Saturday, March 1, 2014

No more Sierra Wireless/Netgear mobile hotspots

Is this odd that it follows my "No more Panasonic lenses" blog entry?  It's been a week.

I've been fighting with my Sierra Wireless Tri-Fi mobile hotspot for quite a while.  I got it in June 2012, after auditioning similar LTE devices from AT&T/SBC and Verizon Wireless.  (N.B. you can't buy Sierra Wireless-named devices now--Netgear bought the company, so everything is labeled Netgear now.  At the Sprint store there was another Netgear mobile hotspot with a cradle, this one a tri-band (Spark) LTE device.  If it needs a cradle to work correctly, it's a poor design.  Don't buy it!  By the way, I'm not against Netgear networking equipment otherwise.  In fact, I use it.)

At the time when I bought the hotspot in 2012, there wasn't much LTE coverage, and what was there was already overwhelmed.  WiMAX was more likely to be available.

AT&T/SBC enabled HSPA in town, not HSPA+ but merely the so-so topology that was similarly constrained like EVDO Rev. A or B.  Since most people were accustomed to GPRS or EDGE, it was reasonably fast.  Today, it's likely bogged down with all the extra traffic, and there is no LTE.

Verizon offered LTE in town a couple of months after I took their device back to them but at the time I got the device, their 3G data speeds were worse than Sprint (getting e-mail was a problem), and their LTE speeds weren't great in an area that had already matured.

Today, the reality hit the fan.

I couldn't get a connection with the mobile hotspot at all.  The device sat there between 15 and 30 minutes and wouldn't connect.  I went to the store, which is about 2 miles from home.  I tried to check-in with Yelp on the phone and even that didn't work outside or inside the store.  (They're upgrading the towers for LTE, but if the phone doesn't work well, what's the point?  The Sprint store and Verizon affiliate store are very close to the tower but so are the shopping centers.  At Christmas, I could hardly get any service.)

In the store, I waited and waited, as Saturdays are busy.  When someone talked to me, I tried to be calm.  In the end, he told me to call customer service, and demand that my contract be canceled and that the ETF be credited so that I would pay nothing.

I drove near the Verizon Wireless affiliate, near the tower, so I could hope to make a clear call.  I called and navigated the menu system to "end contract" or some such menu item.  Janelle answered within the 30 seconds that they stated and we did a little dance.

In the end, she ended the contract, credited the account, so that I would pay nothing.  I also had her turn on the Personal Hotspot feature on the phone, so I could at least get e-mail.  She was extremely pleasant and took care of me well.  They've increased the prices for the hotspot add-on.  I think the 6 GB hotspot add-on was $49.99, instead of $29.99 for 5 GB previously, and I selected the 2 GB add-on for $19.99.

I walked into the Verizon Wireless reseller after the call.  They had one beat-up mobile hotspot on display.  When I got to talk to someone, I learned that they only had two others in the store.  I chose the Novatel Wireless device.  I'm trying to be a good American, okay?  The other device was the ZTE (890L?) mobile hotspot I tried in 2012, and I would rather have a newer, less intensive chipset for better battery life, especially since the batteries were half the size (1800 mAh vs 3600 mAh) of the Sierra Wireless unit I'd been using.  I read my initial blog entry and I had problems with that ZTE brand device but lots of firmware changes have probably fixed everything.

About $120 got me out the door, will 2 years of walk-in-trade-in insurance on the device.  $60 for insurance seems okay considering that it would have been $8 per month with Asurion, which would be $192 over 2 years.

Sprint LTE in Trotwood, OH

Verizon LTE in Richmond, IN
When I arrived home, I got connected with the computer.  I got 12.79 Mbps down and 4..25 Mbps up.  Unfortunately, it hasn't worked since then.  It went to do an update and it froze at 48%.  I powered off and powered on, and selected the update and it was downloaded completely, and took a very long time to do the actual update.  It still isn't working for me.  I just checked the tablet again.

Thankfully, while I was terminating the Sprint mobile hotspot, I had the representative enable the Personal Hotspot feature and that is working exceptionally well, as I would expect the connection to be.  Unfortunately, their add-on prices were enormous and I only went to 2 GB, Sprint overhead and all.  It's an emergency substitute and of course, when the Verizon mobile hotspot is close on data.  Verizon charges $10 for an extra Gigabyte which seemed very reasonable, as Sprint has been a pain for overages, not that I've had any for a long time, but they really promote you going with a heavy plan.

So, now, back to the Verizon store to see what the !@#$ problem is.

Who knows?  I took my laptop computer, my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet, and the MiFi mobile hotspot.  Everything worked perfectly in the store and here at home now.  I hope there are no further problems.

It's still fine, although it hasn't been quite as fast.  I suspect that as the evening progressed, more people headed to this side of town where more restaurants and shopping exist.  When the winter storm hits, I would imagine speeds will be increased--or not decreased as much as when things are busy.

I also returned to the Sprint store to tell them how much better the iPhone 5c handled hotspot duties than the dedicated hotspot device.  Isn't that sad that the device wasn't better?  They were surprised also.

Update 2014.03.02: The lack of the Tri-Fi hotspot seems to have left the iPhone 5c in a better state of communication.  It seems to be faster and smoother in communication with the towers.  Could the Tri-Fi have been interfering with this (and the previous iPhone 4s) phone over 1.5 years?   That's just scary that one device could be so disruptive, especially since it was meant to be so helpful by granting access to three different topologies/technologies.

3 full days
1 full week

Update 2014.03.04: As I wondered back in 2012, I wonder if Verizon cheats on their usage numbers.  It has been 3 full days, and I've already used over 1 GB (20%) without any video.   I've always felt that Sprint charges me for their overhead, as well as my traffic, but this seems ridiculous.  I didn't check to see how much the firmware update cost me, but I'm sure they didn't do that for free.

I tried to write a review of the Tri-Fi mobile hotspot and I was careful to only use the truth, but Sprint don't approve of service-related talk.  How can you discuss an item's connectivity without touching on how well it connects?

Update 2014.03.29: Thankfully, the Novatel Wireless MiFi-5510L has performed well.  Its touch-capable buttons are not very responsive, but what counts is the connectivity between the computer, tablet, and the internet.  That works.  Even the iPhone 5c as a mobile hotspot is quite good, though it can be stubborn connecting to the computer, another Apple product, at times.

I extended the Verizon plan to 10 GB, and at the switchover on the 21st, instead of saving 10 GB, it gave an odd, seemingly-unrelated number.  I checked earlier and it was just over 9 GB, even though it had several days away.  It is now completely off and disconnected.  Verizon's $10 per 1 GB isn't so much but I'd rather not use it since I also have the phone for overages, and for those trips where I forget the mobile hotspot device.  That gives me the original 12 GB I had on Sprint, but with two devices which hopefully will not be down at the same time.  Since Sprint didn't discount anything, I expect the cost to be about the same.

Sprint is testing the waters with LTE in town, so the phone seems to be much better even on 3G/EVDO.  At some point in the next few days, LTE will supposedly be deployed on Sprint towers.

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