AT&T & Apple Should Halt US iPhone Sales


Based on my personal experiences, and tales of the blogger elite, from where I’m sitting it appears that AT&T’s inferior 3G data network is oversold and oversaturated. When airlines are oversold, impacted customers are compensated. But when it comes to mobile access, we’re all locked into two year contracts and there is no recourse for crap coverage or performance. So I’m calling on AT&T and Apple to halt iPhone sales until AT&T increases network capacity and coverage.

First, I take issue with AT&T’s “more bars in more places” advertising. Because, again in my experiences, it’s “fewer bars in more places.” Like no service in most of Wyoming where business took me twice this year. Or how about no service in my downtown Chicago Embassy Suites (pic below) July 4th weekend, while my Sprint Blackberry showed full bars. Or one bar to “No Service” in a Virginia (DC) suburb where I find myself at least 8 hours each weekday.


Secondly, even when it appears I have coverage, I regularly experience dropped calls and/or sluggish data service. Like last week, while visiting NYC. Two iPhones in my Renaissance Times Square hotel room showed full coverage and the 3G indicator. Yet the phones vacillated between no data access and something that felt akin to 2400 baud dialup. Fortunately (?), I also pay Sprint for 3G data access… which kept the iPhones on the grid. Or like when I had little to no data functionality at the Maryland/Cal football game in Berkeley earlier this fall.

The iPhone is obviously a huge hit. But it’s also taking a huge hit on AT&T’s network. Of course, the players would never think to temporarily cease iPhone sales. But I’m hoping AT&T commits to and figures out how to more rapidly enhance their network. Before they and Apple lose me to another handset and network.

39 thoughts on “AT&T & Apple Should Halt US iPhone Sales”

  1. Thank god policy and laws are not made based on your personal experiences.

    My iPhone works great for my family in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

  2. I disagree with your idea.

    AT&T & Apple should NOT halt US iPhone sales.

    They _should_ be given a choice:
    A. Live up to their contracts and provide service everywhere.
    – or –
    B. Be forced to open/unlock the iPhones for other carriers.

  3. My iPhone works great for me in Detroit, and I was just in DC two weeks ago. The only time I had poor signal was when I was in some of the older Metro stations (I was mostly downtown and in Georgetown, and spent little time in Virginia).

    I think the argument that AT&T has underestimated the network demand in massively populated areas is the one to make, and that’s where they need to improve. But to make a sweeping statement like “halt iPhone sales until AT&T increases network capacity and coverage” means throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    The customers in the populated areas need to make their cases using the numbers they already have. But don’t assume the rest of us are going to pile on, because our experience has been relatively nice.

  4. Funny thing is, I have an AT&T Blackberry from my employer and an iPhone 3G. My iPhone will consistently drop calls, show full bars while being unable to make a data connection, and do other very annoying things. My Blackberry, which is on the same network, never has a problem. I realize that the Blackberry is on the EDGE network for data while the iPhone is 3G, but I can make voice calls on the Blackberry when I cannot on the iPhone. Either (1) there is an inherent problem with the iPhone hardware or (2) AT&T is segregating its network traffic by device. I have no idea which, but other co-workers in the same situation have the exact same usage experience.

    I use my device in the Manhattan / New Jersey area and it’s become so bad that I will likely drop my AT&T service for a Mifi and use my iPhone over the wifi connection instead.

  5. A lot of this is 3g vs 2-2.5g network utilization. 1900 mhz 3g network voice usage was increasing for a while there, and the handsets were leveraging it, but it didn’t work anywhere near as well as the 900 or 800-850 mhz voice networks. Also, while the 1900mhz roll-out via network and phone introductions INCREASED, it freed up capacity of the 800-900mhz network ranges, thus making traffic in those frequencies better. They are INHERENTLY better regardless, travelling farther and penetrating walls better. When I have any problem with my iphone 3gs, (which I actually really don’t) I turn the phone to 2g (by turning 3g off) and call connections and signals get better. 3g voice quality is BETTER, but the signal is sometimes worse.

    Now, AT&T is really trying to roll out more 850mhz spectrum and have their phones leverage that for better connectivity and building penetration, but that won’t be done til Q1 2010. No question, verizon has the best network, sprint has the best data network, AT&T has the iphone.

  6. I just got back from a business trip to San Diego California and experience same inconsistent results Dave has described.

    Walking around San Diego, bars go up and down, one bar one minute, then five, total disconnection of data with a gruesome “You have lost data connection, click OK to enable data roaming…”. Then turn a corner and its max bars, perfect data signal. This was especially jarring to me because at home in Austin, Texas, data connection is perfect, always five bars, never a dropped call.


