Is AT&T's network problem partly the fault of the iPhone's radio?

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Is AT&T's network problem partly the fault of the iPhone's radio?
While everyone has been so quick to jump all over AT&T's 3G network for problems iPhone users have had, now that O2 users are experiencing the same list of complaints, a possible explanation is brewing that deals with the handset's radio. Users have complained about dropped calls and the difficulty in making 3G data connections. Part of the problem could be how the radio on the iPhone works. On a cellphone, data is sent back and forth in short bursts. When there is no data to transfer, some devices maintain the data connection with use of an idling state. But that kills battery life. So what Apple did was to break off the connection once data was received; when the iPhone needs more data, it reopens the data connection. This helps increase the life of the battery, but also makes it difficult to set up the required signaling channel to set up another data connection. When enough iPhones are in a given area and they all are trying to set up a signaling channel, things become overloaded and the connection can not be made. Still, this is not limited to the iPhone. Android and webOS phones also use this method. In fact, most of the newer smartphones that have been the reason for the explosive growth in sales in the past year, use this same method.

One person explained why European networks are not having the problems seen by AT&T and O2. His reply was that because signaling channels are used for Text messages and data, and because Europeans were heavily into both way before the U.S., the overseas pipelines are built up and can better withstand all of the traffic. A solution to the problem would be to utilize equipment that would be configured to dynamically handle signaling traffic and shift more spectrum to signaling channels when needed. AT&T said it will be adding 2,000 cell towers this year and has already started making other improvements to its infrastructure. O2 is requesting that its vendors configure equipment to handle the increased need to move data

Even with all this traffic, AT&T is confident that it can handle the ever increasing number of iPhones and the new iPad when that device comes online later this year. Apple COO Tim Cook says about AT&T's goal to fix its network, "We have personally reviewed these plans and we have very highconfidence that they will make significant progress towards fixingthem."

Apple iPhone 3GS Specifications | Review

source: arstechnica via iclarified, EngadgetMobile


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19 Comments

1. Cali_E

Posts: 196; Member since: Sep 24, 2008

excuses excuses. its always a different explaination. what about all the att customers that don't have iphones and they still say their service sucks? lol get off the iphones nuts already

7. sinfulta

Posts: 279; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

It's AT&T. My IPhone 3GS works great and compeletely solid and bullet proof in just about every other country I've been to besides my own. Work pays for me to travel, so it's not like I use the phone any less. I literally start having issues as soon as I come back to the USA. It's really sad. Heck you can even run over to Canada for the weekend/week and see the extreme difference.

10. JeffdaBeat unregistered

I don't know...my disclaimer is I am an Apple Fanboy and I work for AT&T, but I like Apple far more than AT&T... When folks come into my store, if they are dropping calls it is always an iPhone. There was a time when I would get calls in about dropping calls and all I had to say is, "Do you have an iPhone" and the answer was always yes. No other phone I've dealt with drops calls on AT&T consistently enough that I can say it is the network...and I like Apple a lot more than AT&T. Thing is, even if AT&T knew it was a problem with the iPhone, they can't bite the hand that feeds them and they never will. Enough people want the iPhone that they will "put up" with AT&T even though it probably isn't AT&T's fault that they are experiencing bad service. I personally think it is a problem with the iPhone and will be corrected in newer generations of the phone. But for the folks who think that Verizon is the fix to their data problems, I think they are in for disappointment.

11. Kappy

Posts: 108; Member since: Dec 14, 2009

true and if VZW ever gets the iPhone. It doesn't look like they will be carrying the iPhone anytime soon.

2. Kiltlifter

Posts: 742; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

Hasn't this been the story since almost day one, b/c of the 3G problems worldwide with the iPhone? But no one ever blames Mac or Steve Jobs as he is the modern day Jesus and infallible in any way

8. Kappy

Posts: 108; Member since: Dec 14, 2009

Steve Jobs is a dumb f**k

3. omarc26

Posts: 360; Member since: Dec 05, 2009

yea i agree its not only iphones have this problem i have the lg shine 2 n sony ericsson c905a from at&t and i always have the same problems as the people with iphones have so obviously its the at&t network that is not good.

