Such fast upload speeds can make bidirectional apps like videoconferencing, online gaming, and, later, mobile Voice over IP (VoIP) work far more smoothly and look and sound better. In these apps, the data you send from your device is just as important as the data you receive.
Such apps also depend on near-instantaneous response from the network, with minimal delay. For instance, in real-time VoIP calls, network delay is usually the cause of "lag" and echo. To have a natural-sounding VoIP conversation, you need network latency of less than 150 milliseconds, and LTE proved better at assuring that than other networks in our tests. In our 12 testing cities where Verizon's LTE service is available, latency times averaged just 114 milliseconds, significantly shorter than latency times in the HSPA+ and WiMax networks we tested.
Verizon's LTE network gives us a nice look at the future of wireless service, but only a minority of the operator's customers are using the network at the moment. Verizon currently sells only two models of USB modems that can tap the network, and the company isn't saying how many modems it has sold. New LTE phones aren't likely to arrive until this summer. So Verizon's LTE network currently handles nowhere near the number of devices it will have to support in the future.
"Verizon's new 4G network is a screamer, but that's partly because there's hardly anyone using it yet," says Craig Moffett, a senior analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
Verizon has been assuring skeptics that its network will remain just as fast when loaded up with devices. "We're very comfortable with the speeds we have said all along that our customers should expect: on average, 2 to 5 mbps on the uplink and 5 to 10 on the down," says Verizon Wireless spokesperson Thomas Pica. "That's on a fully loaded network.''
Moffett accepts that claim: "Even as [the network] begins to get loaded with the first smartphones this summer, it will probably keep the crown; as usual, theirs is the network to beat."
Still, at present, Verizon's smartphone subscribers rely on the company's 3G CDMA network. And that network, as demonstrated in our tests, actually became slower over the past year.