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iPhone Signal Strength Problems In the UK 202

Posted by kdawson
from the no-bars-for-us-we're-british dept.
An anonymous reader writes "British iPhone users, who bought the Apple phones when they went on sale in England on Nov. 9, are reporting persistent problems with signal strength on O2, the UK's only iPhone service provider. The complaints started only 2 days later. InfoWeek blogger Alex Wolfe says there's a debate as to whether O2 or the iPhone is at fault; it appears to be the handset, which is unusual since US users haven't reported similar problems. Some 02 customers report that getting a replacement phone fixes things; others have had to do a software restore back to version 1.1.2 of the iPhone software."
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iPhone Signal Strength Problems In the UK

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  • signal strength (Score:4, Informative)

    by thrillseeker (518224) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @07:50PM (#21466213)
    FWIW, my sister has an iPhone and tells me that the reception is noticeably worse than her previous phone (a Razor, I think).
  • No problems here... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Richard_at_work (517087) <<richardprice> <at> <gmail.com>> on Saturday November 24, 2007 @07:58PM (#21466273)
    I've had an iPhone since they were launched here in the UK and I cannot honestly say I have experienced any signal problems and if anything I get better voice quality on the iPhone than my previous phone (w810i).

    I'm not exactly in a major metropolitan area either, out here in a commuter town in the South West, but my signal strength hasn't really been a problem - I'm always able to make calls or connect via GPRS or EDGE, so I'm pretty much happy at the moment. I've travelled a bit as well in the past 2 weeks and I've yet to experience signal loss, even out in the country side.
  • Re:different freqs? (Score:2, Informative)

    by jargon82 (996613) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @08:09PM (#21466335)
    I suspect it's not just not wanting unsightly cell towers. Given that the UK pop density is 246 per square km and the US is 31 per square km,(accodring to wikipedia) [wikipedia.org] it seems the folks in the US are just a tad bit more spread out...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 24, 2007 @08:23PM (#21466447)

    British iPhone users, who bought the Apple phones when they went on sale in England on Nov. 9, are reporting persistent problems with signal strength on O2, the UK's only iPhone service provider
    Just so people aren't confused, the iPhone is on sale in the whole of the UK, not just England. Also, it's not just people in Britain that are experiencing the problem, but people in all parts of the UK.

    For any Americans reading this that don't know what I'm talking about, let me put this in Slashdot terms:

    UK != Britain != England.

    Cunts.
  • Re:different freqs? (Score:5, Informative)

    by arth1 (260657) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @09:13PM (#21466765) Homepage Journal
    That's a "truth with modifications". If you subtract the areas in the US where there's no GSM coverage, i.e. most of the country, you get a GSM population density that's higher.

    One difference is that in the US, the market is largely a profit-driven free-for-all, where the actors can choose to only put towers where it will be profitable to do so. That means the big cities, their suburbs, and the highways between them. In most of Europe, there's coverage requirements to get a license to operate (and consumers that historically have bought things based also on quality and not features-for-the-price alone).

    Another difference is that in Europe there's not a near 100% lock-in for phones to a certain provider, like in the US. Most people in the US aren't even aware that phones don't have to be locked to a provider. Some have heard of unlocking of phone, but even of those, almost none know that you can get phones that weren't unlocked, but never locked in the first place.
    In Europe, if a provider hasn't given a good enough service or coverage, you have historically been able to take your phone elsewhere and get a new plan for your existing phone. The lock-in of the iPhone to a single provider is going to be a lesson in how good the "old" system was, and make European users understand the terrible situation US users have, and why so few Americans have cell phones.
  • England != UK (Score:5, Informative)

    by jackster1 (950994) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @09:17PM (#21466777)
    " went on sale in England on Nov. 9" Just FYI, the UK isn't just England, it's got Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in it too. Hence 'United Kingdom'.
  • Re:Sounds like (Score:3, Informative)

    by CrossChris (806549) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:13PM (#21467125)
    Nope - O2 have good coverage throughout Britain. The iPhone has poor receive sensitivity and low transmit power compared to other models. It's an overpriced piece of junk.
  • by Stevecrox (962208) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:30PM (#21467261) Journal
    Being in the 18-30 age group (21) I saw it as a giant flashy waste of money and worried people would buy it and help show the operators that we would pay for the phone and a overpriced contract.

