iPhone 3G Issues: The Plot Thickens

60 thoughts on “iPhone 3G Issues: The Plot Thickens”

  1. the problem is that they do not have the tower power to handle the load. they didn’t anticipate the massive loads. when the 3g loads are to high you get pushed off to the edge network.

    those applications that everyone downloads is straining 3g. att never thought about this.

  2. “att never thought about this”

    AT&T knew it, gave it a thought and decided they couldn’t give it a toss since before the iPhone it was very hard to monetize data services (to a level similar to voice revenues that is)

  3. Sorry my comment sounded a bit too harsh to AT&T. Basically until now there has never been the business case to upgrade BTS data transfer capacity. Video calls? Epic Fail. Television on your handset? Epic Fail. So it was rational to wait for a killer app (or device in this case) before actually considering adding capacity.

  4. “This is not something that’s high on our radar screen. It’s not something we’ve had a lot of complaints about,” said AT&T’s Mark Siegel.

    What an attitude!

  5. If Om’s Nokia gets high speed, but the iPhone doesn’t (presumably
    close to the same time) then chances are it’s not the network
    but it’s the phone itself.

  6. YEs guys that is the problem here. others who have other 3G devices say they are having no problems. i think it is a combination of both in this case. clearly someone has to step up and give the real story – either apple or ATT. it is not making sense to be treating this as “no problem.”

  7. I’ve got a better idea: sue them. Companies like Apple (as much as I like them and I’m a shareholder) and AT&T make exagerated promises to lure customers into buying their products. Then when they fall short they’re no where to be seen.

    A couple of years ago (and you can search the Giga Om archives) I helped put together a class action suit against Palm for distributing defective Treo phones (they had a buzzing sound and crappy screens). It turned out that Palm new exactly what the problem was but never made it public.

    The good news for its customers was they got to get a new phone.

    I’m sure some lawyers in SV are looking into the situation as we speak.

  8. As bad as the 2.0 firmware was, I’d say you’d have to look at Apple first, before you start blaming AT&T. 2.0.1 is a huge improvement, but Safari still crashes all the time, the entire phone freezes several times a day (for me anyway), so there’s still a lot more bugs to work out on the software side.

    Considering Apple’s bad firmware, and very little evidence of other handsets from other manufacturers having similar problems, it’s pretty clear who’s to blame. I used to get a nice strong signal when I had an old, beat up Nokia. With the iPhone, I get 1 bar where there used to be 4 bars, and “No Service” in places where the Nokia was at 1 or 2 bars. It’s really bad.

    Between the bugs, dropped calls, and terrible reception, if I actually needed to rely on my phone for business, there’s no way I could keep the iPhone. It’s way more unreliable than any Nokia or WinMo phone I’ve ever had. Since I mainly use it for web-browsing, and it doesn’t matter if I miss a few calls here and there, I can tolerate the iPhone.

    The browser is nice, and I like Pandora, but the iPhone is without a doubt the worst *phone* I’ve ever had. If there aren’t any good Android handsets by next year, I’ll probably go back to my old Nokia, and pick up a little netbook for browsing.

  9. From what I’ve seen here in NYC and on my 3G iPhone, I’ll have to say it’s a combination of AT&T’s network and the iPhone hardware.

    I work in midtown and up until this week at my desk I had full bars on the 3G network, and surfing the web was quick. Then halfway through Monday I noticed I was on Edge. I toggled the 3G switch on and on in settings, and got right back on the 3G network. I look down about 30 mins later, and it’s back on Edge. I tried toggling the 3G switch again, but for the rest of the day it would drop back down to Edge a little while after I did it. This kept continuing all week.

    The other problem was that if I started to go online while the phone said it was on 3G, it would load very slowly, then drop down to Edge, then that app would stall while the network spinner kept spinning. I know it can work fine in Edge since I was in an area that was all Edge and the phone was slow, but worked fine.

    Then today I decided to eat lunch a few block over closer to the UN. I went to check my email on my iPhone and I was in full 3G, and I was back to DSL like speeds. However, not long after I back to my desk it’s back to Edge.

