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Summary:

Thanks to some travel woes, I got a chance to test the Nexus One 3G signal in three different time zones over three days. Each location was smack-dab in the middle of solid T-Mobile 3G coverage. Did that firmware update really fix the problem?

nexus-one-3g-fix

I’m writing from Phoenix, where a trip home met an abrupt end today. After one canceled flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I hopped over to the Valley of the Sun in hopes of a different flight home, but Mother Nature had other ideas. Since so many travelers are in a similar bind, all flights home are booked through Monday. I’ll be attempting a trip to JFK tomorrow and will mostly likely miss the first Super Bowl of my adult life. What the heck does that all that have to do with Google’s Nexus One? Well, this travel challenge has offered me a great way to test the recent 3G fix in a number of T-Mobile coverage areas. As bad as my travel woes are, the radio in my Nexus One just might be worse off than me.

Not long after the Nexus One first arrived in early January, users reported 3G issues here in the U.S. Since the phone only supports T-Mobile’s frequencies here, AT&T’s network was a non-factor in the situation. I had my phone shipped to me in Las Vegas since I was there for the Consumer Electronics Show and really didn’t notice any issues. And when I returned home to Philadelphia, all was well at first. In fact, I was testing the 3G immediately after we landed — as we were taxing to the gate, I saw 2.1 Mbps down and 1.2 Mbps up. But once I recovered from the CES and started looking closer at the Nexus One, I saw issues. In the same location, an evaluation Nokia N900 handset with my T-Mobile SIM card offered speeds similar to my first test. But after a quick SIM swap to the Nexus One, the best my Android handset could do was lowly EDGE speeds. Clearly, something appeared to be wrong.

Sure enough, reports of the same 3G issues flooded the official Google Nexus One support forums. There were a few different configuration workarounds offered, but they didn’t work for everyone. Finally, Google indicated that it was working with T-Mobile and HTC, the handset maker, to address the problems. After a few weeks of waiting, a software solution arrived in the form of an over-the-air update for all Nexus One handsets. In addition to the 3G fix, Google added other welcome features — the most prominent being pinch-to-zoom functionality in the native Gallery, Browser and Maps software. But did the firmware actually fix the 3G problem?

I upgraded my handset firmware just prior to my current travel excursion. I was more enamored by the multitouch features and didn’t pay too much attention to my 3G signal, even though I live in a T-Mobile data coverage area. So while waiting for my flight to San Francisco, I refocused my attention on the radio issue. What a perfect time and place to do just that, I thought. After all, Philadelphia International Airport is where I first saw fast bandwidth speeds on the phone. Too bad, I never saw them again in that very location. I ran various speed tests over the course of three hours, but never even saw half of the throughput I had seen a few weeks prior in the same place.

While there are a number of factors that affect 3G performance — location, other users, backhaul — the results weren’t sitting right with me. On Twitter, I asked if anyone else was still having problems. A few minutes later Michael Gartenberg, a Technology Analyst at Insight and columnist at Engdget, replied via Twitter: “yep. 3g actually worse. I used to get 3g at home. No more. But I do have multi touch.” Again, data throughput testing isn’t an exact science, but I can’t think of a single reason why Michael couldn’t get 3G at home using the same phone — especially after the software update.

So over the span of the last three days, I’ve been testing my handset using the SpeedTest application from Xtreme Labs — available for free in the Android Market — and also watching the data indicator on the phone. Aside from testing in Philadelphia, I’ve also tested in various San Francisco neighborhoods and in Phoenix. Every single testing location used was squarely in a solid T-Mobile 3G coverage area — no fringe areas, for example.

And in every location, I saw either miserable 3G speeds, signals bouncing between 3G and EDGE, or — even worse –both. I’m calling the last situation “worse” for a specific reason — signal bouncing like that can hit your handset battery hard. In fact, I barely used my Nexus One this morning in San Francisco and in the three hours I waited for my flight, the Nexus One battery dropped from 100% to 65%. I’d expect that kind of drain in three hours when actually using the phone, but not when it was basically dormant. The bouncing back-and-forth is really maddening. Sitting with the GigaOm team yesterday, for example, the phone was stationary but showed every possible combination of bars and signals. I saw GPRS, EDGE and 3G plus everything from no bars of service to four full bars, and everything in between. This was over the course of two hours in the exact same location.

Since my travel woes have stranded me in a Phoenix hotel, I now have some time to check in on the very same Google Nexus One support forum that I originally used to track the issue. As of now, there are 977 posts in the thread, spanning 25 pages. While I don’t know the location and coverage specifics for each individual user, there’s a fair number of posts indicating that handset owners are still seeing the same issues I am, even after the firmware update. There are some that say the issue is fixed for them, which is great. But either my testing is bad in three different cities, or there’s still an issue for quite a few people.

Is it hardware or software? Perhaps it’s both, or maybe there are some coverage issues that are affecting results. It’s to the point that I don’t really know. It could be any and all of the above. But what I do know is that something is still wrong with the 3G signal on my Nexus One — and I’m not alone.