    Rather than wait for AT&T to obey Dave’s commands to stop selling its billion dollar cash cow, just get and Android phone!


  7. To anyone who says they get coverage, have a look at the coverage map and see if you live in an area that’s either got dense 3G coverage or no coverage at all. For me, it was the spotty coverage and jumping between EDGE and 3G that was blamed for my poor experiences.

    I was Verizon for years (8 or 9) before having to jump ship to AT&T to save money on in-network calls. I never knew how bad service could be until I had my BB Bold. I’m calling out the phone in addition to the AT&T network as, eventually, the dropped calls were so bad and I’d had so many calls to support AT&T sent me a brand-new BB Curve 8900 as it’s EDGE only. It was explained to me that a lot of phones suffer a “hiccup” when they go from a 3G area to an EDGE area. For phones like the iPhone, they simply advise customers to turn off the 3G data plan so they’ll always be EDGE and not lose calls. The Bold does not have a “no 3G” switch, so they did a hard switch for me to an EDGE only phone. My dropped calls are far less frequent, but what am I paying for with that data plan if I’m relying entirely on the older, slower network? Don’t tell me the 3G wasn’t a selling point as some phones put 3G(s) into their names, even!

    I live in the Bay Area. Work about 10 minutes from Apple’s HQ and drive through Palo Alto just a few blocks from a certain CEO’s home and my 3G/phone coverage in the area is horrendous. I won’t blame those factors on this area being saturated, though, as my calls always dropped or got sketchy on the same block (near Fry’s on El Camino if that means anything to anyone else here) which suggests to me that that’s the border of EDGE-ville and Disjointed States of 3G.

    First chance I get, I’m off to greener pastures. Verizon’s new $350 early termination fee might steer me to try T-Mobile though.

  8. I normally have pretty good results with data here in northern nj, however a recent trip to nyc proved to be less consistant (only about 10 miles from my usual area) and yesterday i experienced about 6 hours of total outage. i’ll trade it for the $50 credit i got when i called to complain… this time…

  9. I agree with Dave that the issue is capacity, not coverage. And whenever someone raises this issue, lots of people say “works for me”. I think the issue is that they are oversubscribed in some of the hot metro areas like NYC, SF and DC. And – coincidentally – this is where many of the bloggers and tech writers live, so they complain bitterly about AT&T and the iPhone.

    Bottom line: if you live in NYC, SF or DC, you may have a poor 3G and iPhone experience. If you live elsewhere, you should be OK. My $0.02.

  10. 1. It’s not AT&T — the iphone 3G reception sucks.

    2. To the extent that it is AT&T, it is not about the size of the network but how it is optimized. I don’t think they planned on having a phone that constantly kept a data connection open.

    3. Unlock the iphone in the US? How stupid can you be? Your only option then it run it on EDGE on a t-mobile network, which is the only thing worse that AT&T.

    4. What nobody talks about is that on Verizon you can’t share voice and data? Is that was steve doesn’t want the iphone on verizon?

    5. Outside of NYC and SF, I don’t get hear many people complaining. The iphone/AT&T problem seems very regional.

  11. IF you want to halt Apple on ATT network, you should call all other cell phone manufacturers such as RIM, Nokia and others on ATT network to be halt! You cannot point out to just Apple alone! You can point out to AT&T alone but is this fact of poor coverage entirely on USA map? Was it old information? How old this information is? You have to be more careful to criticize them..

  12. Markus, of course it works great in Austin. The Justice Department was so asleep at the while under the Bush Administration that AT&T was allowed to come away from the Cingular merger with 70 percent of the available spectrum for all carriers in that market. They came up almost as strongly in Dallas, San Antonio and south and east Florida among others.

    Let’s try comparing notes on markets in which AT&T did not receive special regulatory favors.

  13. I have no real problem with AT&T around the Boston area. The improvement from T-Mobile (which I had previously) was great, actually. If people have problems with coverage, they should really call AT&T and get partial refunds on the data they pay for, or start lobbying to get out of contract with AT&T because of the coverage. Until that happens, AT&T isn’t being hit where it hurts — in subscriber numbers and income, but only in the PR arena, which AT&T will attempt to solve in the PR arena, instead of making serious changes.

    All that being said, I’m pretty happy with AT&T. The plans aren’t too bad, especially when most of my family is on AT&T, and they have been considerably more lenient with phone upgrades than Verizon.

