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Is iPhone's 3G Connection a Disappointment?

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nullNow that I’ve been using the new iPhone 3G for nearly a month, its capabilities and deficiencies are becoming clearer. The newer design makes it sleeker, easier to grip and a joy to look at. And the GPS chip has made the device infinitely useful, though it doesn’t appear that the developer community has started to leverage the technology very effectively.

What’s bad about it? There are a few things (the battery, for instance), but nothing compares to the disappointing 3G wireless connections from AT&T. As I pointed out earlier, there were some issues with AT&T 3G network, though company officials vociferously denied that was the case.

Thirty days later, I can safely say that there are definitely problems with the connection. The speeds are marginally better than the old EDGE network, and videos on apps like MLB At Bat are of poor quality. The signal strength rarely exceeds two bars in most places (except my living room, where it’s at full strength.)

I’m not sure if this is a Bay Area problem or a nationwide problem, nor do I know the cause — the network or the iPhone. One thing is for sure, the new device is pushing Internet data usage and revenues for AT&T in a big way. What is your experience? Share it with rest of us.

CNet reports that there have been widespread complaints but that AT&T isn’t making any statements just yet. “What we’re seeing is that the iPhone 3G is performing very well,” Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T, told “I’m not denying that people are having problems. But we have to deal with these on a case-by-case basis.”

58 Responses to “Is iPhone's 3G Connection a Disappointment?”

  1. I cant agree with you more. These were the precisely two reasons why I returned my iPhone. I had just one bar almost everywhere on 3G, whereas EDGE would give me at least 3 to 4 bars in the same place. Also, 3G would drain my battery twice as fast as compared to EDGE even on a voice call. I think if Apple can come up with a way to connect voice calls on EDGE it would be useful. I went back to my Verizon phone after trying ATT for 10 days. Other than network issues I think iPhone is a great product. I think iPhone should have gone to VZW.

    A dissatisfied ATT customer in SD/CA

  2. I just got back from a business trip to Aspen, CO and the 3G reception was absolutely perfect. I also discovered that good 3g reception = good battery life. I think the constant struggle for the iPhone to maintain or re-negotiate the 3g connection is what kills the battery.

    I live on the Peninsula and work in downtown San Francisco and in both locations, I only see 2 bars max and half of the time it falls back to Edge. At this point I just leave it on Edge to save battery life. Even when I do have a 3G connection, it’s no faster than Edge and it drops connections and calls more often.

    AT&T needs to stop lying to customers about 3g reception. They should be offering refunds of the premium they began charging with the introduction of the 3g iPhone. But they can keep charging all those billionaires in Aspen the new higher rate since they have great reception. :)

  3. I don’t have an iPhone, but I’m using a Nokia N95-3 on ATT GoPhone in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the Nokia, I have solid 3G coverage almost everywhere on my SF to Pleasanton commute and all over the city. I haven’t had any dropped calls either. 3G speed IS disappointing though, only 200 – 300 kbps down according to DSL Reports.

  4. The limitations of the 3G network were readily apparent at Boston’s Fenway Park during a Red Sox game last week. Signal was consistently 4 bars, but the data network was totally non-responsive. In many cases, it took 3-4 minutes to pull up a website on Safari, and the extraordinarily slow response on both and SportsTap applications makes scoreboard-watching on the iPhone impossible.

    Can it possibly be that some small percentage of 37,000 fans totally wipes out the AT&T network in that locale?

    I have found the AT&T network consistently inferior to Verizon in the Boston suburbs, and coverage extremely spotty in New Hampshire.

    The network is a true disappointment, though the wonderfulness of the device makes up for it.

  5. I live in San Antonio, where AT&T is HQ’d (for now) and I think the phone is cool, the apps are wonderful, but the 3G is disappointing in speed. I just expected something faster. I use the phone plenty, but find that I am still waiting for pages to load and / refresh.

  6. 3G speeds are surprisingly good and consistent here in Baltimore, MD
    I can’t tell you the last time I went from 3G to Edge and call quality has been solid as well. Ironically, my worst call came when I called AT&T Customer Service. I’m very pleased so far (coming from a Windows Mobile HTC phone/pocket PC). LOVING the iPhone 3G!

  7. I have been VERY impressed with the 3G network… where it is strong. In my home and in downtown Ann Arbor, I always get 5 bars, and I have been amazed at how fast the web works. Nearly identical to wi-fi. Lets say… 80% of wifi speed.

    HOWEVER… Anytime I have ventured even a bit outside of a strong signal range… it’s slow as can be. This has made me wonder… if people only had Edge all this time, why was the Iphone ever popular?

