The best way to describe my reaction to LTE is this. Replace "Sparta" with LTE, and Gerard Butler's face with a Verizon logo, and you have the right idea.

It was madness, really. The Revolution arrived on my doorstep the day after I moved to a new apartment, and before Comcast had a chance to give me service. As a tech writer, the prospect of not having decent internet was terrifying. Boom. 4G wireless hotspot. It was like a godsend. I didn’t die from lack of broadband, Comcast came five days later, and I didn’t actually notice a speed difference when I switched over. The entire time I had it, I was running speed tests over LTE, and got graphs looking like this for downstream, upstream, and latency.

LTE is serious fast. T-Mobile, in Seattle at least, still has the fastest 3G network, but even the fastest HSPA+ networks can’t match the outright speed of Verizon’s LTE. In Phoenix, Brian saw LTE speeds clustered around 10 Mbps down and 2-3 Mbps up. In Seattle, I basically saw 10-12 down and 6-7 up. The closer I got to downtown, the faster speeds I saw. About a mile west of my house, I saw speeds of just under 17 Mbps down and 11 up. The downstream speed is close to matching my Comcast connection, and I’d kill for even the 6 Mbps upstream I averaged, much less the peak 10+ Mbps.

Right after we made the graphs above, I started seeing 17-18 Mbps downstream and up to 12 Mbps upstream in my apartment (which has notoriously bad signal). Blazing. Not quite “I’m standing next to the tower” level of blazing that I’ve seen Brian get with his LTE MiFi, but damn good for a real world speed test.

Brian said that his worst case scenario with LTE was at the high end of Verizon’s EVDO, but my experience was rather different. My worst case with LTE was on the higher end of all 3G speeds; even T-Mobile’s HSPA+ doesn’t top 9 Mbps very often, and that’s probably the fastest I’ve seen a 3G network go in practice. 

Honestly, day to day, LTE wasn’t mindblowing - with single core SoCs, you’re mostly limited by how fast the pages can be rendered after maybe 8 or 10 Mbps down. I didn’t notice too much of a difference between my standard 802.11n home network, Verizon’s LTE, and T-Mobile’s HSPA+ in smartphone browsing. Where it really makes a difference is in hotspot mode. 

As far as signal strength goes, the antenna diversity means that you see roughly similar signal attenuation numbers to the Thunderbolt. The numbers were slightly worse than the TB, but much better than the rest of the smartphone class.

Signal Attenuation Comparison in dB - Lower is Better
  Cupping Tightly Holding Naturally Holding in Case On an Open Palm
LG Revolution - LTE 7.0 4.4 - 5.4
HTC Thunderbolt - LTE 5.3 2.5 - 4.4
HTC Thunderbolt - EVDO 6.5 0.8 - 7.2
Verizon iPhone 4 16.5 15.5 9.0 7.9
LG Optimus 2X 13.7 9.3 - 5.9
Nexus S 13.3 6.1 - 4.3
Droid 2 11.5 5.1 - 4.5
BlackBerry Torch 15.9 7.1 - 3.7
Dell Streak 14.0 8.7 - 4.0
Droid X 15.0 5.1 - 4.5
AT&T iPhone 4 24.6 19.8 7.2 9.2
iPhone 3GS 14.3 1.9 3.2 0.2
HTC Nexus One 17.7 10.7 7.7 6.7
 

Like I mentioned earlier, I used the Revolution for the better part of a week as my primary source of internet, and it came through with flying colours. It handled streaming HD video, large-scale file downloads, combinations of the two, and anything else I threw at it with ease. I’m not much of an online gamer, so I didn’t try Starcraft II or CS:S like Brian did, but as he showed, it’s definitely possible. The latency, while not as good as a 802.11 or direct LAN connection, is still well under 100 ms, so it’s never an issue. From a speed perspective, LTE is fantastic, the kind of thing that changes how we use mobile broadband. But when you take power consumption into account, some serious concerns emerge. 