  14. My experience, it’s the iPhone more that at&t network. My iPhone is supplied from my employer and I also carry my Nokia e63. Both on at&t and the Nokia has more bars in more places while the iPhone doesn’t.

    I will agree that the lack of 3G coverage is a weak point with at&t and if it wasn’t for the steep employer discount I get on my personal account (Nokia phone service) I would move to Verizon… well maybe. I travel a lot to non-CDMA counties.

  15. In the major metros and at large events capacity is a HUGE issue. I was at the World Series and was dropping all the way to GSM at times. Any type of data connection was so slow as to not be usable if it worked at all. I also saw this at South Bend for a football game.

    So is the iPhone to blame? Users of that device consume on average 500 MB of data a month.
    Concentrate all those users in one area and you are going to have capacity issues.

    Should they stop selling the iPhone? No. AT&T should change their data rates to compensate for this obesity. Pay for what you use. I know I would change my usage habits if they did this.

  16. I have no problems in LA/OC. The only time I’ve had problems is in Vermont–but everybody has problems in Vermont (my sister’s Verizon phone doesn’t work either).

    One of the things that bothers me, though, is the attitude that AT&T should somehow give back the money. Look, fella, when you buy a phone, you also have to buy service. You should be checking to make sure that the network is going to be acceptable.

    Before I bought my iPhone, I looked at the maps. Where I spend most of my time, Southern California, AT&T has great service. Where I spend a few weeks out of the year (VT/SF), AT&T has crappy service. I can live with that, so I bought an iPhone. If I couldn’t have, I wouldn’t have bought an iPhone–I’d’ve bought an iPod touch.

    When I bought my iPhone, I had 30 days to try it out. If you have reception problems, why didn’t you return it?

  17. I think you could serve your audience well by finding another AT&T phone that uses 3G and doing a side by side comparison in some of those same places.

    I have an AT&T Tilt in Charlotte, NC area and have full bars most places. Yes it is a blue spot on AT&T map.

    I would not be surprised however if you saw that a different AT&T phone had 3G where the iPhone was struggling to get 3G.

  18. “Zatz please,” I’m not sure what you mean by linkbaiting. Obviously this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek as, I mentioned at the end, neither AT&T nor Apple would ever consider such an outlandish suggestion to halt sales. However, Melissa and I have spent $800 on iPhone hardware (plus accessories) and pay AT&T nearly $200/month for inconsistent and unreliable service. (I’ve also reported my office address to AT&T months ago in hopes of some sort of improvement, with no response or improvement. My iPhone-toting coworkers and I continue to walk to the parking lot or across the street to make phone calls.) So these are the unfiltered observations of a frustrated customer, who also happens to follow the tech industry with a blog. (Actually, these are my dialed down observations. The tone and hopeful conclusion would have been somewhat different had I written this from midtown Manhattan last week.)

    Peter, the maps don’t tell the whole story of the dropped calls and sporadic or sluggish data. I want an iPhone, so I’m on AT&T. That’s the way it goes. However, I had AT&T PRIOR to the iPhone with the original Blackjack and then Treo 750. (I also had a Nokia N95 and Blackjack 2, since going with the iPhone as my primary device.) It sure feels like their network has degraded during my tenure, leading to my ‘oversaturated, oversold’ claim. As tivoboy writes, it may also be a reflection of the different frequencies in play.

    Zeo, I agree a comparison would be interesting, perhaps enlightening, but I won’t be the one conducting it. The only person I know locally on AT&T with a non-iPhone smartphone doesn’t pay for data and as a recreational blogger I’m not personally spending any more money on AT&T handsets until this situation improves. AT&T’s PR people know where to find me if they want to refute or explain my experiences, have their technical staff analyze my connectivity logs, or provide other handsets for comparison testing. But my next phone (tbd) purchase will most likely be on another carrier (tbd).

  19. The iPhone in SF is barely usable. ATT needs to invest in resolving this issue or it is going to suffer mightily when VZ finally gets the iPhone.

  20. 2 years is a helluva long plane ride. I’m holding out for another carrier. I may miss my flight, but at least I won’t be stuck in between a sweaty fat guy and a screaming baby.

  21. I have a Blackjack on AT&T and it’s fine in the Philly area (I’m in the North/West Burbs, but have a signal pretty much everywhere in and around Philly).

    I’ll be in NYC this Friday and Saturday (Madison Square Garden area), so I’ll see how my connection is there.