    My little sister (18) exact words on the matter were "why would anyone buy an iPhone cause its rubbish and you get all the stuff it does in an iPod anyway" my other little sister (16) hated it because it lacked a keyboard and was really expensive.

    Then we have my ex work mates (all aged between 16-20) universally hated it the girls hated the lack of camera, the guys have hated it mainly because it can't do picture messaging (no dodgey photos from the missus.) The main opinion was it was "a giant waste of money". Its not that "we" see it as uncool but when you compare it to any phone on the market feature wise (ignoring the browser) it has less than a £27 Nokia phone I picked up in o2 on pay as you go tariff and the fact you would get all the cool extra features in the new iPod.

    So correction not "uncool" but "giant waste of money" and no I wasn't on a crusade to stop people buying this its actually come up in normal conversation last time I went out with my ex work mates one of the girls started talking about how she was going to get a new iPod nano but would never get a iPhone because how expensive it was.
  • Re:different freqs? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Moridineas (213502) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:44PM (#21467391) Journal

    That's a "truth with modifications". If you subtract the areas in the US where there's no GSM coverage, i.e. most of the country, you get a GSM population density that's higher.
    Wow wow, that sounds nuts to me? Where did you get the idea that in "most of the country" there's no GSM coverage? I'd love to see the statistics about that.. I don't suppose you have any? Here's the coverage map for ATT btw http://www.wireless.att.com/coverageviewer/ [att.com]. I guess it's possible that including Alaska covered vs uncovered could be CLOSE ... but I'm not sure. If you count any cell coverage, (CDMA, smaller companies, etc) you're dead wrong.

    One difference is that in the US, the market is largely a profit-driven free-for-all, where the actors can choose to only put towers where it will be profitable to do so. That means the big cities, their suburbs, and the highways between them. In most of Europe, there's coverage requirements to get a license to operate (and consumers that historically have bought things based also on quality and not features-for-the-price alone).
    I'm suddenly forced to realize I've been blinded by the economic prosperity of the US my entire life! You're right, the European way IS best! I--and my fellow Americans--are living in filth and squalor, and even worse--we have subpar cellphone plans! I hope we can get arrogant attitudes along with our conversion to the European way ;-) I apologize for the poor attempt at humor, but your tone is so typical of anti-American arrogance--and of all things about cell phones! (it's always the cell phone conversations that brings it out the most)

    Another difference is that in Europe there's not a near 100% lock-in for phones to a certain provider, like in the US. Most people in the US aren't even aware that phones don't have to be locked to a provider. Some have heard of unlocking of phone, but even of those, almost none know that you can get phones that weren't unlocked, but never locked in the first place.
    Probably true. At my local mall there's a LARGE kiosk that advertises and sells unlocked phones from around the world...so I'm not sure how true your supposition is overall.

    In Europe, if a provider hasn't given a good enough service or coverage, you have historically been able to take your phone elsewhere and get a new plan for your existing phone. The lock-in of the iPhone to a single provider is going to be a lesson in how good the "old" system was, and make European users understand the terrible situation US users have, and why so few Americans have cell phones.
    I was able to cancel my AT&T contract ~5 years ago when I had no poor in my house. Can't comment on the practice more generally.

    "So few American have cell phones" ... I gotta see your statistics on this, the only people I know that don't have phones are my 85-90 year old grandparents. Do you really believe this bull? Just what do Europeans believe about us?! most of the US doesn't have coverage and most people don't have cellphones? Gotta say, when you're so wrong about the basic facts upon which you make your slander, it really makes me take the rest of your post less seriously. 82% of Americans Own Cell Phones [switched.com]
  • Re:Sounds like (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stevecrox (962208) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:48PM (#21467423) Journal
    I have a O2 phone (XDA Mini S in fact) I have had pretty good coverage everywhere (not yet found an area where I couldn't get a signal) and my phones reception quality isn't that great when compared to most phones (my Orange m500 using a O2 sim card had a much stronger signal in the same areas.) In the UK the big phone operators Orange, Vodaphone and O2 have around 98/99% coverage of the UK for 2.5G phone and 3G coverage is increasing rapidly (I believe its over 70% coverage.)

