"America's Most Reliable Wireless Network" has been anything but in the last couple of days when it comes to 4G service. Verizon Wireless said today its high-speed 4G LTE network, which covers 45 U.S. cities, was restored this morning after suffering an outage that began late Tuesday. The shutdown has been especially embarrassing for a carrier that's long made reliability a central part of its marketing and corporate identity.
"We believe that a wireless network that consistently provides high quality and reliable service is a key differentiator in the U.S. market and a driver of customer satisfaction," noted Verizon in its 2010 annual report filed with the SEC earlier this year. Does that also apply to its 4G service? Verizon didn't help matters by relying on enigmatic Twitter posts to keep consumers informed about the problem and when it might be fixed.
"Investigating 4G LTE network issue; ThunderBolts making voice calls, may get slower 1xRTT data. Will update here," read one from yesterday. Then today at about 11 a.m., came this tweet: "4GLTE up and running. Thank you for your patience." As of Tuesday afternoon, Verizon still hadn't provided more details about the cause of the outage or issued a formal statement.
The service shutdown also comes only days after Verizon executives touted the rollout of its 4G network during its April 21 first-quarter conference call. "Our 4G LTE network deployment is going very well, and our network performance has exceeded even our own very high expectations," said Verizon CFO Fran Shammo. Until now, that is. The carrier last week also promised to expand 4G service to 175 U.S. markets by year's end.
The network shutdown may already be putting a crimp in Verizon's plans. The company delayed its scheduled Thursday release of the Droid Charge from Samsung, its second 4G-ready phone after the HTC ThunderBolt, though the reason for the delay is unclear, according to Computerworld.
Verizon's 4G snafu, in any case, raises a larger question about whether the company should shift its marketing emphasis from reliability to data speed as it continues to roll out its LTE network ahead of similar efforts by arch rival AT&T. That would also challenge AT&T's advertising claim of having the "nation's fastest network" as consumers increasingly use phones for more than talking.
Verizon is already benefiting from sharing the iPhone with AT&T; going after its tag line may be next. Then again, if problems persist with its 4G network, Verizon may have to bring back Test Man in its ads to try to reassure anxious consumers.