Verizon Wireless BroadbandAccess (EV-DO) - Page 2

By Aaron Weiss

April 12, 2007

The Software

Whether you use BroadbandAccess with Windows or a Mac, Verizon provides a utility called VZAccess Manager to manage your connection. Most users will use the software for nothing more than connecting and disconnecting from the service. You can optionally configure the software to create a VPN connection automatically on startup.

Optionally, VZAccess Manager can also manage your Wi-Fi adapter, the idea being to centralize your connectivity. Fortunately, the software doesn’t force you to abandon your existing Wi-Fi management utility if you prefer.

The VZAccess Manager software keeps track of usage statistics, logging each connection to the Verizon network, including session length and bytes transferred. You can unofficially refer to these logs to note your monthly usage (more on that later). Unfortunately, your usage data will be incomplete if you need to reinstall the software or move your EV-DO adapter between two or more machines.

The Bad

Although Verizon BroadbandAccess delivers mobile connectivity, the service is not without its quirks.

Compared to terrestrial broadband, network performance can be erratic. The cell towers that provide the EV-DO signals vary in network capacity and user load. As a result, speeds can bounce around dramatically over a short period of time. As a general rule, and not surprisingly, speeds are higher and more consistent in lightly populated areas compared to a dense city.

In some locations, where the newer Rev A service is available, the modem would sometimes take several minutes or more to become “aware” of the Rev A service. It is possible this delay occurs when two or more towers are in sight but Rev A is incompletely deployed. The adapter and/or software may need upgraded algorithms for choosing the best available service level.

Along those lines, in an area of fringe signal, the modem will downgrade to Verizon’s slower 1xRTT NationalAccess plan, with maximum speeds of 144 Kbps symmetrical. While good in theory – you can at least stay online even in areas with weak signals or without EV-DO coverage – the modem and/or software seems too conservative about downgrading the service level.

Users can access a publicly undocumented diagnostic mode of the VZAccess Manager software by pressing CTRL-D and entering the password diagvzw. In diagnostic mode, you can enter a settings window which offers the choice to lock the modem exclusively in EV-DO (HDR) mode. When doing so, the modem proves capable of maintaining an EV-DO connection with low signal strength when otherwise it would have downgraded itself to NationalAccess.

The Ugly

In spite of the potential for overcrowded towers and the need to tweak the EV-DO modem’s algorithm for choosing the best available service level, by and large Verizon’s engineers have put together an impressively stable and robust 3G network.

Unfortunately, policy and contract aspects of the BroadbandAccess service have been marred by what we can only imagine are lawyers and/or executives living in an alternate reality.

For some time, Verizon has marketed BroadbandAccess with a single service level, unfortunately called “unlimited” -- unfortunately, because “unlimited,” in the verbiage of far too many ISP contract lawyers, has been redefined as meaning “with limits.”

In its early months of availability, some subscribers to BroadbandAccess reported that Verizon had terminated their accounts for excessive usage, despite printing no specific usage cap in their Terms of Service.

More recently, Verizon appears to be gradually backing away from the “unlimited” marketing term and has specified a 5GB monthly usage cap in the subscriber contract. Verizon’s latest terms of service have couched the 5GB cap in a contortionist feat of legalistic logic:

“… may ONLY be used with wireless devices for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing; (ii) email; and (iii) intranet access (including access to corporate intranets, email, and individual productivity applications like customer relationship management, sales force, and field service automation). The Data Plans and Features MAY NOT be used for any other purpose. Examples of prohibited uses include, without limitation, the following: (i) continuous uploading, downloading or streaming of audio or video programming or games; (ii) server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine–to–machine connections or peer–to–peer (P2P) file sharing; or (iii) as a substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections. This means, by way of example only, that checking email, surfing the Internet, downloading legally acquired songs, and/or visiting corporate intranets is permitted, but downloading movies using P2P file sharing services and/or redirecting television signals for viewing on laptops is prohibited. A person engaged in prohibited uses, continuously for one hour, could typically use 100 to 200 MBs, or, if engaged in prohibited uses for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, could use more than 5 GBs in a month.” [current as of April 12, 2007]

To which we are tempted to respond, “the Aristocrats!” Lest we overlook this fine print, taken from Verizon’s web site:

If more than 5 GB/line/month are used, we presume use is for non-permitted uses and reserve the right to terminate service immediately.

Any ISP will agree that in today’s environment, a small fraction of users consume a large fraction of bandwidth. Due to the nature of cellular technology, Verizon is understandably bottlenecked and BroadbandAccess is not intended to replace terrestrial broadband. Verizon is certainly justified in implementing a usage quota of whatever level they deem necessary to ensure expected network performance for subscribers.

Less justifiable is Verizon’s mealy-mouthed way of conflating a usage cap with presumptions about network use which, ultimately, defy logic. Worse, they have stacked the cards in their favor, because subscribers are offered no official accounting of their data consumption. Other than the data compiled by the VZAccess Manager software, which is subject to error for myriad reasons, customers have no record with which to challenge Verizon’s “immediate” termination, and Verizon has accepted no accountability in the matter.

Buying In

Verizon obviously does not stand alone among corporations in spinning a sticky web around its customers. To the extent that Verizon says its service delivers for the market they want to capture, they are absolutely right.

Most potential subscribers to BroadbandAccess won’t fall afoul of Verizon’s twisted terms and will enjoy the very real benefit of broadband mobility. Surfing the Web, managing e-mail, or accessing your corporate VPN at 70 mph – from the passenger’s seat, of course – is no small feat, Henry David Thoreau be darned. With BroadbandAccess you literally can be productive from almost any populated area. And those excessive daily charges for Wi-Fi Internet access at airports and “executive” hotels? Meh. For the seriously mobile business traveler, BroadbandAccess could easily pay for itself.

In addition to the cost of the EV-DO adapter, BroadbandAccess service costs $59.99 monthly with a two-year contract and a qualifying voice plan, or $79.99 monthly otherwise.

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