Verizon Wireless rolled out its 4G network in the Tucson area last week, offering faster data speeds to customers with compatible phones and computing devices.
The Star talked about what 4G's arrival means and other issues with Brian Danfield, Chandler-based president of Verizon's Southwest region. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: How does 4G wireless technology help users in terms of speed?
A: That's the thing that's tricky (to describe). We advertise 5 to 12 megabits per second download (speed), 2 to 5 (Mbps) on the upload, which is very impressive, and that's what we quote on a "fully burdened" network.
But how do you make it real for the consumer? Some ways that we've boiled it down to help people understand is, you can get songs in seconds - if you download songs, you can literally get them in seconds - and movies in minutes.
And the other big piece that's very noticeable is streaming video. You don't get buffering; you get continuous video play instead of the buffering you see on 3G or other technologies.
Q: Verizon recently did away with its flat-fee plan for unlimited data, though people who have it now are grandfathered in. But for the new customers, will there be a real chance of overages, because 4G is begging you to use as much data as possible?
A: We have gone to usage-based pricing, and the dynamic here is to make sure that as we set up for our future, making sure that we protect the best experience for all of our customers. And what we found was, 95 percent of our customers are using 2 gigabytes of data (per month). So we set up options for customers to find the right plan to make sure we get the right usage.
To avoid overages, to help people understand the data elements, we've deployed several tools to make sure that customers are very aware of how much they're using, as well as a pretty simple overage policy, if it comes to that.
One of the pieces we have is a data-usage calculator that we've got available for customers. ... Customers can use Wi-Fi as an option. We encourage customers to supplement where you can (with Wi-Fi).
Q: What kind of market is Tucson for mobile phones, particularly data?
A: Tucson and all of Southern Arizona is a very important market. There's very important businesses, and a very large consumer population, so it's very important that we have good representation here and that we provide good products.
Speed is one thing, but you get many other benefits from it in different technologies it brings forward from the tablets through machine-to-machine (communications) - there's some really exciting things going on there, and that's kind of an infancy market. All of those are important for Southern Arizona.
Q: What proportion of Tucson-area customers use data?
A: As far as the actual percentage go, we don't really disclose information down to that level. The (overall) smartphone base is public information (36 percent of Verizon's nationwide retail customer base, according to second-quarter financial filings).
I find Tucson to be very much in contention from a technology standpoint. … There's a lot of smartphone usage. There are some very progressive and interesting things we're doing with businesses here that suggest to me Tucson is a very tech-savvy area.
Q: Your coverage map shows the local 4G network ends with limited "extended coverage" around Marana to the north and around Sahuarita to the south. What are the plans for extending it locally and up I-10 to Phoenix?
A: We will continue to build out. Our plan is that by 2013 we will have our entire network covered with 4G.
I don't have dates for the expansion in Tucson; it's a continuous build-out.
Q: Will you eventually phase out 3G service?
A: Over time, we'll see. We haven't really announced that piece; right now we're about building out the 4G and then we'll see about the retirement elements down the road. 3G is around for a very long time.
Q: What is 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution), and what are its advantages? Your main rival, AT&T, says it has a better network.
A: I'll let them talk about their particular network elements.
4G LTE is a new technology; it is a different network, and we believe it is the true fourth-generation network, and the speeds that it provides are far superior to any of the other technologies out there. In fact, our floor is really their ceiling.
So when you talk about the other technologies, HSPA Plus (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access), which is what the other carriers are using, this is really different from that.
And what you'll find is that many carriers, the vast majority, have committed to LTE as their next strategy, including some of our competitors. We feel we're a couple of years ahead of others on that.
Q; Are you coming out with other 4G phones?
A: We're not currently announcing the dates on any of the future phones, but we'll continue to expand our lineup on 4G LTE.
Q: What about new 4G tablet computers?
A: The (new) Samsung Galaxy is a 4G-enabled device … and the Motorola Xoom tablet as well is currently 3G, but it is upgradeable to 4G, so for any customers who buy the 3G version, we'll be working with Motorola in a very short time frame, and those will be upgradeable to 4G.
By the NUmbers
Verizon Wireless connections nationwide
Percent of overall Verizon customers who use data-enabled smartphones
Verizon Wireless employees nationwide
Approximate number of Verizon Wireless employees in Arizona, including 1,400 at a customer-service center in Chandler