    The issue isn't the operator.
  • MODERATORS!!! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 24, 2007 @11:51PM (#21467847)
    die
  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:24AM (#21468085)

    The iphone, while being exceptionally heavily marketed, has already been deemed uncool in the 18-30 age group.
    Oh REALLY now? I wish you'd come tell the 18-30 age group to quit asking to mess with my iPhone then. I *guess* I'm older, at 37??? but I didn't buy the phone for hype or advertising. I bought the phone because it is the best phone I tried. The phone features are the best, from voice mail to the address book, of any phone I've tried. All the other stuff (email, maps, a really good web browser) are just bonus. The phone is a crappy text-message phone, but then again, texting has been deemed uncool in the 37-50 age group.
  • Re:different freqs? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:35AM (#21468179) Journal

    It is probably caused by some combination of these two things:

    1. Transmit power for 1800/1900 (probably what is in use in NZ) is half the wattage allowed for the 850 band in the U.S. The 850 MHz allows for significantly greater tower spacing at a cost in cell phone life. You can't get away with that in the 1900 MHz band because the signal doesn't carry as well. AT&T uses 850 heavily, for obvious reasons, though in California, you will likely find many 850 MHz towers at much closer spacing and at reduced power to minimize the cell's overall coverage footprint to reduce the collisions inherent in high density environments with limited spectrum. You shouldn't see your cell shouting at anywhere near maximum output, though, so I sort of doubt this has that much to do with the difference, though I suppose it might be a factor.

    2. GSM phones can use different encodings depending on signal strength, available bandwidth, the preference of the tower, and the intersection of modes supported by both your phone and the tower. It is much more likely that the phone is operating in one of the lower power modes in NZ. Half rate codec draws significantly less power than the other codecs, and EFR draws slightly more. IIRC, in California, AT&T's towers prefer FR if the phone supports it, because the call quality sounds better and they have enough tower density to handle it. In NZ, they may be using HR, which by itself can make a huge difference in talk time because the cell phone is essentially "talking" to the tower during only half as many time slots.

  • by MrPerfekt (414248) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:46AM (#21468249) Homepage Journal
    You are also wrong. All iPhones are GSM with EDGE for data transfer (2.75G). They're quad-band phones which allow them to operate on the varying frequencies from region to region. The 'schemes' are identical, only the frequencies vary.

    The next iPhone (which will probably be released 1Q 2008) will likely be 3G, which is to say GSM with UMTS or HSDPA for data transfer. And again, will support enough frequencies to allow them to have one phone sold around the world. This reduces cost by having a unified, simple product line.

    I know everyone is just trying to be helpful but if you don't know what the heck you're talking about, avoid spouting purportedly factual information.
  • by pm (11079) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:49AM (#21468265)
    The iPhone has two processors each has it's own firmware. The iPhone software is at 1.1.2 - it controls the functions of the screens, programs, the touchscreen, etc. The iPhone baseband is either 3.9, or 4.6 - it controls the radio, WiFi, bluetooth, etc. The two processors talk back and forth using highspeed Hayes modem AT commands. :)

    Downgrading the main 1.1.2 firmware only changes the software - so you can reenable the .TIFF exploit should you want to. But to do anything to radio reception, you would need to change the baseband firmware. Currently no one knows how to downgrade the baseband software.

    There's details in this thread:
    http://www.hackint0sh.org/forum/showthread.php?t=16571 [hackint0sh.org]

    In a nutshell, anyone downgrading their software to 1.1.2 or 1.1.1 or lower and who says they experiencing better cell phone reception is working under the placebo effect, because the firmware they are downgrading doesn't affect the radio at all. And no one knows how to downgrade the baseband firmware - or if they do, the technique isn't being publicized.