If you have a Nexus One and use a T-Mobile SIM, I invite you to chime in on the comments, but more importantly, to participate in a poll. I’d like to see how isolated or widespread this is, for starters. And it just might help bring more attention to whatever the issue is. When I return home, I’ll do some additional testing. If I still see the issue, I’ll be testing the support channels for my Google Nexus One.

  1. Pretty much the same experience (fluctuating 3G/EDGE) at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan NYC — this was before the supposed 3G patch/fix.

    Rock solid 3G signal.

    And, yes, certainly overpowering signal could be one cause – but why don’t I see the same thing on my Droid, BB 9700 or iPhone 3GS? Certainly they are all subject to signal overload in NYC. The Nexus One was the only problem.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZmcvXOGmAk

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    1. Great video demo, Wayne. I do have one question though. From my understanding, the 1-4 bars may not be a good indicator for the data signal. Have you heard the same? I tend to go into Settings, About Phone, Status to verify the actual signal strength and mobile network type. Curious if you’ve looked at that data at all. Regardless, something’s still not right — at least not on my phone. Thanks!

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  2. i’ve been bouncing around the country recently too. however i have noticed that after the update i did have a few more change overs to EDGE from 3G but then again i am currently in midtown, NYC. however in minneapolis, my 3G is very solid and consistent. battery lasts me a full day easily w/syncing on but gps only on when needed for navi.

    while in wilmington, de, i had a little back and forth action between edge and 3g but i’m not sure how Tmobiles 3G is in that area.

    just my experience so far. i haven’t done many speed tests (thanks for the tip on the speed test app, can’t believe i totally overlooked that one!) but will try a few tests while i’m still in nyc this week. :)

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    1. Hopefully, I’m flying into NYC myself since all flights to Philly are booked through Monday due to the storm. If I get there, I’ll hit a fourth location. ;)

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      1. just did a series of 5 tests and got these results:

        1. DN: 86 kbps UP:84
        2. DN: 101 kbps UP: 549
        3. DN: 460 kbps UP: 739
        4. DN: 482 kbps UP: 423

        note, that after my first test, i went into my settings and turned on data roaming and noticed a significant increase in DN speeds even though i’m not roaming off of Tmobile. hmmm.. interesting…

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  3. Mine is/was bad before and after the patch. Really disappointed that on an otherwise great phone is having these issues.

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  4. I am having mixed results after the new patch. I am getting more areas where the phone can not seem to stay on 3G which is frustrating. If this were just an average device I would have given up on it long ago… though I must admit I am tempted by the N900 more and more.

    I am also finding that in fringe areas I get a wonderful mixture of EDGE switching to GPRS switching to no signal. I am going to run a test to see if my N97 (only EDGE on Tmo) will get a signal in that same area. If it does the Nexus days may be numbered.

    Best device I have owned so far except for the whole signal thing.. Seems like a phone should work as a phone.

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  5. well, I dont have the Nexus, but did test in NYC and NJ. In NJ I am seeing 1500 kbps, in NYC about 1000 kbps it might be less in the city, but I have to say the T-mobile network has me covered

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  6. Initially after the patch, i was getting really bad browser speed. But now everything is peachy. Always on 3G, speed always fast, everything loads up, no hickups anywhere.

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  7. I am more than angry that after the Ota update my phone is now 80% on edge in comparison to 70% on 3g before.

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  8. I think this has more to do with T-Mobile HSPA Network than the device.

    I’m very, very happy with my 3G: http://i252.photobucket.com/albums/hh3/josesxi/MyT-Mobile3G-1.png

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    1. I’d agree that’s a solid possibility except for one thing. Using different devices on the same network in the same location yield totally different results. For example, if it was the network, why would I get I consistently get 2 Mbps down on T-Mobile with the Nokia N900 and then 300 kbps down on the Nexus One in the same place — just by swapping the SIM from one device to another? That’s what isn’t making sense and leads to the device, not the network as the problem in my mind.

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    2. Sorry to disappoint you, but that pic you attached a link to shows a wifi connection, not a 3G connection.

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      1. Thats because to take a screenshot with the Nexus you HAVE TO do it on the PC. SO I did the test outside my building then went inside to take the screenshot and naturally the phone automatically connected to my WIFI network.
        Don’t you think I would know the difference?

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  9. I almost never lost 3G signal on my Bold 9700 from T-Mobile. Calls and data were great.

    However, even after the software fix on the Nexus, the problems remain.

    It’s a great device but I think the radio was designed poor so much that even a software update cannot completely remedy.

    T-Mobile’s 3G network may be smaller than their larger rivals, but for me this is a moot point since I already know it works great all over my area. I live in Southern California near Los Angeles BTW.

    I also must point out that my HTC Droid Eris with Verizon also bounces around zero to 1 bar all over the place even though calls go through most of the time. Perhaps HTC just makes devices that although are beautiful tend to be weak in the RF area?

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  10. Here in Providence R.I. I have good 3G signal strength, however the mbps never went over 1.0. After the recent update I checked it and I recorded 2.0 up and 1.86 down. I’m sure one of the factors for this the fact that today is a Sunday and its 9 a.m. so there aren’t a lot of users right now. I was impressed .

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