  8. Om, I am so glad you are addressing the issue of the 3G network. Where I am in the Marina, 3G is unavailable most of the time. My Aircard from AT*T fails to work at all inside Starbucks on Buchanan St., both G and E service are non-existent, and the phone is essentially no bars. I’ve gone through stretches on 3G in San Francisco where the mail does not push through at all. Overall, I give 3G data a 2 out of 10. Horrendous bordering on criminal.

  9. MIchael

    I have read through these replies regarding the functionality of the iPhone and the reliability of AT&T’s network. Not only have I decided to hold onto my first gen phone, but the information given to me was very useful for me to make this decision. I have to travel, and I need reliability in my phone.

    I suggest a web app which utilizes google map’s api that users can rate, comment and geocode their experience about the service? I think this would be a killer app to use if it had the user base!

    Also last week I noticed on ebay that first gen iPhone’s were selling for as much as 550 bucks! That is probably because Apple decided to discontinue it though and use consumers were stuck with the only option that was given to us; 3G.

  10. Here in Boston service is much of the same. I can be in my kichen and get half a bar EDGE, in bedroom a full bar of 3g, then go outside and full 3G.

    Drop calls. Total sh*t.

  11. I live in the Bay Area and have been using AT&T’s 3G on a Nokia E71. It’s most of the time close to 800kb/s fast (compared to EDGE’s 100 kb/s), never had an issue. It could be the phone and it’s antenna and not the network.

  12. The 2.01 update bricked my 1.0 iPhone. While theoretically a shiny new 3G replacement would be nice, after hearing/reading all the horror stories, I’d rather stick with a refurbed 1.0 phone (that actually doesn’t get bricked by the 2.0 firmware).

  13. I have to agree with Roger, 3G signal strength around Cisco’s campus is horrible. I stay near Cisco’s offices and rarely get 3G connection, even when I am walking outside. When I do get a 3G signal, its very weak with just 1 bar and my iPhone keeps on switching between edge and 3G.

    But near Auto Mall parkway at Fremont, I get very good 3G coverage with almost full strength. So I would also blame AT&T for iPhone’s poor 3G performance.

  14. Pierluigi

    Maybe in the US the main problem is AT&T coverage but in Italy, where we have excellent 3G/HSDPA networks, iPhone 3G’s reception behaves differently from place to place. Could it be a matter of cell dimension, that wouldn’t explain otherwise why I get great reception in one place and poor in another place where both have full 3G coverage. Hope they’ll fix it with the 2.1 software.

  15. I love my new iPhone 3G, except it might as well not have 3G. I am in Cincinnati and I work downtown, very rarely does it keep connecting to 3G when I move from building to building. I am going to blame this issue on AT&T until it is proven that the phone has problems.

  16. Len Fischer

    Here in the Washington D.C. area, I rarely receive more than two bars whenever I’m indoors. Usually it’s about half a bar, and the phone shifts between 3G and EDGE.

    Outside, I usually have excellent signal strength – four or five bars. When the signal strength is strong, 3G speeds are pretty decent. When the signal strength is weak, 3G seems more like EDGE, which is what a lot of readers here seem to be reporting.

    Despite these issues, I haven’t had many calls drop or fail. Overall, voice quality has been very good. It’s data quality — which now costs $10 more per month — that’s less than impressive, IMHO.

    When the iPhone was first introduced I received a couple of surveys from AT&T about the device, the wireless service, AT&T customer support. I appreciated these because it appeared that AT&T was genuinely interested in customers’ comments and concerns. I wish they would send out another survey soon so I could offer feedback about the iPhone 3G upgrade I purchased.

    Overall, I love the device, but the 3G service could be better. I get the sense that AT&T is still tuning the 3G network, but they shouldn’t be making us pay considerably more (on a percentage basis) for service that isn’t much of an improvement or which remains inconsistent.

    AT&T would make me happy if they would just acknowledge the problem and provide a timeline and plans for how they’ll tackle the problems and improve the 3G service.

    How about it AT&T?

  17. Jon Aizen

    I am an SF user and experience horrendous connectivity throughout the city (downtown, Mission, etc.). I just spent 4 days in New York city with the same phone and the 3G connectivity was impeccable and I didn’t have any of the problems I have here. Boo AT&T’s SF network.

  18. @Roger Weeks – San Jose is the 10th largest City in the US (we passed Detroit last year).

    Yeah, the coverage of 3G in the Bay Area is not good at all AND the battery bites (tho it does recharge very quickly).