The Hardware II: The Radios Battery Life
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  • Spoogie - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    In spite of the hype, I’m also turned off by 4G but for different reasons than battery life, though it is also an important consideration.

    When I purchased a 4G modem in January from Verizon, the connection was intermittent. And it would be down completely while searching for backup 3G… totally unacceptable. Verizon claimed that it should be a good connection based on the geography (Bay Area). Tech support was no help.

    Recently I was in the market for a new phone, and while standing in the Verizon store admiring the Samsung Charge, low and behold the phone lost connectivity… while the 3G phones right next to it just hummed right along.

    This led me to do some further investigating, and others report similar experiences, such as PhoneDog, who claims he has spotty performance with 4G in Philly and believes it isn’t ready for prime.

    Although this doesn't exactly constitute a scientific study, I have no faith in it.
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    I don't know, I haven't tested LTE anywhere other than Seattle, but I've got coverage basically everywhere I've gone here. Once you head up into the northern parts of the area, to Everett and such, I've lost 4G, but the EVDO handover works pretty seamlessly. Signal strength was usually pretty good too, I was impressed. Reply
  • Impulses - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Sprint's Wimax may not boast LTE's impressive speeds across most markets, but at least you can seamlessly turn it off/on at the flick of a widget, right out of the box, which makes it easier to preserve battery life when you need to.

    I've got a question, do VZW LTE phones constantly poll the LTE radio even when outside of LTE markets or is there some software list that shuts them off completely outside LTE markets?

    I'm particularly curious because PR isn't likely to have true 4G for a while, yet the carriers sell the very same phones here... Sprint has started testing Wimax in some areas (which is curious since this isn't a Clearwire market), but it seems they're still a long way off before any kind of solid announcement.

    In the metro area they're literally just testing it on a handful of towers, and it isn't even on all the time... I guess it might be part of the procedure for their Vision deployment, even if there aren't any permanent 4G plans.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Oops, just saw you mentioned the same thing about Wimax on the article... I had only read the first and last page when I posted the comment. My question about how LTE is polled or detected on a stock phone still stands tho.

    I know you can disable it thru service menus and there's probably an app or two that can make that easier, but not everyone that buys these phones outside LTE markets is gonna go looking for those.
    Reply
  • wintermute000 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    for now, good quality HSDPA+ is fine (Telstra user in Australia).

    Most modern droids can get theoretical 14M down, in practice being able to consistently pull down 1Mb+ almost anywhere, is good enough for anything but streaming. (I have to admit on some days, streaming podcasts cuts up a bit) but raw throughput is fine. '

    I'd rather go dual core now and get the LTE phones in a year or two for that price
    Reply
  • jonup - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Can we get these phones down to 100g? Everytime I pick up my coworkers' iPhones and Droids one thought comes to my mind "Why are you so fat when you hauling this brick all day"? Reply
  • vision33r - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Everytime I see a Thunderbolt user on the train, it's usually for a hotspot and then I see them busting out the blackberry for emails.

    Right now these LTE devices are only for IT pros that have the need for the speed and the companies paying for them.

    They are like every new tech devices just the 1st to market but not ready for mainstream adoption until they fix the power consumption and size.

    2nd gen to 3rd gen will replace 3G devices they will take 5 years to happen.
    Reply
  • antef - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    That speed is very impressive for a mobile broadband network but honestly who cares? No activity on your phone is going to make much use of anything beyond a few Mbps for things like streaming video. Can you provide a single instance where you'll notice 3 Mbps vs 18 Mbps except when running the Speed Test app? In addition to that, with Verizon's rumored upcoming 2 GB cap on $30 data plans, the speeds are even less appealing. What we need is better battery life, higher caps (or no caps), and reliable, good enough throughput anywhere you go (~3 Mbps or so), not absolute blistering speeds. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    That's why you buy before the cap gets implemented. Reply
  • VivekGowri - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Streaming video, mostly. LTE is so fast that we've gone back to smartphone browsing being limited by how fast the phones can render pages. Reply

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