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Verizon tries to explain 4G LTE network outages

by Phil Hornshaw

The last month of 2011 has been a rough one for the biggest cellular provider in the U.S. Its much-touted 4G LTE network, just getting on its feet in many markets, suffered three separate outages during December.

As Business Insider reports, Verizon just released a statement explaining the outages, the most recent of which took place Thursday. In its official statement, Verizon said all three outages have been different “from a technological standpoint,” and the company says engineers have found the causes of those outages and fixed things so they won’t be repeated.

But Business Insider points out that Verizon’s statement is a little…lacking. For one, it fails to mention problems with activating phones this week that users have been reporting. It also doesn’t give nearly as much detail as an interview Verizon’s Mike Haberman, vice president of network engineering, gave to GigaOM. Haberman said that all three problems are traceable back to a software glitch in the network’s IP Multimedia Subsystem, which first showed up back in April, and the three December outages have been different problems caused by that same glitch. Verizon’s official statement makes the tech troubles sound much more varied than that, however.

Verizon has refused to comment on whether customers would receive a credit on their wireless bills as a result of the outage, and the statement Verizon issued makes no mention of that possibility, either.

The statement does reiterate that even during the 4G LTE outages, Verizon’s 3G network was up and running and unaffected, so users weren’t necessarily without data service if they switched over to the existing 3G network. But, of course, 4G LTE is supposed to be much faster than 3G, which is why customers pay for it to begin with.

And of course, glitches with LTE are to be expected, given that it’s a new technology and Verizon is really the first company to roll out the service on a large scale. Verizon is working on making its LTE network cover the entire nation, adding markets all the time, so it’s not crazy that occasionally, something might go wrong. Other wireless providers in the U.S. are running to catch up with the LTE train as it picks up speed, and as Haberman said, Verizon is bound to experience “growing pains.”

Haberman also said that while Verizon can’t guarantee there won’t be more outages, it is taking steps to keep them from happening. And as GigaOM mentions, the stakes are pretty high, given that Verizon touts itself as “the most reliable network” in the U.S. For that to keep being the case, Verizon is going to need to get over its growing pains and keep its 4G network running smoothly, at least for the most part. Offering some bill credits to customers paying for that reliability Verizon loves to talk about wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.