Using a Verizon 4G LTE hotspot as my main Internet connection over semester break — and working on research “in the cloud” — has been piling frustrations on frustrations. They look like the picture at the right.
An article at AndroidPolice.com is convincing about an “authentication” issue as the possible technical cause of 4G problems that have been plaguing me for months. Verizon has replaced my Samsung 4gLTE hotspot device twice and most recently also replaced the SIM card. In perhaps 10 calls to Verizon tech support, I’d never heard this “authentication” topic mentioned, but that article reads exactly like what’s happening, including why my old 3G Droid phone works even when the Samsung hotspot’s 4G/3G connection doesn’t. Quoting:
This is what your 4G LTE UICC SIM card does – it’s responsible for authenticating you on both Verizon’s 3G and 4G networks. Verizon 3G-only phones use the old authentication system, because they don’t have these SIM cards… the new scheme is extremely particular about failed attempts to authenticate a device. Your device authenticates regularly, “checking in” with the network to ensure you’re still supposed to be connected. When your device fails to authenticate on the network (for any reason – and there are a gamut of possibilities)… you notice you no longer have a data connection, and throw your phone at the nearest wall.
So far, I haven’t tried throwing the hotspot at the wall. It’s so small and light that it would be more satisfying to skip it across the surface of a lake. If I had a lake handy, I’d be tempted. Even yesterday, with blogs and twitter feeds reporting a widespread Verizon 4G outage (the third this month), a Verizon tech support person still had me doing things like removing and replacing the SIM card, logging into the device itself from my browser (http://192.168.1.1/) and waiting for long breaks while he, presumably, scratched his head and tried valiantly to look things up in a support database. Another hour of my life I’ll never get back.
While the Samsung 4G LTE hotspot was useless, my Droid 3G phone performed just fine all day. The hotspot’s indicator lights sometimes said it was connected with 4G, sometimes with 3G, but my computers could never connect to any website, regardless of the configuration of blinky lights.
Most annoying: Do a Google search for “verizon 4g outage status” and notice how far down the search list you have to go to find anything at “verizon.com” or “vzw.com.” For a communication company, Verizon doesn’t appear to be communicating with its own technical support staff or its customers. How about an honest “system status” page somewhere?
I did eventually discover these discussion forums, but they have been mostly speculation and questions, no answers:
- community.vzw.com 4G Network discussion
- community.vzw.com outage topic
- androidcommunity.com outage topic
UPDATE: On the 29th, Verizon Tweeted that the problem had been solved and posted a press release that didn’t explain the extent or cause of the outage. It blamed the several recent outages on different “triggering events,” and made no mention of the SIM/authentication issue.
On the day of the outage, there had been nothing useful from the Verizon PR folks, but enough about expansion of the system to make you wonder whether the problem was just a matter of trying to grow too fast:
- https://twitter.com/#!/VZWnews on Thursday tweeted, “4GLTE issue resolved overnight. 3G operated normally; calling, texting were unaffected,” but didn’t say extent of “issue” or point out that 4G devices like mine did not connect to the 3G network.
- https://twitter.com/#!/VZWSupport seemed buried in inquiries about badly timed announcement of a new billing policy, (which was rescinded two days later)
Ironically, but not unexpectedly, my connection flaked out a couple of times while I was writing this post. One of the most annoying aspects is that the 4G LTE WiFi hotspot’s indicator lights always show a normal connection, my Mac’s Airport icon shows a normal connection, but any Web browser attempt to load a page results in a “This webpage is not available…” display like the one shown above on the right.
Today, turning the hotspot off, waiting a bit, turning it back on, and recovering this page from the WordPress cache did the job. (Kudos to the combination of Google Chrome and WordPress.com for saving work in the background.) Yesterday, I was trying to do some online shopping, connect with some friends by email, pay bills and do research. I lost half a day, not counting what I’ve wasted “venting” about this today. Mea culpa. It’s enough to send me looking for an older technology… maybe a pencil. One with “AT&T” or “T-Mobile” written on the side.