    I’ve noticed the 3G when its there to be pretty fast but I don’t have empirical data on that. I just know its coverage (3G) is pretty poor (and from what I understand, SJ/SF Bay Area is a “good” 3G zone in AT&T eyes – which says alot for the rest of the iPhone nation).

  19. Craig Rubens

    I’ve started missing more calls on mine when I don’t get coverage which is annoying. One nice surprise, though, is I can often make calls when I have no bars (which seems to be waaaaay too often) and the audio quality with no bars so far has been pretty ok.

  20. Roger Weeks

    I commute every day from Willow Glen to Sunnyvale on the VTA light rail, and the 3G coverage in the 11th largest city in the US (and the center of Silicon Valley) is horrid. There is at least one area near the Diridon Caltrain station where there is NO coverage. No EDGE, no 3G, no voice.

    Going north along 1st street, the coverage switches from 3G to EDGE multiple times, despite this being the heaviest concentration of tech companies just about anywhere. There’s not even decent 3G coverage around all of the Cisco campus at Tasman and 1st Street.

    When 3G is on, it’s speedy, provided you’re not moving.

    The push Exchange functionality doesn’t work well. We have multiple people who have problems with this, and I personally attribute it to the constant moving in and out of 3G/Edge/Wifi networks. I’ve found that fetching mail, instead of push, is the only reliable way for Exchange email to work. (I note that Blackberry users at my company complain of the same isses, so this is not an iPhone-only problem).

    Our Blackberry users on the AT&T network also complain about the 3G coverage.

  21. I bought the 3G last weekend after seesawing for awhile to buy or not to buy. I had been a T-mobile customer for 4 years. Even though T-Mobile connection network is not the best, they had been improving it every year. I liked T-Mobiles customer service, which I feel is the best. AT&T customer service is like T-Mobile’s network connection, not a pleasant one.

    I had problem porting number from T-Mobile to AT&T network at Apple store when I bought, so they gave me a temporary number. I took it to the AT&T store immediately and they could not help either to port my old number. Next day I took it to the AT&T store near my home, and they pointed me to a phone and asked me to call their customer service. I had to remind them that they are paid for doing that kind of service for their customers and made him call the customer service and get the number ported to AT&T after two hours of waiting.

    I tried to use the map using 3G within the city, while driving the car. The experience made me to hold it from placing an ad in craigslist for the Garmin which I thought can be replaced with 3G. 3G can NOT replace any car GPS, if someone has such idea.

    But still there are many cool features make me not to regret me buying 3G and hope they get fixed sooner. I am having faith on Apple if not AT&T.

  22. I live just north of Atlanta. A week ago I turned off 3G because of how disappointing it was. Not because the speed of the data connection was slow, but because my calls were constantly dropping or breaking up. The signal strength indicator almost never went above one bar. Upon turning off 3G I was relieved to discover that the iPhone didn’t have terrible reception, but rather that AT&T’s 3G network is just very weak. I get great reception on AT&T’s EDGE network.

  23. Gackster

    AT&T’s network suck balls to put it bluntly….they would be just another bit player in the cellular market if it wasn’t for them being the only vendor desperate enough to succumb to the restrictions forced on them by Apple (taking an arrow out of the MS quiver, IMHO). In Orlando I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been somewhere with my Verizon Network-Samsung i760 happily surfing the internet while some poor chap’s been struggling trying to get a signal on his IPhone, only to give up in frustration. Mind you, I think the Iphone’s a great product and has made much needed strides in the interface aspects of cellular phones. The phone itself blows the competitors (be it Window Mobile, BlackBerry, or Palm OS) out of the water. With the implementation of the Exchange Push support, the only things it needs at this point for me to adopt is voice commands (I haven’t dialed a contact or a phone # via the keypad in a year now, Voice Commands rock!) and a decent cellular network. I can’t comment on the battery life as I’ve not worked with one consistently enough to get a feel for it, I just set them up for clients and help them with issues that they’re having.

  24. the 3G speeds seem fine to me but I do randomly drop calls is full bar coverage areas for no apparent reason, which is a little disappointing. so far it hasn’t been a deal breaker but it happens regularly.

  25. yes – the 3G throughput is the biggest disappointment. mine (3G) fails to connect repeatedly when sending/receiving text emails which cant be more than a few kbytes. the device via wifi works great.

    palo alto sucks for 3G/ATT

  26. I have to say that I love the device, but the network is horrible. I never had a dropped call on the old iPhone, but I’ve had tons of dropped calls on the new one. I switched the 3G service off and “poof”: no more dropped calls.