Vigilantes in the hunt for iPhone 3G connectivity culprit

Neither Apple nor AT&T is inclined to utter a discouraging word about the iPhone 3G, but that hasn’t stopped the accumulation of anecdotal evidence of reception and connectivity problems among a small but significant number of owners (see “IPhone hot, some users steamed, HQ smoking“). And in lieu of any official answers, some interested parties have resorted to their own investigations.

In Sweden, Eva Wieselgren of the Gothenburg Post trotted her iPhone 3G over to the lab of Bluetest, which produces test chambers for devices with small antennas, measuring how well the gadgets send and receive under various conditions. The Bluetest boffins ran their tests on Wieselgren’s iPhone, as well as her Nokia N73 and a Sony Ericsson P1 belonging to the company’s CEO, and according to antenna engineer Magnus Franzen, the Apple product’s performance was perfectly normal (or more precisely, the antenna on Wieselgren’s unit, with which she had experienced no trouble, performed no better or worse than those of the other two units).

Meanwhile, asked iPhone owners to run a test of their 3G speeds and attach their data to an interactive map. More than 2,600 users from around the world participated, and the results are, well, all over the map. Keeping in mind the unscientific nature of the survey, European T-Mobile users reported the fastest 3G download speeds — 1,822 Kbps on average. Canadian carriers Rogers and Fido came in with an average download speed of about 1,330 Kbps; AT&T, Apple’s U.S. carrier, was in the third tier with Telstra, Telia and Softbank, with average download speeds of 990 Kbps. And on the low end, users of Australian carriers Optus and Virgin users reported speeds of about 390 Kbps. The exercise really only puts a statistical veneer on more anecdotal data, but that didn’t stop Wired from drawing a conclusion. “In our view, this data is a strong indicator that performance of the mobile carrier’s network is affecting the iPhone 3G more than the handset itself,” wrote Brian Chen. “Altogether, this furthers our thesis that it’s highly unlikely that Apple is going to wave a magic wand and say, ‘3G problems, be gone,’ with a software update. Before Apple can make such a claim, it needs to wait for all of its carriers to optimize 3G network behavior — in terms of number of towers, how they’re positioned and how much bandwidth each tower can handle.”


Share this Post

  • What is to stay Stevie did not stay up all night and post the data to Wired. There ain’t much smoke that had no fire beneath it…

  • happyhappy

    at&t has a crappy network – who knew!?!

    sure, they needed the iphone and we’re willing to do a deal that would be acceptable to jobs but as a severely disgruntled iphone 3G owner (beyond slow data there are the drop-offs and emails disappearing into the ether), I have to say that I would dump my iphone/at&t for a bberry or treo on verizon in a second if i could…

  • Who would have guessed?

  • MLROlson

    Well, before everyone points generally at the carriers, please note that the radio link software protocol stack must deal with knotty issues like fading, dropped packets, handoffs between cells, mobility effects and a 40 dB fading signal profile. So if this iPhone G3 radio protocol stack is ‘immature’ as some have speculated, it will not perform as well as other phones. So, for your test to be a better indicator of the likely significant sources of the problem, a mature 3G smart phone should be compared at each point where the iPhone is used to measure downlink speeds. Lacking that, if users of high quality 3G phones could be induced to contribute their results, then some useful comparative information might surface. There are companies that do measure such things for the carriers since carriers would like to know how they compare and what they are willing to trade-off, coverage, capacity, cost-of-service, data rates, etc.

    One reality with wireless, especially in average lower density population countries like the US and Australia, – it will always be a challenge to meet expectations set by wired network of availability with a wireless solution. As you might be implying, the economics aren’t necessarily there for adding all the cell sites with coverage, capacity, and good indoor coverage that the general public expects. This is based largely on the (may I suggest) myth that wireless can effectively (in a ‘good enough’ sense) duplicate over the wide area, the wired network’s quality of service including bandwidth (data rates). Yes, a wireless network may provide a connection were there is no wired network connection, but we know that it has a price. The definition of ‘good enough’ varies enough among users to be equivalent to a ‘values’ debate that customers evaluate and vote on via their churn rate. And the carriers (and phone suppliers) respond as they choose to manage the churn rates they can compete with.

  • Jeannie-o

    Boffin? Dunno why, I like the definition, but the word makes me feel icky. Gives me visions of perverse clowns leering into dissected cell phones on lab tabletops.

    And this might be naive of me, but why the hell can’t Apple and AWS just get together and figure out what’s wrong? It’s like once anything gets beyond help desk level of fixability any more, the companies just put their fingers in their ears. Like the Leopard wireless networking problems. Why did it have to go on so long for someone to pay attention and address it? It’s not like these guys don’t hire IT staff. With resources, I could imagine some of them are drooling to solve the problem.