    After checking online I found Wired’s test of the iPhone speeds. (http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/08/iphone-global.html)

    Checking the speeds around work showed that other people where getting speeds around .06 MBS off of 3G, yet people in other areas of NYC were up to 1 MBS and above. (I tired to run testmyiphone.com, but the page timed out on my phone.)

    I don’t make too many calls so I can’t attest to the dropped calls, but from what I have seen it definitely looks like the network, in midtown at least, is overloaded and the phone can’t handle the step down to Edge if it is in the middle of a connection.

    I still love my iPhone, but it’s frustrating to have suddenly lose functionality. I just hope it can be fixed by firmware, the lines iPhone service are ridiculous here.

  10. What mystery? In a rush to get product to market Apple dropped the ball on quality control. Hardly the first time that has happened to Apple or anyone else for that matter.

  11. I have a 3g iphone sitting next to my Nokia E71; The iphone constantly stays at 1-2 3g bars and my new and powerful E71 is always at full bars and sometimes reads 3.5G within my house. IT’S THE PHONE! I like the idea of my iphone but I seem to be shelving it of late due to it not being reliable. It may be going back to Apple within the week for refund.

  12. I hate to tell ya, but I have an “old” (ca. Feb 2008) iPhone, and around the time of the release for the 3G, I started having all kinds of problems with my connection. Calls were dropped all the time, and my phone would skip between 1 bar and 5.

    I can’t say if this was a result of the added load of all the new 3G customer, or if AT&T made some sort of change to their network around that time, or if it was my own upgrade to firmware 2.0. (The 2.0.1 firmware hasn’t fixed it.) At the same time, my phone started getting hung all the time, taking 5-20 seconds to register routine inputs on the screen.

    I took my phone to the Apple store and they exchanged it, although they said that if it persists (as it has) I should go to AT&T to swap my SIM card for a new one.

    To add an additional twist to the story, I’m currently visiting Chicago from my home 40 mi. east of LA. At home, my Edge connection is slow but generally usable. Here in Chicago, the network data connection is incredibly slow and unstable, even in the heart of downtown with a strong AT&T connection. My mother just got a 3G and is utterly frustrated with the (lack) of data connection as well, to the point where she told me, “if AT&T and Apple don’t fix this in the next 25 days, I’m canceling my plan and going back to Sprint.”

    Ugh. Whether it’s AT&T, Apple, or both, I do hope they get their act together!

  13. As a SoftBank customer in Japan I can say that my experience has been positive in general with regards to speed, quality of calls, etc. Battery life naturally could be better. Crashing for me has been limited to the NY Times app.

  14. Om, it will be interesting to get comments from following companies:

    1. Qualcomm

    2. NT

    3. NSN, Ericsson, ALU (probably predictable)

    4. Intel (on how would WiMax perfom ??)

  15. My Iphone with Telstra in Australia rocks! Just tested with testmyiphone.com; 1.3mbps down/0.25 Mbps up. Solild, reliable. Most other users of telstra have great speeds to (see the wired.com test results)

    Optus on the other hand in OZ has lots of users with problems.

    So, I suspect there is somesort of phone/network compatability issue there…

  16. In response to the backhaul issue that has been brought up, the answer will come from a combo of newly deployed fiber lines and WiMax. While problems persist in the 3G market, companies are already ramping up for 4G and LTE. On the WiMax side you have companies ( http://www.gigabeam.com , http://www.dragonwave.com )that produce radios operating in the millimeter wave spectrum (70GHz-80GHz)That can carry 1Gbps and are currently developing 10Gbps technology. So the technology is there, it is simply a matter of the Telco’s putting up the capital expense to make the change. You have to keep in mind that just 10 years ago cell phone coverage was very limited. the Telco’s put out a lot of money to deploy what is up and running now and I would imagine they wanna milk all the ROI they can out of what is already running before they dig back into their pockets for the upgrade.

  17. Just go to Apple discussion groups for the iPhone, it’s all over the place, thousands upon thousands of complaints about both the original iPhone (upgraded to 2.0+) and 3g iPhones. Everything went to hell after they released 2.0 and the new iPhones on the market.

