When It Comes to 3G, Better, Not Big, Matters

16 Comments

In a story outlining the challenges faced by Palm’s Pre (s PALM), The New York Times reports:

“David Owens, a Sprint (s S) marketing executive, said that he understood that ‘consumers don’t perceive Sprint as having the best network,’ but that if they were to ‘look at actual network performance, there’s a gap between perception and reality.’ He said that his company’s 3G data network in the United States covered an area populated by 250 million people, which ‘is significantly larger than AT&T’s.’ (A spokesman for AT&T said that it plans by year-end to expand its 3G network to 370 metropolitan areas, populated by approximately 258 million.)”

I think this focus on covering more metropolitan areas and hence building a bigger network is wrong, especially if they can’t manage to deliver the quality and speed they advertise. Given my own personal trials and tribulations with AT&T (s T) and its network, I know Ma Bell’s Network is like 3G — minus the speed.

Update: I just wanted to clarify that this post is not about Sprint, as suggested by some in comments. Instead it is about 3G in general and tries to point out that carriers need to focus on quality of service as much as coverage in new metropolitan markets.

16 Comments

cat dumas

Sprint’s customer service has sucked A$s for years. Extra horrible customer service began when they merged with Nextel. BUT I have always had excellent phone coverage for 10+ years and only dropped calls way deep in the Cleveland National Forest. The wireless internet service has always been excellent and fast as well. I’m annoyed by the shitty service other people have when they call me and have them call me back from another phone so that I don’t have to listen to THEIR bad service static and missed words.

I’m excited that the Pre is out on Sprint as I have been a Palm user for 10 years now and can’t wait for the Pre to hit my hands.

Dameon Welch-Abernathy

There’s really three problems the carriers need to address: spectrum, backhaul, and tower placement.

In some areas, there is simply not enough spectrum to handle all the people that want to use the network, or rather not enough of the right spectrum. Only a limited amount of their entire spectrum is available for 3G, the rest is used for GSM. If they were to allocate more of their 2G spectrum to 3G, it will likely have a negative impact on all the customers still using 2G devices. It’d be interesting to see those numbers from the carriers ;)

Even when there is enough spectrum to serve all the users, is there enough Internet connectivity at each mobile tower to serve all those 3G users? I suspect not.

And, of course, my favorite subject: tower placement. With both AT&T and T-Mobile, I am located on the outer edges of the range of 3 different towers. My phone frequently hands off between these towers and it’s not uncommon for me to drop a call in this process.

Tower placement is tricky, thanks to the patchwork of local laws and the NIMBYs who refuse to even consider having a mobile phone tower anywhere near them.

Tim F.

Also, it’s unfair to look at any of the carriers without a longer range view. All of them have had their cycles of mergers and upgrades. Verizon was lousy for several years after its formation in 2000 (Bell Atlantic, GTE, and AirTouch); one could argue they didn’t really get over the hump until inheriting the massive infrastructure of MCI in 2005. Sprint has been lousy for the past three years, but finally their build-outs seem to be taking effect. AT&T may be mired in its SBC/Bell South past, but AT&T Wireless was never that bad. Sharing GSM resources with T-Mobile has been a benefit. Verizon has enjoyed the longest, short-term range, but none of the carriers are likely to stay on top for long. Because of that, marketing, customer service, and strategy can be just as significant as coverage over the weekend in Austin.

Tim F.

I’m not sure there is a good metric. Should I really feel bad that every hipster in New York and San Fran needs to saturate the network with inane videos of themselves and non-stop tweets? Do I want a network to focus on big metros if I live in a rural area? How many millions of customers do you give up just to appease the vocal minority?

JMW

YES…I agree. I’d rather they go for the 6 Million Dollar Man approach and build what they have to be “…Better, Stronger, Faster” than dilute the bandwidth by spreading their reach.

TJ Stamm

They do not even cover my area. When I have used it in other area’s I have been happy with the speed. The problem around here at least, is simply no coverage. They are missing a lot of potential customers.

Rocky Agrawal

I have an iPhone and a Sprint EVDO card and the difference is night and day. At least half the time, my iPhone shows it’s in EDGE mode — even in areas where you’d expect (and the coverage maps show) rock solid 3G coverage like Castro St. in downtown Mountain View. Even when it works, network latency is usually awful.

I’ve had almost no issues with my EVDO card, wherever I’ve traveled throughout the country. Speed is usually what I’d expect. It’s my primary Internet access at hotels, including during SXSW, where AT&T didn’t work at all.

You could theoretically use the iPhone to automatically report network issues from where people are trying to use the device. e.g. whenever user gets EDGE, time/location could be sent to a tracking server.

Om Malik

@rocky

I could not agree more. AT&T has one of the worst networks that was cobbled together by mergers of dozens of carriers and is a proverbial spaghetti-like mess. I think it is important for people to make that distinction. Sprint clearly has “image” problems but not network problems.

Indrajeet

what you just said sums it up.
“Sprint clearly has “image” problems but not network problems.”

Indrajeet

I think Sprint has to spruce up its image as one which has an excellent 3G coverage and service. I do admit they do not have a good collection of phones though. Most people I know just cling to rumors of Sprint having a bad network when the truth is just the opposite.

Om Malik

I agree. I think Sprint actually does have a good network. I use Sprint EVDO USB card and it almost always works as advertised. I guess fewer people on the network helps in the long run so I am happy with that.

jamey

Sprint has a terrible marketing team and agency, once people actually try the product they are impressed with the network and coverage. We sell Sprint and have to fight the battle to explain to the customer to just try the product, use the phones, internet, email etc and then make your decision. We have just moved a Verizon customer who had over 55 phones on their account and had recently switched to Verizon because they perceived the network to be so good due to the relentless marketing message that Verizon has the best network and better push to talk. Well after using Verizon for 3 months they were fed up with dropped calls, poor push to talk performance and lousy customer service. We moved the customer back and put them on the Sprint CDMA network with new PTT Phones and they in turn referred us to another company who was having the same problems, guess what, we are getting another 31 phones from Verizon.

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