    As far as reception, on T-Mobile in the US, my reception has generally been good. There's a bit of a funky "bug" that I've seen that if the reception is low or "no service" and you move into an area with service, it takes the phone a while to recognize this. So if you are in an underground tunnel and have no reception, then when you leave the tunnel it can take minutes for the iPhone to notice it has service again. This may be a "feature" since they are trying to save power or something, but it can be annoying to wait 3 minutes or more for the iPhone to decide it has service. There's also a rare odd effect that the phone will think it has all 5 bars, but will, in fact, have no service at all. Any time I have either of these issues, they correct themselves with time - or I can just power down the phone.
  • by integra_antennas (1017886) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:50AM (#21468269) Homepage
    While metal is shiny and slick, when it is too close to an antenna, the bandwidth decreases. So the antenna designer has a choice of which frequencies to focus their design effort. Since their initial target market was the USA, they probably targeted GSM850 (AT&T's GSM network). From the antenna photos, the GSM 1800/1900 part of the antenna is the part closest to the battery/metal covers, which further degrades performance in this band. One of the earlier replies said their iPhone worked fine in the country-side of the UK. This is most likely due to the GSM850/900 part of the antenna being furthest away from the battery/metal covers.

    iPhone disassembled:
    http://www.ifixit.com/Guide/iPhone/Communications-Board/105/8/Page-7/Communications-Board [ifixit.com]

    One can see a small little cable going from the RF Module to the antenna. In almost 99% of the GSM phones on the market today, the antenna is right next to the RF Module. This is to minimize the RF losses between the RFIC and the antenna. By using a cable, significant losses are introduced into the system by both the cable and the miss-match at both ends of the cable. The antenna is also at the bottom of the phone and is more likely to be covered by the user's hand (further decreasing sensitivity); though there are quite a few phone on the market with antennas at the bottom--it is how they get around the SAR limits which are specified as the peak radiation a user receives next to their ear (the mouth area is not measured in the FCC/EU tests.

    So, while from an anecdotal perspective, it appears the iPhone has random sensitivity issues; from an antenna engineer's perspective however, it is no surprise why the iPhone has lower performance than most phones (but would still have similar performance to other phones with poor antenna designs--of which there are several for different reasons than cable losses).

    If you are interested in reading more technical reports about antenna performance in mobile phones, go to the following website:

    http://antennas.astri.org/antennas_mirror [astri.org]

    PDF Password = astriantennas
  • by integra_antennas (1017886) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @06:13AM (#21469847) Homepage
    Comparing signal bars on various models of mobile phones is not a good test of field strength. In order to compare sensitivity in a scientific manner, need to rip apart the phones and measure their various RF parameters like antenna efficiency RF power levels, TIS, and TRP. Various phone-makers have been caught "cheating" with their signal bars as to show better reception than their rivals--so this is not a reliable comparison method. There is also a problem with multi-path, so phone reception will vary according to how you hold the phone, whether you use a BT headset, if there is a lorry passing down your street between the cell phone tower and your handset, the weather, rain, etc..... Most of the phones you named (Nokia 6300, HTC, Razor) are well known for having poor antenna performance due to both the metal covers and the chrome plated material nearby the antenna (acts like a resistor and absorbs radiated power). A better comparison would be with a 5-7 year old phone with a much better antenna (like Nokia 3210).
  • Re:Sounds like (Score:3, Informative)

    by digitig (1056110) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @10:29AM (#21470901)

    I abandoned O2 for Vodafone because the O2 coverage was terrible where I live (a suburb of London); no signal at ground level, I was able to get a weak signal by the window in one bedroom. Coverage isn't so great.

    But aren't we on a different frequency here in ths UK? It would be quite easy for the UK experience not to be the same as the US experience.

  • Re:Sounds like (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25, 2007 @03:17PM (#21472831)
    The iPhone is quad band GSM, which means it uses two frequencies common to the US and the two common to Europe. If it were tri-band GSM, it might make sense that it would have better reception in the US or EU, but it appears that frequencies don't explain why there would be differences. In almost every market, different providers offer different levels of service, so the best provider in one city might not be the best in another.

    In the hyper reactionary coverage of the iPhone, it's easy to write off complaints that don't offer some substantiation. If it had problems receiving a signal, I'm sure CNET would have jumped all over it in the US over the last few months. They've been desperately trying to overturn anything from Apple for years, and have no problem inventing problems with products.

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