4G LTE Modem Review: Verizon Wireless 4G LTE USB Modem 551L by Novatel Reviewed by Tong Zhang
Editor's Ratings (1-5): 3.5
What's Hot: Great speed in good coverage areas, small and light, works with both PC and Mac.
What's Not: Poor building penetration.
As Verizon Wireless rolling out its 4G LTE services throughout the country, they are also adding more USB modems and Mobile Hotspots with 4G LTE support. The Verizon 4G LTE USB Modem 551L is the third 4G LTE USB modem in Verizon's line-up and it's made by Novatel. The 551L modem is compact and light and it works with both PC and Mac. The USB Modem gets awesome speeds when the reception is good, especially outdoors, but it has some trouble getting good speeds indoors.
The Verizon 4G LTE USB Modem 551L has a compact design, measuring 3.46 x 1.38 x 0.47. It's a bit smaller and less bulky than the LG VL600. The USB Modem has a hinged USB connector that can fold away when not in use. It?s a space-saving design, though if you are using older models of MacBook Air, you will need a USB extender to connect the USB Modem to the USB port on your notebook. The 4G LTE SIM card lives under the plastic door on the back of the 551L and when you purchase the modem, Verizon will activate the SIM card for you.
There is a large LED light in the front of the USB Modem that?s easy to see. It indicates connectivity status in four colors. Consult the included print manual for all status indications. The USB Modem does get hot when it?s in use for a while.
The Verizon 4G LTE USB Modem 551L has Qualcomm MDM9600 chipset, and it supports Verizon?s 4G LTE 700MHz band as well as CDMA 3G EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. 0 on 800/1900MHz bands. This means the USB modem will work in both 4G and 3G areas. The USB stick supports only one computer at a time. If you need to connect more than one devices and computers to Verizon?s 4G LTE, take a look at the Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot.
The Verizon 4G LTE USB Modem 551L works with both PC and Mac. It comes with a CD that has VZAccess Manager for both OS?s, and if you already have VZAccess Manager installed, check for new updates and install the newest version. It worked fine with both PC and Mac in our tests. The USB Modem 551L has 2-way text messaging capability and it will automatically check your usage data and provide you with the information to help you keep track. Like with other 4G LTE USB Modems, including the LG VL600 4G LTE USB Modem, Verizon offers two data plans: a 5GB/month plan for $50 and a 10GB/month plan for $80.
The Verizon 4G LTE USB Modem 551L has varied speeds depending on the reception. When the USB modem gets 2 bars or more out of 5 bars, the speed is absolutely flying. On the PC using IE and Chrome, we got as high as over 19 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload. On the Mac using Safari, we got at least 12 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload. Watching streaming videos via Hulu and Netflix is a pleasure as the playback is smooth and audio is in sync with video.
However, the USB modem 551L has trouble indoors. Even by the window in a large building, the modem gets 1 bar reception. And on a Mac this means you will get half of the speed you get when the reception is good, and on a PC it might mean you don?t get a solid connection when you have just 1 bar of reception. The 4G LTE USB Modem 551L also goes into dormant too quickly, for example, you load a web page, and while you are still reading that page, the connection goes dormant. That?s not a problem when working with a Mac for web browsing as when you click on a link, the USB modem comes back to active connection. But on the PC, when the USB stick goes to dormant in low reception areas, it?s hard to get it reconnect again. We?ve updated the VZAccess Manager and the problem still exists. Also, if you are checking email on the background, this might not work smoothly for that.
Using IE on the PC with 3 bars reception:
Using Safari on the Mac with 3 bars reception:
Using Safari on the Mac with 1 bar reception:
If you are in excellent Verizon 4G LTE coverage areas, the Verizon 4G LTE USB Modem 551L will give you great speed and good connection. It?s easy to set up and works with both PC and Mac computers. The building penetration however is less effective than the LG VL600 and certainly can?t compete with the more powerful Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot. If you need to use the modem in basements, inside of large buildings, you might not get good reception or speed unless Verizon 4G LTE coverage is super strong.