When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

Summary: Bandwidth capping from Verizon LTE and other 4G wireless networks will crush our dreams of mobile On-Demand multimedia content.


Bandwidth capping from Verizon LTE and other 4G wireless networks will crush our dreams of mobile On-Demand multimedia content.

4G! It's going to the savior of all of our wireless bandwidth problems! I'll finally be able to watch my Netflixes and download HD iTunes movies when I'm on the road! Yippee!!!!!

Wait... you mean there's going to be bandwidth caps?

As PC Magazine's Sascha Segan just found out, just because you actually have the ability to suck down data faster than a frat boy funneling Pabst Blue Ribbon, it doesn't mean the wireless carriers are going to let you do it without paying through the nose for it.

Those of you praying that Verizon gets a 4G version of the iPhone and the iPad (or even 4G Android Tablets and Smartphones) and are expecting massive performance improvements over AT&T need to take heed -- yes, your performance WILL improve. A lot. But if you expect to be able to watch Netflix movies every day when you're on the road over your 4G connection for $50 a month, Fuhgeddaboudit.

As I wrote in earlier articles regarding my trials and tribulations with horrendous hotel Wi-Fi and in my recent tests of Clear's WiMax service, 4G is a great cure for business travelers who actually need to get work done and be productive on the road, but it is not a panacea for multimedia applications and heavy downloads that you'll encounter with services like Netflix or iTunes.

If you're looking to become a Verizon LTE subscriber, keep in mind that at the $50.00 a month data plan, it will will buy you 5GB of data.  For the business user that emails a bunch of PowerPoints and does a ton of email and needs to use Web, Intranet and thin client applications over VPNs, this should be more than sufficient.

But I've now learned the entire thing comes to a screeching halt -- or results in a big-ass AMEX bill in service overages if you start trying to do more ambitious stuff with it, such as suck down Netflixes or large iTunes movies.

Sascha Segan determined in his tests that when watching Netflix in Standard Definition, with a 1500Kbps stream, you'll burn through your entire monthly allotment in under seven and a half hours. With 720p Netflix movies, at 3800Kbps, that's just under three hours.

That's roughly equivalent to the same amount of HD iTunes films, about one and a half movies. Hulu+ will burn through your plan in eleven hours. That certainly won't get you through the month as a business traveler if you're counting on pulling content down on-demand after hours in your hotel room.

And what about Clearwire? They've got "Unlimited" 4G plans. Well that doesn't work out so well either.

Although the service was able to actually deliver HD streaming content in my tests, in my discussions with actual Clearwire subscribers, the company is quick to rate-cap you the second you start burning through gigabytes of data every day. Have a look, for example, at the actual subscriber monthly data usage report of a user in the Atlanta metro region which i've obtained:

Clearwire monthly 4G usage data from sample user, annotated (click to enlarge)

As you can see from the chart -- which was downloaded by the subscriber from the Clearwire web site customer portal and has been annotated to indicate cause and effect from daily use, the company does not hesitate to cap performance on the following day when heavy streaming activities are detected.

If Clearwire's current financial situation is of any indication, the company will not be able to sustain even this level of user behavior. They're going to have to clamp down more and more on movie streaming and heavy downloads.

So what's the cure to this situation?

Well, there really isn't any. You can't expect to do high-bandwidth downloads in 4G and not run into brick walls or make big dents in your wallet.

You'll want to sideload your iTunes movies when you have Wi-Fi bandwidth at home. Unless Netflix can come up with a comparable DRM-enabled download service like iTunes to side-load your laptop or tablet device on Android, you won't be able to watch Netfix films on the road on a consistent basis unless you have a ton of money to burn or have access to fast Wi-Fi networks to watch them on.

What I also think this means is that long term, peering and hand-off agreements are also going to have to take place between the 4G carriers and the home broadband carriers such as Comcast and Cablevision which maintain the Optimum Wi-Fi and XFINITY networks.

Alternatively, the big telecom players, such as Verizon, which is both a broadband provider and a wireless provider will have to maintain large networks of Wi-Fi access points so that their customers don't have to set limits on their usage.

It might also mean that being a Verizon Wireless and Verizon Broadband customer at the same time may have some built-in advantages once the company starts introducing incentives for 4G usage and "Triple Play" deals for broadband/television, VOIP and wireless.

Suddenly, buying your Cable modem and television service from Cablevision and having a Verizon or Sprint smartphone instead of just doing all your business with Verizon might not be such a good idea anymore.

And if the iPhone and iPad does come to Verizon's new network, you can bet your bottom dollar that iTunes Video downloads and Netflix might even be turned off on 4G from Day One.

Will 4G rate capping affect customer wireless usage behavior and require workarounds? Talk Back and Let Me Know,.

