NY Times: AT&T network superior to Verizon’s, but carrier takes blame for iPhone design flaws

Black Friday Apple Blowout - Part IIIThe New York Times’ Randall Stross “set about looking for independent data to confirm the superior performance of Verizon’s network,” but reports that he was “astonished to discover that I had managed to get things exactly wrong. Despite the well-publicized problems in New York and San Francisco, AT&T seems to have the superior network nationwide. And the iPhone itself may not be so great after all. Its design is contributing to performance problems.”

“Roger Entner, senior vice president for telecommunications research at Nielsen, said the iPhone’s ‘air interface,’ the electronics in the phone that connect it to the cell towers, had shortcomings that ‘affect both voice and data,'” Stross reports. “He said that in the eyes of the consumer, ‘the iPhone has the nimbus of infallibility, ergo, it’s AT&T’s fault.’ AT&T does not publicly defend itself because it will not criticize Apple under any circumstances, he said.”

“Neither AT&T nor Verizon was willing to reveal its internal data on performance,” Stross reports. “But Global Wireless Solutions, one of the third-party services that run network tests for the major carriers, shared some of its current findings. The service dispatches drivers across the country with phones and laptops equipped with data cards. They have covered more than three million miles of roads this year, while running almost two million wireless data sessions and placing more than three million voice calls, said Paul Carter, the president.”

Stross reports, “The results place AT&T’s data network not just on top, but well ahead of everyone else. ‘AT&T’s data throughput is 40 to 50 percent higher than the competition, including Verizon,’ Mr. Carter said. AT&T is a client and Verizon is not, he added.”

“More evidence that AT&T’s data network is head-and-shoulders above Verizon’s comes from Root Wireless, a start-up in Bellevue, Wash., that is developing software for consumers to install on their smartphones to do continuous network tests,” Stross reports. “This year, Root Wireless ran 4.7 million tests on smartphones for each of the four major carriers, spread across seven metropolitan areas: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles/Orange County, New York, Seattle/Tacoma, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington. In every market, AT&T had faster average download speeds and had signal strength of 75 percent or better more frequently than did Verizon.”

Stross reports, “I asked Ron Dicklin, chief technology officer at Root Wireless, how these results, showing AT&T as the clear leader, could be reconciled with the negative appraisal of Consumer Reports’ respondents. Heexplained that his company’s tests of AT&T’s data network were done with handsets other than the iPhone, which does not allow non-Apple programs like his to run in the background… AT&T, while meeting 4,000 percent growth in data use, has acquitted itself quite nicely. But the company is saddled with an awful public image as the perennial laggard.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The blame seems to shift depending upon whose flacks plant what information (guess who got their story reported this time), but the end result remains the same: In high-density iPhone areas, AT&T coverage is sporadic and unreliable. If that problem was due to an iPhone design flaw, then why do iPhones, including our iPhones, work perfectly on AT&T’s network when they’re outside of NYC and San Francisco or off AT&T altogether in other countries? Again, if there is a design flaw in the iPhone’s 3G radio, then why do they only seem to have issues in high-density iPhone areas on AT&T? Are iPhones interfering with each other, knocking each off the network in NYC and San Fran, but aren’t prevalent enough to do so elsewhere? That would seem to be the only vaguely logical conclusion, other than, of course, the much more logical conclusion that AT&T simply does not have enough capacity in place to provide adequate service to specific areas packed with millions of iPhone users.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Sajboy” for the heads up.]

58 Comments

  1. If it was a design flaw in the iPhone, why does it not affect other mobile carriers in other parts of the world, like London, or Sydney, for example?

    Surely the best technical solution would be to let more than one carrier sell the iPhone, and distribute the data load over more than one network…

  2. Perfect opportunity to flog AT&T;’s free iPhone app “Mark the Spot” which allows users to tell AT&T;exactly where and how frequently network problems are experienced.

  3. AT&T;has had these spotty coverage issues before the iPhone. The only reason I’m on AT&T;is the iPhone. My contract is over, I’m waiting to see if there is a new carrier in the coming year and if it’s better than AT&T;. There is still the chance that someone else will have their own issues or bastardize the options to a point that AT&T;looks good again.

