Mobile 4G LTE experiment: A month without Wi-Fi

For the past month I have relied solely upon 4G LTE connections, leaving the Wi-Fi turned off when working out of the office. The takeaways from this experiment have been surprising.

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(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Mobile broadband is a fact of life for many professionals, especially those who travel regularly. Finding a public Wi-Fi hotspot can be a chore, and they are often slow as molasses when you find them. The downside to using 4G LTE regularly is the dreaded monthly data cap, and the unexpected cost of exceeding it.

I have long been using 4G LTE when out of the office, but never all the time. If I worked at a venue with Wi-Fi, I’d use it unless it was too slow then switch it off and use 4G. This has worked fine and kept me well within the monthly data cap.

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After getting the iPhone 6 Plus, I decided to conduct an experiment and only use the 4G LTE for a month. I turned off the Wi-Fi on all mobile gear I used on a given day, and relied solely on mobile broadband for connectivity. I wanted to see how much data I would use over the month, and how well the connection speeds would meet my needs. After completing the entire month without Wi-Fi, I found that I was pleasantly surprised with the experience.

The daily grind

The workdays were basically all the same, as I headed out of the home office and worked remotely every day. Each day saw me head out around 7 - 8am and return to the office anywhere from 3 - 6pm.

I believe the poorest connection on 4G was better than the average on public Wi-Fi, by far.

Obviously I wasn’t working every minute of that time out of the office, but I was doing so for most of it. I estimate actual remote work time was from six to seven hours daily. I was using 4G LTE for connectivity the entire time.

Many evenings I would go to the local sidewalk cafe and hang out with friends. If they weren't around I would be on the iPhone, interacting with social media and streaming music to wireless earbuds. That was done over 4G too.

The gear

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(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

I have an iPad Air and iPhone 6 Plus, both with integrated 4G LTE. I was either using the iPad or iPhone 6 Plus for connectivity. On the rare days when I took a Windows laptop or Chromebook with me, the iPhone was used as a mobile hotspot.

Most days I used the iPad Air with a keyboard the entire time, providing its own connectivity with LTE. Occasionally, I headed out with no plans to work and only took the iPhone 6 Plus with me. If I ended up working for short periods on those days, I did so on the iPhone with 4G, sometimes with a mobile keyboard.

The 4G LTE was provided by my Verizon More Everything plan. I have a 10GB monthly allotment shared amongst all my devices. This amount of data has always been plenty for me, as the most I’ve used prior to this experiment was 5GB.

The reality

Poor 4G connection
Note only 2 bars signal strength Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

I didn’t keep a spreadsheet with upload/download speeds over the month as my objective was not analytical. My intent was to see how doing without using public Wi-Fi impacted actually getting things done. I did regularly check my 4G network speed each day, particularly when I arrived at a new work location. At that time I would turn Wi-Fi on just to gauge the speed of the public hotspot for reference.

Over the month-long experiment, my 4G bandwidth ranged from 12-30 Mbps down and 2-15 Mbps up. It varied depending on location, and even on different days at the same location. Whatever speed I experienced at a given time and location, the connection was consistent throughout my time there.

The speeds I got while testing the public Wi-Fi hotspots were all over the map, usually poor. They ranged from <1Mbps up and down to just over 5Mbps down and a little over 1Mbps up. This is nothing out of the ordinary; it’s what I experienced prior to this experiment. In the past, even when I noted faster speeds on Wi-Fi, it was often very spotty, almost coming to a stop at times.

After a month of using only 4G, I can state emphatically that it was much faster, more consistent, and with no issues. That’s a far cry from my past experience using public hotspots, which was nowhere near as enjoyable as going all-in with 4G. In fact, I believe the poorest connection on 4G was better than the average on public Wi-Fi, by far.

I didn’t plan on comparing the 4G experience with my home office connectivity with AT&T U-verse, but after regularly having good 4G connection speeds during the day I had to compare it to U-verse. I discovered that the 4G download speeds were often nearly as good as U-verse on any given day, and the upload speeds were always faster. Not only were the 4G upload speeds faster than U-verse, they were usually over 10x faster! That makes me wonder if it’s time to dump U-verse and go strictly with Verizon 4G at home.

VZW Cap busting
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Using 4G all day every day for a month, it had to make a big hit on my total data usage and it did. As stated earlier, the most data I’d used in a month prior to this experiment was around 5GB. The month of going all 4G it approached 11GB of data.

Data consumption this high would have exceeded my monthly cap of 10GB, but apparently Verizon gave me an additional 1GB as a promotion when I bought the iPhone 6 Plus from them. I wasn’t aware of it until I started checking the consumption regularly during the month. Had I not had the additional GB of data it would have cost $10 for a 1GB overage.

That’s not a high cost for the overage, and if I decide to keep using only 4G going forward, paying for a GB or two overage wouldn’t be that bad. I’d have to track data usage for a couple of months to have enough statistics to decide if I would be better served by raising my plan over 10GB.

This month-long experiment has been eye-opening. I’ve discovered that 4G connectivity, at least in Houston with Verizon, is really good and consistent. The user experience has been great with fast connectivity all day, every day. It’s been nice not having the frustration caused by spotty or outright bad hotspot bandwidth.

I am surprised my monthly data usage wasn’t much higher. While almost 11GB of data is a lot, considering 4G was on all the time that’s not really bad. I didn’t set out to use as much data as possible, I just did what I normally do.

I may very well keep Wi-Fi turned off in the future and enjoy mobile broadband all the time.

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