Why Mac Users Should Wait Before Joining Verizon’s 4G LTE Fray

While I’ve been enamored by Verizon’s aggressive roll-out and expansion of its nascent 4G LTE network in the U.S., which delivers mobile broadband speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G speeds, I would highly urge users on Apple’s Mac OS X platform to wait before adopting either of Verizon’s 4G LTE USB modems. For now, while Verizon Wireless had delivered the software and drivers for those modems–one made by Pantech and the other made by LG–to be compatible on OS X, the software seems glitchy and temperamental at best. In fact, in use, it seems more like beta software and not really ready for primetime.

First, when the software connects, unlike on the Windows PC software, the Verizon VZAccess Manager connection suite cannot report how much data has been used so far in the current billing period. Verizon offers a number of different 4G LTE data plans, but the two popular ones are 5 GB of data for $50 or 10 GB of data for $80. On the Windows side, every time you establish a connection through VZAccess Manager, a pop-up box appears telling you how much data you have consumed, which is important as overages will run you $10 per 1 GB of data. With faster connections, and if you’re heavily reliant on the 4G network, you’ll be eating through data quicker than you realize so it’s nice to be able to gauge how much data you’ve consumed so you can pace your usage to avoid overages. On OS X–I’m using Apple’s latest OS X 10.6.6–I get a pop-up box that says an error has occurred and I have never been able to get my month-to-date usage information on the Mac.

Second, connections are glitchy at best, especially if you put your computer to sleep without disconnecting first. On the top status bar, there is an icon at the top that will allow you to quickly connect to 4G LTE on the OS X environment. On my Mac, if I put the device to sleep, I would only be able to successfully re-connect via the VZAccess shortcut on the menu bar about 30% of the time. Most of the time, the system appears to connect to the Verizon network for a few seconds before disconnecting me. I find that when this happens, removing the USB modem and re-inserting it into the USB port would solve the problem. Other times, the VZAccess shortcut would disappear and I wouldn’t be able to re-connect until I restart my Mac.

Also, it seems that the connection speeds are somewhat slower than they are on the PC side. I am not sure why this is, but on the Mac, there is also a bit of latency when trying to open a webpage where there is a delay before the page begins to load. I haven’t had any of those experiences on the PC side.

Moreover, with Apple’s design, the USB modems are somewhat wider than a standard USB port. That means that when plugging the modem directly into the USB port, you’re going to cover up some ports next to the port you’re using. On my MacBook Pro 15-inch, for example, plugging in my USB modem covers up my Mini DisplayPort (now the ThunderBolt port on newer systems) and the USB port next to the one I am using. Since the MacBook Pro 15-inch only has two USB ports, I can’t insert another USB device. That problem is semi-mitigated with a USB extension cable that comes with the LG modem so that the modem won’t block nearby ports. On the Pantech modem, the USB modem can twist around to free up some room when you’re trying to access the nearby ports.

For now, because of the software limitations and the hardware design, I would urge Mac users to wait until Verizon releases the 4G MiFi unit from Novatel or a 4G mobile broadband router from Samsung–both products were announced earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show. Additionally, with 4G Android smartphones launching with mobile hotspot capabilities, those units may be better suited for Mac users as they won’t block adjacent ports and would connect over WiFi, mitigating the problem with glitchy VZAccess Manager connection software on OS X.

Verizon advertises download speeds of 5-10 Mbps and upload speeds between 2-5 Mbps, which is faster than most home DSL networks and rivals some slower cable connections. I am a huge fan of LTE speeds, but I just wished the experience for OS X users were better.

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