Droid Charge still unavailable, 12 days after LTE outage fixed

Have some carriers overhyped and underdelivered 4G cellular?

As of Monday, Verizon Wireless was 12 days late with the start of sales for its second LTE smartphone, the Droid Charge from Samsung, which was first promised on April 28.

The delay most likely has to do with Verizon's 4G LTE network outage that lasted more than 24 hours starting April 26, two days before the Charge was due to go on sale, analysts said. Verizon hasn't commented on the reason for the sales delay or the cause of the LTE outage, although a Samsung spokeswoman said on April 28 that there was nothing wrong with the Charge devices themselves. On May 3, Samsung tweeted, "Droid Charge by Samsung is almost here" with a link to a YouTube promotional video.

Also Monday, a Verizon store representative in the Boston suburbs said her store had the Droid Charge in stock, but added, "they are not able to be sold yet" and could not give a reason. The Web sites for Samsung and Verizon still asked customers to register for updates on when the Charge will go on sale.

While the Verizon store is not selling the device, reports surfaced recently that some Best Buy stores were selling the Droid Charge, although Best Buy is not listing the device on its Web site. However, some Droid Charge reviewers have been able to use the LTE network to test its speed. Wirefly, an online smartphone sales site, was taking pre-orders of the Droid Charge for $249.99 on Monday with no indication of a shipping date.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said Verizon is most likely trying to make sure it can handle the added LTE network demand from the Charge, atop Verizon's first LTE phone, the HTC ThunderBolt, which went on sale on March 17.

"The network needs to be ready for more devices, and Verizon can't afford to pull another AT&T and iPhone situation" in which AT&T's network caused major problems for iPhone customers in New York and San Francisco, Gold said. "They are trying to make sure in any way that that doesn't occur again."

AT&T hasn't been immune to 4G cellular network foibles, either. In March, AT&T finally said it would turn on its faster HSUPA network, which it calls 4G, in April for the Motorola Atrix 4G and HTC Inspire 4G, which AT&T first launched in February.

Also in March, AT&T said its Samsung Infuse 4G would get HSUPA speeds at launch. That launch is now set for May 15 with the Infuse priced at $199.99 with a two-year contract, AT&T and Samsung announced last week.

Speeds with AT&T's HSPA+ and Verizon's LTE are roughly similar, about 5 Mbps to 12 Mbps for downloads and 2 mbps to 5 mbps upload.

Gold and Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner, questioned whether that many customers are clamoring for 4G speeds, despite all the hype and television advertising.

"Frankly, I'm not sure how big the demand is for LTE or HSPA+," Gold said. "No one seems to be addressing what LTE means to battery life and the weight of the new devices, aside from whether I can make calls." (The LTE outage didn't affect voice calls, just data, since LTE only is a data network.)

"I'm sure any of the delays can be attributed to using new network technology," Redman said. "What's the rush?"

Redman said AT&T's HSPA speeds require fiber-optic cable backhaul connections from each cell tower to a switching center adding that AT&T is in a transitional period. As for LTE and the Droid Charge, Redman said he doesn't have any specific information on the delays, but said they could be attributed to new network technology.

Sprint has had a 4G WiMax network longer than either of the 4G networks on Verizon or AT&T and with roughly the same speeds. Sprint began selling the new Nexus S 4G on Sunday for $199.99.

Sprint has been able to roll out WiMax phones without major network-based problems because it gradually expanded the number of cities where WiMax is available. The HTC Evo 4G, which first shipped in May 2010, incurred supply problems, however, due to a global shortage of displays.

Customers have complained to carriers more about delays in Android software updates to their smartphones than over 4G network concerns.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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