical Netflix SD movie can have a data volume of up to 700 MB while the HD versions climbs to up to 2 GB. There is no information how big mobile movies are, but we have heard claims of somewhere between 200 - 250 MB per hour or 400 - 500 MB per movie, which I consider reasonable estimates. So, if you buy that Revolution phone, accept the generous offer of 3 months free of Netflix streaming (which has less value than a one-month 2 GB data volume subscription) and follow the advice of the commercial and happily stream Netflix via LTE, you may be in for a surprise.

If we apply a conservative estimate of 400 MB per movie, then we know that Verizon's 2 GB plan is good for five movies per month. Of course you can't do anything else besides those movies - no emails, no messaging, no app usage, etc. Those five movies will cost you, in effect $6 each in data streaming alone. Every time you exceed your allowance, Verizon will generously extend your coverage in exchange of $10 per GB. And if we are honest, carriers really want you to exceed your allowance, as this is where the real profit trickles in. Of course, you could spring for the 5 GB plan or the 10 GB plan to give you up to 25 Netflix movies (and nothing else) for just $80 per month. Business travelers may actually like this option, even if a Wi-Fi streamed Netflix movie on a notebook appears to be the far more reasonable solution when you are stuck in a hotel room far away from home. But let's be serious: $80 for wireless data? Are these the same companies that are telling us that data services are getting cheaper?

The bottom line is that Netflix streaming via LTE (or even a 3G service) is technically possible, but the entire concept isn't practical with the current trend of data plan offerings. No informed and sane user (provided that user has to cover his own bill and is on a budget) would even dare to begin streaming Netflix movies over a broadband service given the implied range anxiety caused by limited data plans. I find it interesting that we are seeing more and more capable data phones, while carriers do everything they can to suffocate data services: we are not just talking about Netflix here, of course, we are talking about virtually any data-intensive app that will run you against a bandwidth wall. Imagine what video calling, which we have been promised to receive for decades, will do to your data plan and budget. The technology is there, it's just not permitted because carriers will first have to educate us that there is significant value in the bandwidth to deliver such services and we ought to pay extra for that.

Of course, the bandwidth matter is much more complicated and I understand that there are limits and wireless service can't be a free for all. (I have my doubts, however, if that limit is really as severe as AT&T claims, as AT&T now says that all the bandwidth its users want is actually available, but only if its customers join a tiered data plan and pay extra.) The problem I have with Verizon is that the switch from unlimited to a tiered data plan is combined with claims that LTE customers can be streaming Netflix via LTE and don't have to rely on Wi-Fi - which is a dangerous statement given the data plan limitation. Factually, Verizon isn't making a false statement, but ethically, it is questionable at best - and utterly deceptive in my personal opinion.

Just an idea: more competition, not less, could help to solve the entire bandwidth problem.

  • adbat
    'I do not doubt that you can't stream Netflix movies over LTE'
    I don't need no education :-)
    Reply
  • spectrewind
    "on a more serious note, commercials that promise users that they can stream Netflix movies via their cellular broadband connection."

    I was unsure what to expect either. Fortunately, I can personally CONFIRM that the "4G LTE" feature did work for me under my configuration. Let me explain...

    For the Portland, OR metro area there seems to be decent Verizon 4G coverage. Vancouver (north of it) is a little more spotty.

    My phone is the Samsung Charge. Non-rooted (I have not modified it). I used an app called "Easy Tether" (the android market and amazon both sell it). I think there is a free "lite" version that does not configure fore IPSEC passthrough.

    I did some googling/researching of cell towers in my area and did an indoor mounting of the phone against the wall that seems to give me 4G coverage. Ran a USB cable to a WinXP desktop PC running the EasyTether client (software NIC).

    I shared that connection and made note of the DNS info. I set my broadband router behind it, static IP, treating the PC as a gateway and used the Verizon DNS info (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4).

    Connection gained...

    I have a PS3 in my living room, connected via home network. Netflix running on it.
    I logged into Netflix via PC and set the streaming options to the HD setting (their version of bandwidth throttling).

    Started watching Netflix on my PS3. Using a 55" Visio LCD over HDMI cable.