4. Chromemember

Posts: 8; Member since: Dec 08, 2009

Maybe it is where you live that is the problem. We have 2 Blackberry Bold's and an Impression in my house and we never have the kind of issues I here people talk about. Every now and then I will get a dropped call but that happens on EVERY network.

13. cansler

Posts: 136; Member since: Oct 07, 2009

Do you guys not read the entire article? It seem like all you saw was "iPhone..." "AT&T..." and "network problems..." Well if you had read the article it also states that most of the newer phones kill their data connection until there is actually data to be sent. And the issue is when it is trying to re-establish a connection. I also read somewhere that the radio in the iToy is a little weaker in order to conserve battery and as such may switch between 3G and Edge often. this would cause the dropped calls if a lot of users in an area are 1) sending/receiving data, or 2) on a call and the radio is having trouble getting back and forth between 3G and Edge. Part two of the article offers a plausible explanation to the "how come this doesn't happen in other countries?" argument: Other countries don't have the same signaling setup as the US and have already been thru these growing pains as the US and is just now seeing the test/data boom. They will get thru this. As they said, they are working on adding more "Towers" (more like adding circuits to existing towers as well as erecting new towers) and are making changes to the signaling / switching of the data and text messages. So, just to review: most new phones switch off data connections until needed ('droid, WebOS, Nexus One...); and North America is still learning how to handle intense data/text on its networks so while it may seem like the network, it very well may not be. Or it's likely both. And we (AT&T) are fixing our part as we speak (type/read).

5. clevername

Posts: 1436; Member since: Jul 11, 2008

Wait a minute. The titel suggests that the problem is withthe radio and therefore the iPhone itself. But the article states that the reason most European carriers don't have the problems may be due to their network being more reinforced to handle those data signals. That suggests that AT&T iPhones would have fewer connection problems if the network was more capable. So what is it? Is it that the network isn't capable or how the radio handles connections? In my opinion, if the network could handle it if it were more capable like European networks, then it wouldn't matter how the radio connects. Not to mention that if palm and android phones and all new smartphones for that matter were dong the same thing with better results, then it can't be the method since it's the same. WTF? Why would ur article b titled to suggest something that the editorial debunks?

9. dmberta

Posts: 25; Member since: Dec 30, 2009

I would be wary of looking for the something to blame in tech problems like this. The issues is an incompatibility between the large volume of cell phones and the network, no one entity is specifically to blame. The solution will depend on which entity is best fit to resolve the incompatibility.

14. cansler

Posts: 136; Member since: Oct 07, 2009

Best explanation I've heard yet. What it boils down to is the new-fangled cell phones are designed differently than our networks here in North America (not sure about America's Hat so I guess I'll just say US) are used to. What this has revealed is a need to "adjust" the network to the new devices being produced. So while it is not the network being crappy per-se, we now know that we must make them work differently to avoid future complaints. The network must process part of the signals (sms data) on the actual data channels instead of on the voice channels, And/or perhaps update some equipment to process the constant requests for a data channel as a user moves throughput the network with a phone that is constantly closing and opening a data session. It's like the car. The first cars were horse buggies outfitted with a motor, then they realized they needed a windshield when speeds were increased. As speeds continued to increase, it was discovered more features were needed, (better brakes, headlights, taillights, gears that would allow the engine to work at a lower rpm and allow the vehicle to continue to increase in speed, safety belts, side walls, doors in the sidewalls for entry, a more streamlined body, etc.) And as speed increased, so did the advancements in technology. Only after a situation developed did some of these needed things become discovered because before, they had no need or problem so were not looking for a solution. With the cell phone, the driving factor is also speed, but also battery conservation. Phones are also becoming thinner so there is not much room to begin with for a extended use battery. Add to that that every speed increase means the user will be using it more which means his battery will not last as long. So to save on battery this latest round, manufacturers have devised a way for the radios to sever their connection and request a new one only when a packet needs to be sent or received. Before there was no problem in the US as there were not so many users with data intense devices that also close and reopen data sessions. So there was no problem and thus no need for a solution. It makes sense when you think about it. These data (and voice) connections are basically VPN's anyway. So every time your device wants to start back up again with the data, it has to establish a new VPN. This requires switching and dedication of specific ports during the time the user is within that particular switch. If several users' phones are trying to do this, randomly, some may inadvertently be assigned the same VPN at one end or another. When the data error checks fail it will have to re-establish or re-assign one or more users. This results in time-outs and thus a connection failure or dropped call. Does that not make sense to all you techies out there? If I am wrong I humbly admit complete and utter speculation. But maybe some of you who work in wireless switching can school us...