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

    Well that sucks but I'm not surprised. These phone companies will try to suck every dime out of you.
    Loverock Davidson
    • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

      @Loverock Davidson Sigh. So, what did you expect? The telcos have to build out a significant infrastructure to support 4G/WiMax etc supporting the number of users you could expect in the mobile market. That is not free.

      Who do you think should pay for this?
      • RE: Who do you think should pay for this?

        We should pay for the services. The problem is that the pricing is ridiculous. Why not offer at least one plan that is still unlimited maybe for $60.00. Huh? Seriously! They want smartphones and tablets on their network. Well, what do they think we are gone to use them for? Just to surf the web. No! Were gone to watch videos, play games, Listen to music, do business, and what every other great technological advance app comes out! Really Verizon! Your pricing plan is so 19th century!
  • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

    The current iPhone 4 only supports 3G, not even the upgraded HSPA+, and you expect a Verizon iPhone at LTE speeds? Also, a Verizon iPhone will not function the same when out of range of an LTE cell, so get ready for some capability restrictions as well.
    • You dont think apple is working on an lte phone?


      Verizon claims it will have LTE coverage matching its 3G coverage by 2013...thats only 2 short years away so I dont think there will be much capability limitations either.
      • Re: You dont think apple is working on an lte phone?


        BUT, is it the actual ITU LTE standard or some Verizon-specific flavor of LTE that is incompatible with the LTE as developed by 3GPP?

        I think I'll wait on buying the iPhone until it's released in Europe because I read somewhere that Verizon wants LTE standard to be fixd (and probably Bluetooth too) so it only works the way they want... If you know what I mean.

        Verizon's asking for dismissal of LTE-Standards requirements from handsets. If the 3GPP decides to uphold the accepted standard, it may ultimately result in trademark infringement and inability to use the LTE brandmark in their marketing.

        So I suggest Verizon start rebranding now, and change their name to "The Red Headed Stepchild Network" or RedNET for short.

        Also, calling it "4G" is sketchy.
        Veriasian Buffet
      • Veriasian

        The ITU doesnt make the standards, the 3GPP makes them for LTE. Everytime there has been a major change to the air-interface, the XG is incremented and so the current LTE standard is worthy of the 4G name.

        As for Verizon wanting to dismiss the standards, please show us some proof.
    • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

      @oldpcguy So you mean to say that Apple will not change the tech on a VZW-capable iPhone to include LTE? Really?
    • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

      Actually I think Apple is working on whatever is the current/future global standard - higher return.
  • How do you think this issue will effect the Chrome OS/Netbook model?

    I have thought about the bandwidth availability issue as well. Indeed, bandwidth impacts the whole thin client "cloud computing" paradigm. And as a result, I can't believe the whole Chrome OS / netbook ideal will ever take hold .. especially that Google prediction that 60% of all businesses could or would drop Windows based business solutions for the Google Chrome OS "cloud model" that Google proposes.
    • Re: How do you think this issue will affect the Chrome OS/Netbook model?


      Not much affect if you're pushing text, graphics and probably audio. If you start pushing significant amounts of video then byte counting starts to affect the model.
    • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose


      Google does like to talk 'big' when their competitors (Microsoft) already has 'Windows Enabled' netbooks currently on the market.
  • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

    Oh dear, what will we ever do!
    • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

      >>Oh dear, what will we ever do!

      Well, I'm not sure, but maybe I'll pick up a copy of the book "Telecosm: How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize Our World" By George Gilder.

      Veriasian Buffet
  • Don't Comcast and AT&T both have monthly limits ....

    on your Home Cable/DSL internet services also?
    WiFi won't get you around that unless you go to public hotspots which you have to share the bandwidth with bookoos of other users.
    Face it, on-line movies ain't gonna fly until the monthly data usage issue is addressed on both wireless and wired ISPs.
    • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

      ATT DSL with no cap.
      Only limit is the speed the wiring will handle.
      • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

        I use AT&T DSL service and I suspect that AT&T uses transmission speed rates to effectively cap data usage. I have noticed on occasion that my service slows down to nearly half it's normal rate. This is rare but it has occurred.
      • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

        If you are seeing slowdowns and it is not someone tapping into your wireless I would give ATT a call... you are paying for a specified rate, not a variable rate.

        I live very close to a local hub and have great consistent service. Now if the 2Wire power supplies were as good (fyi: I replaced mine with a Sony PSP power supply - much better hardware)....
    • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose

      My Cable has no monthly limits... many ISPs don't
    • RE: When Netflix, iPhone meets 4G, wireless hell breaks loose


      It depends on the provider. When we had Charter in Saint Louis the bandwidth throttling began soon after my room-mates started daily, heavy media and torrent downloads. It slowed down to a nearly unusable crawl.

      We switched to U-Verse and never experienced throttling or caps of any sort again.