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Innovation

4G's big hurdle: Managing the 3G handoff

Verizon's 4G Long-Term Evolution network kicks off Sunday and road warriors can snap up dongles for their laptops and garner some serious speed. These early adopters, however, will be well served to monitor the handoff between 4G and 3G service.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Verizon's 4G Long-Term Evolution network kicks off Sunday and road warriors can snap up dongles for their laptops and garner some serious speed. These early adopters, however, will be well served to monitor the handoff between 4G and 3G service.

When Verizon officially rolled out its LTE launch plans on Wednesday. Verizon Wireless CTO Tony Malone had a few subtle digs at Clearwire.

As Jason Hiner noted:

Malone also stated that latency on the 4G network will be half of what it is on 3G and that it nearly mirrors traditional wired networks. Latency is the delay it takes data to get from one point to another and is one of the other major factors in perceived network “speed.”

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Malone also spent a lot of time talking about the 4G to 3G handoff. In a nutshell, the 4G to 3G handoff is a big deal since not every place will have fast service.

As I've been testing the Clearwire service, the 4G to 3G handoff is a bit clunky. There's initialization for each network when you toggle between the two networks. There's also a point where you don't have service. Unless every place is blanketed with WiMax or LTE frustration can ensue.

Malone said that Verizon's 4G to 3G transition will be seamless---in one direction. In a nutshell, the LTE service can go from 4G to 3G, but won't automatically switch back. If a connection goes idle, Verizon will try and pick the LTE signal up again.

In reality, most of us will probably disconnect once in a while to try and reset the 4G connection. How this 4G-to-3G and back issue will be notable as LTE-enabled smartphones roll out.

Consider these handoff concerns and issue only for the a short period---say a year or so. After that, the 4G networks will be built out. To its credit, Verizon noted that it has blanketed the Northeast Corridor and Silicon Valley so hopefully these handoff issues won't loom too large.

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