What started as customer complaints has penetrated the blogosphere, captured numerous headlines and has had almost everyone throwing in their two cents – that is everyone except AT&T and Apple, which have remained quiet on the issue. In the absence of an official explanation for the spotty coverage, slower-than-anticipated speeds and dropped signals, many news outlets and industry observers have come up with explanations of their own:
• Inferion’s inferior chipsets: Business Week, MacRumors and CrunchGear all reported that flawed software on Inferion’s chipsets inside the mobile device are responsible for the iPhone’s tendency to switch from 3G to EDGE networks, often dropping calls in the process. These sources also claim that Apple will address this problem by issuing a software update by the end of Sept.
• Growing pains: Tragically illustrated with an iPhone going down the drain, Wired magazine looked to a number of sources to find the root of the 3G problem. Some were more forgiving than others. An Airvana executive attributed the problems to a network in its infancy. As per the normal course, it could take several years to optimize the network, he said. Not to mention that AT&T is still deploying its 3G equipment on existing transmission towers, which are spaced according to 2G needs – meaning 2G might actually have better coverage in some areas where 3G can’t reach.
• Hardware meltdown: Reports from the AP, based on a Swedish engineering magazine, have placed the responsibility on defective adjustments between the antenna and an amplifier that captures weak signals from the antenna. Research firm iSuppli took it one step farther, saying the problem could stem from anywhere in the physical handset, from the antenna and amplifier and the RF transceiver to the baseband that processes the digital signal and sends it to the speaker or screen.
• “What we have here is a failure to communicate”: Many simply agree with Paul Newman, that these problems are another manifestation of the disconnect between AT&T and Apple. Some overseas carriers are placing the blame on Apple, taking the onus off of AT&T. Still, many are quick to accuse of AT&T of not providing enough bandwidth in high density areas. Telephony’s Wireless Editor Kevin Fitchard explored this possibility at the handset’s launch.
• 300-deep lines of Apple fanatics: Just like its predecessor, the iPhone 3G sold out within hours of Apple and AT&T opening their doors on the launch date. It could be the case that the two were not prepared for the enormous response they received. Going back to the bandwidth debacle, cell sites may simply not be able to handle the surge of new iPhone owners.
• Is it all in your head?: Thus far, AT&T, Apple and Inferion have remained relatively quiet on the complaints. Inferion pointed out that its 3G chipsets work fine in Samsung handsets, which is more than Apple or AT&T will even say. Apple has yet to acknowledge the problem, and its wireless partner has only maintained the phone’s doing great. According to Business Week reports, the dropped call issue is affecting 2% to 3% of iPhone traffic as compared to AT&T’s average dropped-call rate of around 1%. So, while the attention given the issue has been significant, it is arguable that the actual issue isn’t that abysmal.
This is certainly not the first time a 3G handset has had problems with the network, yet this is arguably the first time it has elicited this level of concern. No other handset has been watched with the level of scrutiny applied to the iPhone, generally thought to be the be-all-end-all archetype for a mobile multimedia device. With the onslaught of 3G complaints, has the industry messed up its biggest opportunity to bring mobile data services to the forefront, or are we just overacting at the first sign of a roadbump? Where do you place the blame?
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