    I am looking for a new phone. I’ve been looking for a while, but nothing has jumped out at me. The Palm Pre looked interesting, but I’m not a Sprint fan. I like the iPhone, but don’t like Apple’s control of it. The Droid looks interesting, so I might give that I shot next.


  22. I live in the far east bay area (past walnut creek) and I watch my iPhone go from 3g to edge and then back to 3g without moving. It’s horrible.

    At home I walk my dog daily and I can point out on a map in my neighborhood where the 3g works and where the 3g doesn’t work.

    The coverage is so bad I simply leave 3g off and rely only on edge and wifi. It’s bad but at least the thing is usable.

  23. I’m in NYC on AT&T with a non-iPhone 3G smartphone (a WinMo HTC Tilt2/Touch Pro2). My coverage is just great — no complaints. I agree with those who say it may not be AT&T coverage or oversaturation as much as lousy 3G reception on the iPhone (frequencies? antenna design? power usage?)

  24. Works great in the Kansas City – Lawrence – Topeka areas.

    You New York/SF people should travel around and see the country :-)

  25. wow!, holy many comments thread batman! Are we talking about religion or politics here? Sure seems like it.

    The only place I get really bad coverage is at a Stanford game, and AT&T doesn’t bring any COWs to the game. And, I’m not talking about weight challenged cheerleaders here. Without a COW, nothing is going to work with 60K people, many of whom are on AT&T and all trying to TEXT and CALL during the game. I for one, like to stream the game to my headset so I can hear the talk, I’m SURE that takes up a lot of bandwidth.

    I’d REALLY like to get a microcell for AT&T for at my home, where I would use it all day long, but AT&T has only rolled these out in NC for the moment.

    I don’t think that the iphone is inherently bad, I DO think the handoff between WIFI and 3g is not well implemented, but I can fix that by turning OFF WIFI when I know I am not in a hotspot area.

  26. Chicago works great for me, of course I don’t stay at the high roller Embassy Suites.

    Um, as far as halting sales, wouldn’t it be easier for the whiners to switch phone providers.

  27. Pauly, the only reason I mention my ‘high roller’ hotels by name is that I wanted to be as precise/factual as I could in this post. I could cite many more/other instances of issues, but I can lock these few down to specific dates and addresses (in multiple states). Wouldn’t want AT&T coming after me with some sort of libelous claim.

    Regarding us whiners switching carriers… I’m a two iPhone household. So it’d cost us about $400 in early termination fees to switch carriers. Not to mention, we’re kind of trapped as we want to remain on the iPhone platform. However, my frustration is mounting (hence the post) and my patience is wearing thin.

  28. The iPhone has been out for 3 years. People have been whining about AT&T coverage in various areas for 3 years. It’s not like coverage issues should have been asurprise. It like me saying “damn, my SDTV is not displaying HDTV.”

    The iPhone platform and AT&T go hand in hand. Another non-surprise. If someone gave you $400 less what you could get for your two iPhones on eBay (not that I am promising it) would you dump AT&T? If yes, then I think we have a found a solution to your problem. I want you and everyone to be happy.

  29. See comment #23 – I’ve been a smartphone user with AT&T prior to the iPhone (which is less than 3 years old, v1 was introduced June 2007) and of course during the last two years. The network appears to have degraded during my tenure, as it became oversaturated. My theory, anyway, that I can’t really prove beyond some of the anecdotal evidence provided in the post. But I can say I’m more frustrated with AT&T in 2009 than I was in 2008. And wasn’t frustrated at all in 2007. Although I’ve always seen the best coverage from my Verizon handsets.

    But, yes, the iPhone and AT&T are a package deal. Hence my frustration. I’m about ready to bite the bullet, pay my ETF, and jump. I like the form factor of both the Palm Pixi (Sprint) and HTC Droid Eris (Verizon), but both are underpowered. I’m probably waiting for CES to see what sort of new Snapdragon-powered Android devices appear on carriers other than AT&T.

  30. Just to follow up my post above. I wasn’t constantly checking my phone, but when I did look at it, I had good coverage and 3G in the Madison Square Garden area. This was with a Gen 1 Black Jack on AT&T. I wasn’t heavily using the phone, just quick checks here and there. I was going to bring up my SlingBox as a test, but totally forgot to.

    I’m not going to say that AT&T isn’t at fault here, but I think the iPhone might be a piece of the problem as well.


  31. I’m in NY and its a complete joke. I have found that power cycling the phone sometimes helps, but thats a 2 minute workaround. And at a Yankee Game (where I have season tickets)? Forget data service. You can barely get a voice line during games.

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