    For probably 90% of the watching, I saw no artifacts. Clear audio across my 5.1 system. I mostly could not tell the difference. Where the speed dropped (usually resulting in color banding) it felt like the same quality Comcast gives me.

    To me... in my configuration... it works when the 4G labeling does.
    Reply
  • greenrider02
    Isn't 4G 100mbps? Is that what they deliver? No. Can they do it in labs? Yes. Does that mean they should be able to advertise it as that? No.
    Reply
  • spectrewind
    whysobluepandabearWhere is the confusion? I don't understand this? The 4G LTE is an internet connection, so of course it'll stream from Netflix - why wouldn't it? Why would you ever have any uncertainty of it NOT working? Even if your connection likes to drop frequently, the buffer will make it a non-issue.
    It was in the paragraph containing the text "You have those questionable claims of"... in reference to Verizon being able to stream Netflix content.

    I never saw the TV ads. I just decided to see if I could get it to work... and found that it does.
    Reply
  • spectrewind
    whysobluepandabearWhere is the confusion? I don't understand this? The 4G LTE is an internet connection, so of course it'll stream from Netflix - why wouldn't it? Why would you ever have any uncertainty of it NOT working? Even if your connection likes to drop frequently, the buffer will make it a non-issue.
    Also, the 4G LTE provided by Verizon seems to be a NAT connection. I am finding my IP for the phone comes up as 10.x.x.x. They can choose to block service ports, protocols, etc, if they choose to.

    There seems to be lack of support for IP protocol 47 (generic routing encapsulation or GRE) that disallows PPTP VPNs with their configuration, in which case your claim "The 4G LTE is an internet connection" is proven false, as GRE packets are blocked by the presence of a 10.x.x.x subnet they attach their phones to.
    You cannot ping it's address outside that network.

    On the other hand... I would not want a publicly reachable IP for my phone anyway.
    Reply
  • Grims
    spectrewindIt was in the paragraph containing the text "You have those questionable claims of"... in reference to Verizon being able to stream Netflix content.I never saw the TV ads. I just decided to see if I could get it to work... and found that it does.
    he was talking about be able to stream while not going over the datacap. Holy crap man..
    Reply
  • mrmoo500
    Also I feel bad for everyone who gets stuck with a limited data plan. I used 2GB in 3 days watching netflix...
    Reply
  • I'm very glad that Tom's hardware wrote this up.

    I'm on the old unlimited plan and as soon as they drop it, I'll seriously consider other options. I think they're charging that much right now because they can. As soon as people start switching and they start losing profit (AKA, are affected in a way they care about), they'll change their tune.

    That's how business works, it's NOT ethical, it's just business. As a consumer, we have the power to switch networks, which is what I'll do if/when I can get a better deal somewhere else.

    Right now I'm paying $30 for unlimited data with great coverage and reliability; you've got to admit that's hard to beat. But when it makes sense for me to switch, I'll do it immediately; now if all consumers did this, how much do you think we could shape the market?
    Reply
  • klavis
    I currently have the Verizon unlimited plan, however if I were to get into the smartphone market now, with Verizon's tiered plans I wouldn't have gotten a smartphone at all. I would have gotten a normal phone, which is more reliable and has better sound quality and voice pick up than any smartphone I've encountered, and purchased a WiFi tablet to fill in the gap. The tiered data prices are outrageous now and will only be worse as people progressively use more data on a day to day basis.
    Reply
  • mister g
    whysobluepandabearSprint has an unlimited EVERYTHING plan for $79.99, which isn't bad at all. They clearly market how they're the only guys with truly unlimited data, and not some fine print. Seeing as they do this, I can assume they'll do it forever - rarely will people bash on others for not offering unlimited, then they themselves turning around and cave in.I cracked up when i read the last statement. No offense but didn't AT&T promise this when the iPhone first launched? They throttled, then Veruizon, and now AT&T wants T-Mobile as Wolfgang already said (no kidding they are trying to blackmail the government though I have no clue how effective that will be). T-Mobile offers unlimited plans but throttles after a certain threshhold, guess where they got that idea from?
    Reply