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Adventures in Nomadic Serendipity
Just because there is a beaten path, that doesn't mean you have to take it...
Avoid Samsung SCH-LC11 / Millenicom 4G Hotspot! 
3rd-Dec-2011 03:39 pm
face
We absolutely love Millenicom - and have long recommended them as the best deal out there for technomadic connectivity.

Which is why it pains me to give this warning -- don't be tempted by the new Millenicom 4G Hotspot Plan. In fact - avoid it.

Millenicom resells Verizon and Sprint service under their own name. Millenicom's Advanced Plan is actually the exact same coverage and speed as Verizon 3G, but instead of 5GB a month you get 20GB, for just $60/month, with no contract!

Millenicom's Unlimited Plan is actually Sprint service in disguise, but you get essentially unlimited 3G for just $70/month, also with no contract.

Millenicom's newest plan, the 3G/4G Hotspot Plan seems to be an equally impressive deal, $80/month for 10GB of Verizon's insanely fast 4G, and with the current early bird special the price drops to $70/month, and you get an additional 10GB of 3G data, for 20GB total. And again, with no nefarious two year contract to sign.

It seems like a great deal, particularly compared to what Verizon offers.

But...

The plan is great. The hardware it comes with is, frankly, crap.

The Samsung SCH-LC11 4G / WiFi Hotspot that Millenicom offers is an absolute dud of a product, and after having spent a month pulling our hair out and cursing it, we wouldn't wish it upon an enemy.

The first SCH-LC11 that Millenicom sent us was DOA. It wouldn't turn on no matter what we did.

We were disappointed, especially because we had paid for express shipping to get the hotspot in time to demonstrate during our workshop on living on the road at the Choo Choo Bus Rally. But I've worked in the tech industry long enough to understand that an occasional dud slips through. So we arranged for Millenicom to swap out our DOA unit for another one.

When that one arrived, wow, it was FAST! The wireless 4G speeds at my parent's place was actually faster than their home wired internet service, especially for uploads.

But... Every 30 minutes or so, the connection would slow to a halt, and one of us would have to get up and forcibly reset the modem.

Over and over and over again.

It was unusably frustrating. No matter what we did, if both of us were online at the same time, the modem would lock up within an hour or two, and usually sooner than that. (It worked much better when only one person was connected, but that defeats the entire point of a Hotspot!)

I spent hours chatting with Millenicom's excellent support, and researching every possible fix I could find. I found a major firmware update released in August that according to reports online upgraded the SCH-LC11 from unusable to just bad, but for us it only helped some (and it required setting up a Windows partition and working through an overly complex 14 step upgrade procedure to install too!).

I checked the Samsung SCH-LC11 reviews on Amazon, and discovered that similar problems with this Hotspot are widespread. Then we heard that our friend Karen had also given up and sent her SCH-LC11 back in frustration for the same crazy-making connection dropping reasons. The problem isn't just limited to us.

I tracked down Samsung's SCH-LC11 Support Page (it is filed as a phone, making the page hard to find). The page actually tells you to "Call : 1-888-987-HELP" for assistance.

But... Once you manage to get through to a real human being, the Samsung rep informs you that they do not offer any support for the SCH-LC11 (then why is there a phone number??!!?) and that you have to deal directly with the carrier. Meanwhile, Millenicom is agreeing with me and saying that it is clearly a Samsung issue. Circles!

I vent my frustration on Twitter, and I do hear back from @samsungsupport, telling me to download the firmware I had already tried. And eventually, promising that someone would contact me. After several days, someone does - who then tries to run me through the same basic troubleshooting steps (take the battery out, factory reset the settings, etc...) that I had been through a dozen times already. When I tried to get any sort of official statement from Samsung about the issues and whether or not any future fix is planned, I was told that someone higher up would call me back ASAP.

It has been weeks, and that hasn't happened. At least as of two days ago @samsungsupport is "still looking into it"...
In our opinion, Millenicom should not have ever offered this modem for sale - they should have held off offering any 4G plan until they had a more reliable modem to offer.

When it comes to connectivity, reliability is WAY MORE IMPORTANT than speed.

Fortunately Millenicom made it easy for us to send the 4G Hotspot back, and they reactivated our 3G Advanced Plan.

After the month of 4G frustration and constant modem reboots, the last few weeks have been heaven. Our connection has been up and solid and has not dropped for days on end.

It is so nice when technology actually works!

Note: A shorter and somewhat different variant of this rant is also posted over on technomadia.com.
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