    Now our phones are complete crap and Apple has told their reps to DENY, DENY, DENY, so that it’s always the end users fault. A class action lawsuit will probably emerge soon and take Apple down about 10 notches.

  18. From a Canadian perspective, the only explanation that makes sense is the first one – either there is something wrong with AT&T’s network, or there is somme issue between it and the iPhone.

    I live in Vancouver BC, a city very similar in Apple demographics to San Fran … and neither I nor any of my iPhone-toting friends and coworkers have had issues with dropped 3G calls, etc. At least not that we’ve noticed on a day to day basis. Same goes for friends I’ve spoken to in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.

  19. my 3G works great, the device on whole works great. my only complaint is with instabilities with mobileme. also.. it’s a game of statistics. i don’t know how many people are complaining but if it’s under 5% of the overall iphone 3G users, then AT&T is completely in the right to say that the device is performing well.

  20. As a wireless data infrastructure engineer for a large enterprise, I can sympathize with AT&T – they don’t have control over the way that all of the various 3g radio makers and 3g radio software writers decide to implement their side. The handset and software authors each decide independently what kind of antenna, chipset, amplifier, and radio senstivity they will implement, as well as when their unit will roam, or when it will data rate shift, or fall back to a slower network. As the article states – the network may be fine, but if the phone decides it doesn’t want to use 3G, or wants to run 3G but at a reduced data rate, the network can’t ‘force’ it to use the extra capacity that exists.

    We see this all the time in our enterprise wireless data network – two units from different manufacturers right next to each other:

    Unit One won’t roam and is talking back to a ‘tower’ half the world away & performs well anyway due to a quality radio.

    Unit Two has grabbed a ‘tower’ right next to it but is barely hanging on to the network due to poor antenna design.

    All the ‘towers’ are configured the same.

  21. My 3G iPhone works great most of the time but I do end up getting really slow to almost none existent download speeds from around 5pm until 6:30pm on weekdays which happens to coincide with rush hour.

    The iPhone is registering a good signal during the slow period but I believe that it is a matter of bandwidth not being available to me rather than some problem with the hardware or antenna.

    My provider is Fido and I’m from Victoria,BC in Canada.

  22. It’s obviously a problem with the MNO and how 3G works. The more the ppl are on one tower the 3G coverage shrinks; that’s my basic (limited) understanding of 3G. Maybe a RF engineer could help better explain it technically.

  23. I really don’t think its the chip completely, although I remember some people complaining a little about signal
    with the first iPhone. Back then many thought the metal back had some affect on signal. This could be why plastic was used in the 2nd edition. I am still amazed how many people expect Apple to have exceptional quality hardware when in fact I really do not see this in any of their products. Apple has the same quality problems as any other electronics maker and the plus is they usually do better at service then the rest.
    Apple hurts itself by putting such a high expectation on its products that when even the smallest flaw come out it Apple gets negative feedback. If you judge the network its obvious many non iPhone user’s don’t like AT&T service. I myself had to quit AT&T for the simple fact I kept losing signal at home.
    Sometimes the service is just not there no matter what phone it is.

  24. I think this article is somewhat fabricated. I have owned Treo’s, Blackberry Pearls/Curves, HTC Tilt. The iPhone 3g is by far the best phone I have ever owned. I live in Minneapolis Minnesota and travel all over the world, and my phone rarely goes under 4 bars. Needs a better camera, better battery life and a few other things but hands down the best phone I have ever used!

  25. Simple fix to this that I have noticed and remembered from past discussions with ATT tech support on othe phones is to turn the phone off, and leave off for more than 1 minute…this releases its connection with the cell tower that it has, when you turn it back on, it will search out the strongest tower and connect into that…it appears to work well…hopefully this will temporarily solve some peoples issues..

    good luck

  26. I’ve had an iPhone for two weeks. The first week was great. This past week (and especially the last few days) it has been a worthless piece of junk. Safari won’t load pages and email just hangs forever saying “connecting”.

    My friends who also have iPhones in various neighborhoods throughout NYC report the same issues. If the performance stays like this the phone (as nice as it is) will have to go back.

