Ask Marco: Can Verizon's BroadbandAccess replace my home internet service?

Hayam asks:

I've been looking to get Verizon wireless internet access for my laptop. What is the latency like when you're using the service? All the information I can find references their download speeds, but I'm wondering how my ping times will be like when I'm playing World of Warcraft. Is it comparable to using a standard ISP? Would you trust it enough so that you could cancel your cable internet at home and not experience a lot of outages or downtime?

I've used Verizon EVDO (BroadbandAccess) and 1X (NationalAccess) service through PCMCIA cards and phones (E815 via Bluetooth, VX4500 via cable) regularly for almost 3 years in Columbus, Pittsburgh, New York City, and many of the areas around and between them. (EVDO hasn't been around for 3 years, but 1X has. I've used EVDO for about a year and a half.)

The only significant difference between 1X and EVDO is the transfer speed - latency and reliability are nearly identical.

For both EVDO and 1X service, the usability of the connection drops significantly with weaker reception. If you have less than 60% reception, don't even bother.


Latency is pretty bad, usually allowing for pings of no less than 400-700 ms. Real-time games and remote terminals aren't very usable.

It's not too bad for web browsing, although loading a page with a bunch of images and external elements takes a while because of all of the separate connections it has to initiate.

The maximum downstream bandwidth in reality is around 400-800 kbps, with upstream of 70-150 kbps. With such high latency, this produces a strange effect if you're not used to it: pages take a while to start downloading, but once they start, they transfer at almost-broadband speeds. This also means that most of the bandwidth isn't being used most of the time, so you can parallelize and open a bunch of pages simultaneously (or fetch emails, etc.) without much overall slowdown between tasks.


If you're stationary, the connection is very stable and rarely drops. When it does, I have to reconnect (it works like dialup, where it's not always on and you have to "connect"), but I've rarely had the service be unreachable as long as I have phone reception.

I wouldn't trust a fragile 3-hour game over it, but with the latency, this really isn't a gaming platform anyway.


It's great as a secondary ISP for when I'm commuting or traveling. And Verizon's offering is far better than those from other carriers.

But you can't:

  • Play most games (latency)
  • Download large files, even legitimately (bandwidth, terms of use)
  • Run any filesharing programs or BitTorrent (latency, terms of use)
  • Use remote terminals very well, for geeks (latency)
  • Leave the connection on 24/7 (terms of use)
  • Use Skype or any other VOIP or streaming audio or video chat (terms of use)
These limitations, plus the annoying latency inherent in cellular internet service, prevent it from ever replacing hard-line internet service for me and most people.

It can't be your only service, but it's great as a secondary "anywhere" service when you're away from a real connection.


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