As many of you know, I’m a traveling surgical tech, a job which has me moving to a different part of the country every few months, filling in when hospitals need short-term help, living in a constant state of learning (mostly new policies and procedures), and raking in large amounts of coin in the process. One of those three statements isn’t true. My current assignment is in the beautiful, North Texas city of Wichita Falls. It’s been mostly nice so far, the hospital is newer, so the equipment is all top-notch and shiny. The staff all get along well for the most part. If they don’ they’re very good at hiding it, which is just as good. The one complaint I have is with the apartment I’m living in.
The Harrison is a nice apartment complex. The buildings are all brick, two-story affairs, with lots of shade, parking is abundant, and the pool is right outside my back door. My unit is clean and free of noxious odors (giggity) and I lucked into one on the ground floor, so I don’t have to lug my bike up and down the stairs. The management staff is friendly, and didn’t even charge me to replace the mailbox key I lost within a week of moving in. I almost couldn’t be happier, except for the almost complete lack of RF coverage. It’s like I’m living in a virtual Faraday cage.
I use AT&T for my mobile service, and my iPhone 4 is lucky to have two bars anywhere inside the apartment. When I want to talk on the phone, I have to lay it on the desk and use the hands-free option, otherwise, it cuts in and out frequently enough to be useless. I’m normally pretty adaptable. At my last assignment, in eastern Montana, coverage was shoddy at best, but the apartment came with free WiFi, so I just used Skype and everything was fine. Viva la Internet! The Harrison, however, doesn’t have WiFi. There’s a coax cable into my apartment, but at the other end of it is some sort of bastardized satellite system, so no Internet there either. Obviously, I’m not gonna pay to have a cable modem installed when I’ll only be here three months, so wireless is the only option.
Obviously, AT&T was out, but I thought this might be a wonderful time to try out Verizon, as they have 4G LTE here in Wichita Falls, and it’s supposed to be crazy-fast. I zipped over to their store, and a hundred bucks later, I was the proud owner of a Jetpack hotspot. I plugged it in and within minutes, was getting download speeds of close to 8 Mbps and upload speeds of a little over 3 Mbps. Not shabby at all. I FaceTimed with my lovely wife that evening before bed, and all was right with the world. I went to work the next morning, and was surprised when I got an email from Verizon midday saying I had reached 50% of my 5 GB data plan. I was a little confused, as I hadn’t downloaded any movies or other broadband intensive stuff, but I’m not sure how much data FaceTime uses, so I chalked it up to that. I made a mental note to bump my plan to 10 GB as soon as I was off work and to keep the FaceTime-ing to a minimum. A few hours later, I got another email, saying I was at 75% of my limit, and it dawned on me that I might have forgotten to set a password on the Jetpack and that someone in another apartment had latched onto it. But no, I remembered that I’d had to change the password as part of the setup process. Just as I was leaving work, I got yet another email saying, you guessed it, I had exceeded my data limit for the month.
I raced back to the apartment, only to find that there were no extra computers connecting to my WiFi, and in fact, there hadn’t been all day. I didn’t show any actual data being used at all. I called Verizon customer service to find out what was up. Much to my surprise, I was told that as long as my Jetpack was connected to their network, it was using data, and that if I didn’t want overages like these, I needed to remember to turn of the Jetpack when I wasn’t using it. I was, in a word, livid. I guess I understand that, technically, communicating with a wireless network is data, but I honestly didn’t realize that it mattered not whether I was downloading a movie, checking my email, or just letting my laptop sit idle, it was all the same usage as far as Verizon was concerned. Maybe I’m getting old, but having to remember to turn the Jetpack on and off every time I wanted to use it seemed like an unworkable situation, so I returned it the next day and canceled my service.
Luckily, there’s another option in town, Clear. After looking at their coverage map and ensuring that they had coverage at The Harrison, I went to Best Buy and bought the cutest little 4G hockey puck. Setup was super-simple, and after a few minutes, it latched onto Clear’s network. The results were underwhelming. The signal strength indicator light keeps cycling through amber (Good Signal), flashing amber (Weak Signal), and rarely, green (Yahtzee!). I’m averaging 1.5 Mbps up and 0.1 Mbps down. FaceTime is damn near unusable, except as a way to raise my ire and blood pressure. I’m striving to keep my perspective, to remember that there are people in this country who still use AOL over dial-up, and that I’m lucky to have broadband at all. I don’t want to sound like a douche-bag that feels entitled to perfect internet at all times; I’m just frustrated.
The hockey puck is now dangling from the blinds in the living room, but I’ll be spending the next few days moving it around the apartment, trying to find that sweet spot I know must exist. If any of you have ideas (aside from sucking it up and going back to Verizon), let me know…
[As an aside, I wrote this post while listening to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack for The Social Network. I like writing with instrumental music in the background, and this one’s a winner. Literally. If you’re into that sort of thing, check it out if you haven’t already.]