  27. Just initiated a speed test on my iPhone on testmyiphone.com.

    DOWNLOAD SPEED
    4.89 Mbps – Wifi

    1.02 Mbps – 3g 5 times faster than edge

    UPLOAD SPEED
    .24 Mbps – 3g 5.42 times faster than edge

    Just checked a national database for speed test taken all over the world.

    Germany Avg. 3g speed 1.37 Mbps
    U.S. Avg 3g speed 2.08

    then it gets astronomically slow in Australia, Brazil, Etc. So there definitely is a problem going on Even Japan who has great 3g is slow. So the question is why in America and Germany have such excellent times with the exact same hardware? Apple has to figure this out quickly!

  28. I have horrible problems with my iphone 3G. I bought it in Pasadena, only to find when I returned to my sisters house (where I was visiting and, and in 5 days be moving to for the next year) I found out that her neighborhood only received “Good” 3G coverage. Apparently Good coverage means that data works, but you can’t place a call without it being dropped a minute into the conversation. Literally 75% of the calls I tried to make the week after I got the phone were dropped.

    Then I returned to Ann Arbor, MI, only to find that my phone won’t work in my apartment either. If someone calls me, I have to run outside before the call gets dropped. Also, my battery won’t last me through the day. I ivariably have to plug it in around 10-11pm at night.

    I went to the Apple Store today to get new iphone headphones (my first ones blew out within a week of use, and all I use them for is to listen to podcasts) and I asked an employee about my problems. The solution she gave me was to disable the 3G network and only use EDGE, and to disable Bluetooth connectivity. So in other words, turn off two of the major reasons I bought the phone. Awesome.

    The iPhone 3G is easily the worst phone I have ever owned.

  29. I realize it’s just anecdotal,but since the 15th, 3g in Philadelphia has been nearly unusable – minute plus long page load times with full signal. Turn 3g off and load times are 1/5 on EDGE. It wasn’t always this bad. I’ve confirmed similar behavior with two other users in my area

  30. Om,
    Bottom line is that iPhone 3G is a defective product despite all the apple hype – why are you not focusing on this? Your comparison with the Nokia phones proves it. I think this needs loud media attention – noticed the spin about ATT 3G network issues.

  31. I’ve been reading through all the comments and didn’t see any input from anyone who uses the ATT 3G network from a laptop – i.e., NOT via an iPhone but through a cellular modem like a Sierra Wireless card.

    I am such a user – I frequently access the 3G network from my laptop and have been doing so since the 3G network was introduced.

    My experience: prior to July 2008, I was quite happy with download speeds. Since early July, however, I’ve experienced frequent service slowdowns, especially during weekday working hours (M-F, approx 10-6). During such slowdowns, which last for a few minutes to several hours, I experience frequent network timeouts and very slow download speeds (much slower than 2G).

    I am based in Silicon Valley; it seems like these network performance issues are much more likely to occur when I’m in Cupertino (near Apple HQ!) than in other locations I’ve been recently (downtown San Jose or Sacramento).

    I’ve placed service calls with AT&T.. I eventually got them to admit that they’ve been having problems with the 3G network. I asked for and received a two-month credit on my bill.

  32. I’ve had more dropped calls and slower service on 3G than I did iPhone 1.0.
    And did I mention the battery life sucks? Great that Apple acknowledged it’s MobileMe mess. Now I hope they clean up their iPhone act.

  33. Om,

    I need your help big time (and I think my question will also help other people who will encounter the same situation). I am betwixt and between the Nokia E71 and the N78. Since I don’t need to bang out a lot of text messages or emails, the N78 ought to be great (I love the look and functionality of this little phone not only 3G but I LOVE that it has WiFi too!). Hence, N78 lacking a QWERTY keyboard is fine for me.