15. cansler

Posts: 136; Member since: Oct 07, 2009

Clever, I respect your opinion, but I have to disagree. The Title asks if the iToy radio is PARTLY the blame. The short answer is yes AND no. As I have tried to submit for explanation the radio is incompatible with our current network architecture and thus REVEALED that the network needs to be adjusted so that this doesn't continue to be a problem. Other smartphones weren't designed like the iToy and so the network was fine as it was. But as the market dictates that more and more devices will be set up like the iToy, then changes will have to be made. If the iToy would have been the only device set up in this way, then the blame could squarely be placed at Apple's feet, but since other devices see this as a way to conserve battery, and will be adopting the same type of architecture then it is now apparent we will have to make an adjustment instead of telling Apple "You failed to research our network architecture. You need to go back to the drawing board and design a device that is compatible with our network,"

6. jrcrow79

Posts: 477; Member since: May 02, 2008

lol..Never heard of this issue since me n the fam had service as of a year ago..SoCali is where we live..NEVER had an issue!!

12. rwolf1984

Posts: 536; Member since: Jun 06, 2009

I have had AT&T for over 10 years and have not had issues with dropped calls. . . European GSM networks use different frequencies than American or AT&T's GSM uses so different radios on the respective networks. . .that's why we're seeing issues. AT&T does have to expand the 3G coverage and doubling the speed like they are doing is nice too. I'd like to see AT&T needs to catch up with 4G. The big test comes when the iPad launches and if there is a new iPhone announced like we think there will be. Hopefully all of our dreams and wished are answered. Until then. . . http://games.adultswim.com/robot-unicorn-attack-twitchy-online-game.html

16. ssanders2k7

Posts: 40; Member since: Feb 25, 2010

Though I used to have AT&T and their network was complete and utter crap and they do not have near the 3G coverage that Alltel (now Verizon) did here and still don't, I think they are part of this, the iPhone is definitely part of it, I know when we went to the middle of no where for church camp (I am an adult sponsor, so donn't think I am a little kiddie, lol) Alltel, which was Alltel at the time, had 3G and around most of it, had at least 2 bars, 3 in some places, but there were dead spots. AT&T, with a Motorola, Nokia, or BlackBerry, you could get signal in a few places around the camp and it would be EDGE, but only in a few areas, now with people tat had an iPhone, there was one spot, you had to go and you could get like one bar, but other than that, nothing. So, when the iPhone comes to Verizon, I don't think I will be getting it, sticking to BlackBerry or Android. Its a nice phone, but who cares when you have crappy 3G coverage already and to make matters worse not a very strong antenna. (talking about AT&T there, not Verizon)

17. TBONEJF

Posts: 17; Member since: Feb 16, 2010

I still have AT&T. I don't know why people complain bout AT&T service. Most of the problems belongs to the iPhone. I have good coverage everywhere i go. Most of the problems is the iPhone.

18. Charles unregistered

I'm still using an old Motorola Krzr1. I get maybe one or two dropped calls per month on AT&T. It's an extremely reliable phone. I borrowed an iPhone 4 for a minute at work the other day to try it out. I called my girlfriend and the call disconnected twice within the first minute. I NEVER get dropped calls at work with the Motorola. I think the problem is more with the iPhone than it is with the network.

19. iphone app developers melbourn unregistered

Iphone 3GS network problem can be removed by following procedure: Navigate to Settings>General>Network>Enable 3G and toggle to “OFF". Then Locate yourself using the iphone 3G’s GPS receiver. At last Navigate to Settings>General>Network>Enable 3G and toggle to “ON". With the help of this accurate GPS positioning information should be received. Thanks. iphone app developers melbourne

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