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LG VL600 4G USB Modem
What's hot: Fast 4G LTE performance, good reception.
What's not: No Mac OS drivers (yet), relatively large.
Reviewed January 28, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Not so long ago, a USB cellular modem was something you used only when desperate for connectivity. Speeds weren’t near what Wi-Fi offered and Outlook simply floundered with a 1Mbps – 2Mpbs connection. 3G EV-DO Rev. A made for small improvements and saw speeds up to 2Mpbs down but that pales to Verizon’s new LTE network with its 10 to 24 Mbps download speeds. That’s significantly faster than many folk’s legacy 10Mbps 802.11b home Wi-Fi connections and it’s good enough for watching Hulu, downloading hundreds of emails and working with online content management systems and blogs.
In our tests we saw speeds of 10Mbps down and 2 Mbps up in the Dallas area with 2 out of 4 bars, and 18Mbps down and 5.8Mbps down with 3 bars. In the Las Vegas McCarran airport, we got a miraculous 24Mbps down with full bars. Verizon claims 5 to 10Mbps speeds and I’m sure once this new and relatively uncongested network is loaded speeds may drop to those rates, but that’s still plenty fast enough to do anything and everything Internet.
Right now Verizon with their LTE network and T-Mobile with their HSPA+ network offer the fastest 4G speeds, but Verizon traditionally has a coverage advantage, and we expect that once their network is fully built-out, they’ll cover more folks with 4G than T-Mobile. Verizon expects full nationwide coverage by 2013, and they’ve got 4G in many major metro regions now.
Building penetration is excellent since Verizon’s 4G network runs on their recently acquired 700MHz band (the lower the spectrum, the better the building penetration). 4G uses a SIM card like GSM networks, so each 4G product, be it a USB modem, smartphone or laptop, will have a SIM card. You need not do anything with the SIM card since Verizon provisions it when they activate your 4G product.
The LG VL600 is a fast USB 4G LTE modem that also handles fallback to 3G EV-DO Rev. 0 and Rev. A as well as 1xRTT. It performed well in our tests with excellent speeds and fairly fast initialization times as well as fast downloads. It’s not exactly small though; at 3.88 x 1.48 x 0.58 inches it looks large when plugged into a netbook or ultraportable notebook. LG includes a USB cable and stand/clip should it block an adjacent port on your notebook or should you need to position the modem away from the computer for better reception (we had no need to do either, even when using the little Acer TimelineX 1830T 11.6” ultraportable and 11.6” HP DM1z).
Keep in mind that USB modems, unlike Mobile Hotspots like the MiFi, only serve a data connection to one device at a time (your laptop or computer with USB port). There’s no 5-way connection sharing over WiFi, nor will the VL600 work with the iPad or other non-Windows/non-USB host capable devices.
The Data Plans
Verizon Wireless currently offers two data plans with their 4G LTE USB modems: a 5 gig/month plan for $50 and a 10 gig/month plan for $80. If you go over your allotted plan allowance, Verizon will charge you $10 per gig of overage. You can get the modem with your choice of 1 or 2 year contract, or pay full retail for the modem and go with prepaid daily/weekly or monthly plans. Prepaid plans cost more—you’ll pay $80 for the monthly plan with 5 gigs of data when a contract plan gets you 10 gigs, but you won’t have to pay during months when you don’t need the service.