Verizon Wireless’s 4G LTE service can run faster than DSL or even entry-level FiOS. So why not try to use it as a home broadband service in its own right, with a side order of voice calling? In this case, because data plans are insanely expensive—even more than other Verizon LTE devices. And our tests showed that speeds varied considerably depending on location.
The Verizon 4G LTE Broadband Router with Voice ($49.99 with a two-year contract, $199.99 otherwise) just isn’t a competitive option for home Internet service. Between its high cost, stingy bandwidth caps, and spotty performance, it’s difficult to think of who would want this broadband router with voice (BRV) given the presence of almost any other option, including Verizon’s own Jetpacks. The Verizon Jetpack MHS291L remains our Editors’ Choice for a way to connect your PCs to the Verizon Wireless network.
Network and Performance
Verizon’s LTE service finished second in our Fastest Mobile Networks tests earlier this year, but showed much shakier performance when we tested this device.
At one single-family home just outside of Washington, D.C. with excellent VZW LTE reception, downloads as measured by the Speedtest.net site bounced around from .55 Mbps to 6.81 Mbps, far below what LTE should allow. Uploads ranged from a pitiful .26 Mbps to 3.35 Mbps. Tweaking the BRV’s Wi-Fi settings, using an Ethernet connection, and moving it to an outdoor spot all failed to make a significant difference.
But in a Brooklyn row house, the router averaged 7.12 Mbps downloads and 2.97 Mbps uploads. In a home in a New Jersey suburb, its averages soared to 20.64 Mbps and 6.96 Mbps—except that two days earlier in the same spot, it failed to detect an LTE signal at all. It repeated that stunt at the original test location until I rebooted it—then refused to share the LTE signal over either Wi-Fi or LTE, even after a second reboot.
Note that while Verizon’s LTE coverage is good, the BRV can’t fall back to using Verizon’s slower, but broader 3G network. If you’re in a fringe reception area, you can add an external antenna for $79.99, but we did not test that accessory.
Design, Wireless and Voice
Verizon appears to have designed this router to serve as a conversation piece—with blue and red LED indicators on the front, a loud red accent on the top, and a shape that suggests a submarine’s sail. In a word, it’s well, interesting. Aesthetics aside, the design also prevents you from placing the router on its side.
A small, low-resolution display and three buttons at the base let you view usage statistics and see the wireless password. You can also initiate a simple Wi-Fi Protected Setup connection with a WPS button higher up on the router; this worked as designed with a Moto X smartphone and a ThinkPad running Windows 8.1.
A Web interface, accessible by default with the same password used to connect to the router’s Wi-Fi, allows further configuration changes. You may want to make a few: Although the security sensibly uses WPA2 Personal, the Wi-Fi loses some performance with a default of 802.11b/g/n.
You can also change from standard 2.4GHz to 5GHz, although that did noting to improve the router’s performance while cutting into its already short range. I couldn’t get more than about 85 feet (and a few walls) away from it. For shorter-range connectivity, the BRV includes three Ethernet ports on the back.
Above them you’ll find two standard phone jacks. Calls go over Verizon’s 1xRTT network, not LTE, so this part should work almost anywhere in the U.S. Verizon includes free long-distance calling and voicemail. But you’ll have to stick to human-to-human communication. Although Verizon plans to support using this device with fax machines and home security systems, for now they’re “not available.”
The router includes a backup battery for voice, not data. In a test, it exceeded Verizon’s four-hour talk-time estimate by 24 minutes.
Costs and Caps
The reason we’re giving this router such a low rating is that compared with other home Internet services, it’s insanely expensive.
Home Internet users consume a lot more data than mobile users. While Verizon says its average cell phone user consumes 1-2GB of data per month, AT&T has said that its average cable Internet customer eats up 21GB. A home connection often has multiple devices on it (including cell phones via Wi-Fi), and home connections are the primary way people do bandwidth-hungry media streaming.
Verizon’s BRV plans start at $70 per month for 500MB plus unlimited voice, already more expensive than most cable and DSL plans that have caps higher than 150GB, if they have any caps at all. A more realistic 4GB allocation pushes Verizon’s monthly rate to $100, before taxes. You can go as high as 50GB for $375.
If you’re willing to get your voice connections through a separate line, such as an inexpensive landline, Verizon’s own LTE Jetpack plans are much less costly. A 10GB plan with a Verizon Jetpack hotspot costs $80. That’s what you’d pay for just 1GB with the BRV router.
Most people in the U.S. are covered by cable and DSL providers. Others are served by rural WISPs, or wireless internet service providers, that generally charge about $60-$70 for unlimited use. A few folks are stuck with satellite, but even satellite internet is more affordable than this: For the $80 you’d pay for 1GB with this router, HughesNet and Exede give you at least 15GB.
WISP and satellite service are much slower than Verizon’s LTE, and the latency on satellite makes it unusable for multiplayer gaming and video chat. But Verizon’s data caps are so low that you wouldn’t be able to use this fast service much anyway. If you really need Verizon’s coverage and speed, look into a Jetpack plan rather than this overpriced router.
Much as with Verizon’s Home Fusion broadband service, we simply can’t recommend this service to anyone; it’s too expensive and uncompetitive for what you get. We understand that there’s a small number of people in rural areas who have no options for cable, satellite, WISP or other 4G and are desperate for a faster, lower-latency alternative to satellite Internet. They’re the target market for this service, but even Verizon offers better choices than this dramatically overpriced option.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc