Is AT&T Really to Blame for Spotty 3G Coverage?
I have been hearing this a lot – people start complaining because their 3G is shotty. Now in some cases, it’s true. I’ve been out in the middle of nowhere, and the signal is almost down to nothing. With the iPhone, I see E instead of G. Nonetheless, is this something that is AT&T’s fault, or yours?
I am going to show you 3 pictures:
This was taken from my iPhone using the ookla Speedtest iPhone application. The first test shows 52 kbps down and 128 up. The second shows 230 down and 443 up. Finally, the third is at 1.8 down and 228 up. These tests were done in the same location at a relavantly close time to each other.
Now you might say the signal was spotty, therefore you will get this difference. But I ran these tests a few times and got the same results. And I can tell you – it wasn’t because of AT&T.
Part 1: the Initial Test
This test was done simply by turning on the phone and running the speed test. Each time I ran it, I was getting very similar numbers. Yet as you can see, the bars at the top show full power.
Part 2: Getting better after reboot
I am an educated owner; I knew what to expect when I got the phone. I have read the news and support articles, as well as talked to other iPhone owners. One person, who does a lot of travelling, suggested I reboot the phone up to 3 times a day.
While I thought that was excessive, he made a very good observation: When you move from tower to tower, the iPhone will follow, but it still tries to look for the other tower. If an Application is having difficulties, then it might be adding to the pain to getting the best possible 3G signal. Therefore, rebooting the device will help.
However, in this case, 230 kbps was not much of an “improvement”.
Part 3: Make it faster!
I want you to look closer to pictures 2 and 3 and tell me what you see here:
If you said: “Hey! The Blue curvy lines are replaced with 3G”, then you would be focusing on the difference. That symbol is the WiFi capability. Picture 1 and 2 were running on the nearby Wifi, while 3 was running on 3G.
The Wireless system at the location I was at was running slow – Even the notebook showed those same numbers. Indeed, I found the Wifi signal, which was at a local coffee shop, and checked their router. When they rebooted it, the speeds got a lot better.
But I didn’t connect to Wifi:
This is where the tricky part comes in. The router for this coffee shop was sitting in back. It was set at a standard IP address range, and had all it’s default properties (including admin password, which we won’t even get into THAT). The SSD was named “Linksys”, which is the default SSD for all Linksys routers.
All I have to do is connect up to one Wireless with “Linksys”, then every time it sees the SSD, it will connect. That can be really handy simply because Wifi speeds can be better than 3G (which is about 14 MB download and 5 MB upload on a good day). 802.11g (or Wifi) can download at 54 MB.
If I am a good distance away from the router, but just enough to be in reach to connect, we can definitely see issues. The phone will try to connect to the Wifi, then when it fails, it goes through 3G.
We forget about the Wifi simply because the iPhone asks you the question once. Just exactly like a Notebook would. The phone is always going to connect through Wifi if it’s there. Therefore, if I am on a shotty Wifi signal, the results are slow and annoying. I then start blaming 3G for absolutely nothing.
Not a new issue:
This has come across my desk in more than just an iPhone issue. Employees with laptops would connect to the network through a LAN cable and then come to me because the internet connection was shotty. I would advise them to turn off their Wifi simply because they compete to deliver a website.
Think of it like having 2 waiters ready to take your order at a restaurant. You order soup, and both of them run to go get it. At any time, they could crash into each other and spill your soup on the ground.
What to do to make it go Vroom Vroom
In the settings, under “Wi-Fi”, you can either turn the option off, or “Forget the Network”. That will switch you to 3G, where you can get things done. Don’t forget to reset the iPhone afterwards.
How ofter will you use the option? Well, really only in places where Wifi is not great. Most of the time, Wifi will be more of a friend than a foe. I would also guess that the archetecture is set so the phone will push through Wifi first, then 3G. If you think about that, it can also make 3G slower, simply because the device is trying to use the failing Wifi first. It would be like walking down the path to the left, seeing the tree in the way, turning around and taking the path on the right. EVERY TIME.
A couple weeks ago, Wired ran a 3G test in where they pitted AT&T with Sprint and Verizon. The test control was Bloggers around the country, who reported results. The article didn’t state if there were control factors. This would be a series of tests run in a specific way. For instance, if I was to run a test, this is what would happen:
- Note any “Questionable” programs and if problematic (ie: if it slows down or freezes up the device), uninstall.
- Turn off Wifi
- Reboot the device (this will make sure all programs are closed properly)
- Give the device a minute to find a signal
- Open the Approved Test prgram (which would be an approved Application that any device could get). In this case, we will just say “SpeedTest”.
- Run the test
- Take a screen shot.
Wired stated in the article that it was not a “Scientific” Test. Nonetheless, I know if I was participating, I would want to be as accurate as possible. After all, if I falsified my data then had AT&T show that was wrong, it would be a mark on me and Wired. Instead of belittling AT&T, I would be doing the opposite.
Results vary in many instances. The farther away from a tower, the lower power the signal. The more people connecting to a tower, the slower the connection speed.It’s really a matter of physics.
Don’t take my word for it. Run the 7 steps above and send me your screen shots. Use SpeedTest for the Application. If you prefer another App, then take a snapshot of the screen with Speedtest, then re-run the 7 steps – this time using your Application.