• AT&T 3G Network Tops Verizon's; iPhone Blamed

    A new study shows that - despite recent negative publicity and consumer ratings to the contrary - AT&T's 3G network actually has better performance than Verizon's. The tests, carried out by start-up performance monitoring company Root Wireless, were done using non-Apple smartphones, though, and a New York Times writer quotes a consultant who claims there are problems with the iPhone's wireless interface.

    Root Wireless did testing of 3G network performance in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, DC, and its results were conclusive: AT&T's 3G downloads were faster than Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile's in each of those seven cities. Network World summarizes the results:

    Overall, AT&T's average 3G data speeds ranged from a low of 246Kbps in New York and a high of 428Kbps in Dallas. Verizon, meanwhile, had average 3G speeds ranging from 195Kbps in Seattle to 259Kbps in Chicago. The study also found that both carriers had comparably low rates of 3G connectivity failure, as each carrier's connection failure averaged between 1% and 3% for all seven cities. Sprint fared poorly in this particular category, as the carrier experienced data connection failures of 11% or higher in all seven markets.
    The company has an app in beta testing right now that will allow smartphone users to log their performance and send it to Root Wireless for analysis. Because the iPhone OS doesn't allow access to the core functionality that the app uses to assess network throughput, iPhone users will have to self-report the data somehow.

    A New York Times article, meanwhile, points a finger at the iPhone's hardware as a reason why performance on AT&T's network, especially in the major cities, is so bad. Roger Entner, senior vice president for telecommunications research at Nielsen, said the iPhone's "air interface," the hardware and firmware in the phone that handle the connection to the 3G network, had problems that "affect both voice and data." He said - echoing a recent study that claimed iPhone users will defend their phone against all reason -that "the iPhone has the nimbus of infallibility, ergo, it's AT&T's fault."

    AT&T has recently acknowledged that service in some major U.S. cities have been performing below standards and claim that they are making infrastructure improvements to deal with it. At no time has AT&T publicly blamed Apple for any issues. AT&T will never criticize Apple under any circumstances, Entner claimed.

    John Gruber, who writes the Daring Fireball blog, points out some deficiencies in the New York Times article.

    If itís the iPhoneís fault, not AT&Tís, why arenít iPhone users around the world having the same problems as those here in the U.S.? How come iPhone carriers in Europe turned on tethering support as soon as iPhone OS 3.0 was released, and AT&T still, seven months later, has not? Iíve brought this up before and readers have argued that the U.S. is a far bigger country than those in Europe, so of course U.S. carriers have a harder job than those in Europe. But that argument doesnít make sense to me. Itís not thereís one single AT&T cell tower providing service for the whole country. When it comes to providing coverage for a large city like New York or London or Paris, what difference does it make how big the rest of the country is?
    My own iPhone performs just fine in Boston, but horribly in San Francisco. It seemed a pretty obvious conclusion that San Francisco's network was overutilized. If Root Wireless's data are correct, though, and the networks in San Francisco and New York outperform Verizon's, it's within the realm of possibility that some issue with the iPhone's air interface could be cropping up only in congestion conditions. We should wait to see better data, but it'd be ironic if - when exclusivity ends in the United States - a bunch of users jump ship on AT&T only to find that the network was never the problem after all.
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