    But (and this is the big but!) after doing hours of research, I finally discovered something very disturbing with the N78 (and also to affect the forthcoming N96) which is that Nokia has very quietly and seemingly sneakily redacted their built-in VoIP / SIP implementation in all phones that come with Symbian Series 60 3rd generation Feature Pack 2 (otherwise abbreviated as S60 3.2). Check it out, its true:

    http://discussion.forum.nokia.com/forum/showthread.php?p=456510

    > If you look at the VoIP supported devices
    > http://www.forum.nokia.com/main/resources/technologies/voice_over_IP/voip_support_in_nokia_devices.html
    > the N78 is not listed.
    >
    > I think you need to return it and exchange it for a different device
    > that is supported.
    >
    > Ron

    > I’ve gone back to my E65 for now – maybe I’ll buy an N78 when they
    > release a full version of Symbian on this platform.
    >
    > It’s an interesting point about Android – will Symbian end up going down
    > the same path as Amiga and other technologies that have disappeared? If
    > they persist in deliberately crippling their OS (e.g. disabling VoIP)
    > and frustrating the end user, they can’t hope to do much better.

    Om, this is a travesty. Its akin to bait and switch because clearly from the table at the URL pointing to the Nokia Forum page about which devices are supported with Noia’s VoIP built-in software, N series devices such as N80 Internet Edition, N95, N95 8G, N81 8G and N82 all have VoIP implementation. So what is up? Nokia says to the world for quite some time, “hey guys forget the iPhone look at us, we will provide a VoIP client for most of our N Series” and now that the N Series becomes popular and they sell millions, they turn around and say “ha ha ha, now we are going to take away that VoIP software because the wireless telecos told us to, so screw you customer who wants VoIP”!

    What this means? It means that Gizmo5 and Truphone won’t work on the N78 and forthcoming N96 even though you can buy the N78 (and soon N96) unlocked and unbranded at the Nokia Flagship stores in the U.S. in Chicago and New York. Yesterday I called the Chicago Nokia Flagship store and a very well informed employee said that the Truphone guys were visiting the Chicago flagship store not long ago and Truphone duly pointed out that N78 breaks Truphone because the Nokia VoIP support has been redacted!

    So what is up with this? Obviously the E71 is also a very new phone, just about as new as the N98, and if you look at that table, the E71 includes VoIP support (VoIP Release 2.3 “100.07.76”). I think the E71 is a nice machine but I really want the N78 and with all these bells and whistles of 3G, WiFi, etc. why on earth can’t the N78 also have Nokia’s VoIP release?

    Finally, I will pose this very important question: does this move by Nokia really appear to be the type of move that is indicative of a culture shift towards open source per the Symbian Foundation? Google is already culturally rooted in open source (its entire infrastructure runs on Linux clusters). I am not so confident about Nokia’s ability to shift to open source (just like Sun has had such a hard time — Sun has had cultural headwinds from the beginning thus look at the immense difficulty Java has had in becoming truly open and unwrested from the controls of Sun dating back to the McNealy / Baratz era)! I haven’t looked yet to see if Android will include a SIP / VoIP implementation but I sure hope it does as it would be in the true spirit of the Internet even though everyone and her sister knows that the mobile teleco oligarchies don’t like VoIP (but who cares what people do with their WiFi connections Nokia come on!).

    Please Om, can you do anything to help? Can you ask some of the higher ups at Nokia what is up with this? After all, I want to drop several HUNDRED dollars on the beautiful N78 instead of an iPhone so doesn’t Nokia want a customer like me (who also wants to use Gizmo and Fring and Truphone when I want to over WiFi)?

    Thank you for anything you check into on this topic!

  34. I have a Treo 750 3G which I am returning today. I never had the same problems with my 680. My 750 drops calls continuously. I believe the issue is the 3G network, not just the iPhone.

  35. Shocked to see I have the exact same problem as Mike Elliott above, work in midtown manhattan and problems began on 11th of August. Used to have 3G at my desk and phone worked well, after the 14th Edge or no service at desk and phone hangs while trying to retrieve mail. Internet service spotty at best.

  36. Shocked to see I have the exact same problem as Mike Elliott above, work in midtown manhattan and problems began on 11th of August. Used to have 3G at my desk and phone worked well, after the 14th Edge or no service at desk and phone hangs while trying to retrieve mail. Internet service spotty at best.

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