  4. “More evidence that AT&T;’s data network is head-and-shoulders above Verizon’s comes from Root Wireless, a start-up in Bellevue, Wash., that is developing software for consumers to install on their smartphones to do continuous network tests,” Stross reports. “This year, Root Wireless ran 4.7 million tests on smartphones for each of the four major carriers, spread across seven metropolitan areas: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles/Orange County, New York, Seattle/Tacoma, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington. In every market, AT&T;had faster average download speeds and had signal strength of 75 percent or better more frequently than did Verizon.”

    Stross reports, “I asked Ron Dicklin, chief technology officer at Root Wireless, how these results, showing AT&T;as the clear leader, could be reconciled with the negative appraisal of Consumer Reports’ respondents. Heexplained that his company’s tests of AT&T;’s data network were done with handsets other than the iPhone, which does not allow non-Apple programs like his to run in the background… AT&T;, while meeting 4,000 percent growth in data use, has acquitted itself quite nicely.”

    Apple can settle this question once and for all by allowing some iPhones to download the software for consumers to install on their smartphones to do continuous network tests and see the true outcome.

    Surely if Apple is confident of it’s design and the best of internals that comprise the iPhone, then Apple should have nothing to worry about and the people can see where the problem truly lies!

  5. My first i phone was dropping calls all the time.I complained to Roger’s (Toronto,ON), and was given a new phone. I did not lose one call since then.(It’s a few months).

  6. I have no problem whatsoever with AT&T;. Yes I have an iPhone and get perfection reception, no dropped calls so I get a kick out of all these articles. In case your wondering I am in PA.

  7. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has some strong opinions about this article, basically saying that the author managed to get it exactly wrong in his final conclusion, not in his original one. Here’s his conclusion (though it’s worth reading the points he makes leading up to it):

    “…on the one hand we have the simple theory that AT&T;’s network stinks, especially in large metro areas, and extra-especially in New York City and San Francisco.”

    “On the other hand, we have the theory that AT&T;’s network is just fine because two network consulting companies say so, even though a Consumer Reports customer survey says otherwise, and it is the iPhone that is flawed, but the flaws are for some reason worse on AT&T;than other carriers around the world, and just happen to be worse still in some cities than others, and Apple has been unwilling and/or unable to address these flaws in three model years.

    “I know which theory I’d put my money on.”

  8. AT&T;is the local phone company is much of the southeast and thus first to build cell towers and I’ve had no coverage problem even before getting an iPhone two years ago.
    Since then I’ve spent several days in San Francisco for meetings and also had no problem with coverage including while doing a great deal of walking while shopping and moving around convention sites.
    The few times I’ve encountered “dropped” calls it’s usually been a problem on the other end of the line and that person’s network.

  9. Lets have the facts, whatever they are. I hope its not a repeat of the old Appletalk “chattiness” that caused big loads in printer networks.

    Having said that, I am eagerly awaiting AT&T;taking over Alltel service in my area. 1st quarter of 2010. Confirmed by Alltel. When I asked the Alltel rep if my area (South Dakota) was included, she said yes. I told her that I was getting an iPhone, she just laughed. (in a nice way) I got the feeling she had heard this before.

    It will be great because we have a long time Apple reseller here (Rapid City, near Mount Rushmore) who has tremendous service. They deserve the chance to sell the iPhone. I see IPod Touches every day.

    But ….Apple: make sure this thing is not your problem. If it is, fix it. If it isn’t, say so. Politely but firmly.

  10. My belief is that the fault is with the iPhone’s cellular networking hardware/firmware/software and Apple does not know how to fix it. I.e they are in a hole they cannot get out of without a massive recall. So, like so many times Apple has this type of problem, they just deny there is a problem.

    ATT is in a position due to contractual arrangements that they cannot tell the world that it is Apple’s fault. Mum is the word. It’s all about money an legalities, not truth.

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