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Cellphones Wireless Networking Hardware

AT&T 3G Upgrades Degrade 2G Signal Strength 210

Posted by kdawson
from the cellphone-walks-into-a-bar dept.
Timothy R. Butler writes "Much to the chagrin of owners of various 2G cell phones on AT&T Mobility's network, including the highly visible (and originally highly expensive) first-generation iPhone, we have discovered that AT&T has been quietly adjusting its network in ways that degrade 2G network performance as it has sought to build out its next-generation 3G network. Many of the phones affected, including BlackBerry devices, are still well within their two-year contract period."
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AT&T 3G Upgrades Degrade 2G Signal Strength

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  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @03:48PM (#26313935) Homepage Journal

    Its the way people do business now.

    Sad and immoral, but true.

    • by Grand Facade (35180) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:01PM (#26314045)

      Not really planned obsolescence, appropriating resources for the new revenue stream forsaking existing customers.

      This to me seems worse as they are stealing services paid for by existing customers, instead of just letting their stuff expire as obsolite.

      • by cgenman (325138) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:02PM (#26314459) Homepage

        It seems like this would be fine, if there were an open market. But to lock user's phones into a particular network, lock users into multi-year contracts, then downwardly adjust service, seems a little dodgy.

        I don't doubt that shifting spectrum to 3G is the right way to go... I'm just not convinced that now is the time and this is the way.

        • There are a lot of identical prices/features in the plans the major 4 providers offer, so much so that it seems like an odd coincidence if this is truly a competitive market between non-collusive entities.

          For example, say I want to buy a laptop cell-phone modem, and buy a wireless data plan. There are four providers who will sell me that, so you'd think I might have a choice of packages, maybe some carriers offering higher data limits for a higher price, others structuring their service with multiple tiers, etc. Instead, every provider offers exactly one plan, and all four have identical terms and prices: $60/mo for 5GB of data.

          • by MightyYar (622222) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @07:00PM (#26315341)

            Instead, every provider offers exactly one plan, and all four have identical terms and prices: $60/mo for 5GB of data.

            What in the world are you talking about? I went to check your facts and the very first carrier that I checked had a $50/month data card plan with unlimited data [t-mobile.com].

            • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:34PM (#26315939)

              I stand corrected; T-Mobile's offer is reasonably good, and gives the others some competition.

              AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all do offer only the same $60/mo, 5-GB limit plan for data cards, though. Well, Verizon also offers a useless 50-MB limit one, for $40/mo.

              • by MightyYar (622222)

                It's probably cheaper because their 3G coverage is still small.

                I never looked at AT&T's plan before... $0.50/MB overage - aaaak! Leave it to AT&T to make Verizon look cheap at $0.25/MB. Sprint lays them both to waste by making it $0.05/MB for overage. It's still puzzling to me why the overage rate isn't more like $0.01/MB, since that is about what it costs to get the first 5GB. With AT&T if you go a gig over you'd owe over $500... seems fair! :)

          • I know that is Verizon's price. I'm unsure about AT&T, but T-mobile's is a tad lower as is Sprint's. Sprint's is particularly interestingly low for shared plans relative to the rest. This of course makes sense, as at the moment Sprint is the most desperate as they have a lousy reputation and must take the most drastic action. I'm pretty sure that Verizon has the highest prices (excepting AT&T, who I've no looked up), and they also happened to have the largest market share.

            In other words, things

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by cgenman (325138)

              Here in Cambridge, MA, I'm seeing 59.99 / 5GB for sprint and AT&T. T-mobile is offering 49.99 for unlimited.

              Perhaps pricing variants are dependent upon the market, and some markets are more competitive than others?

        • by Shakrai (717556)

          I don't doubt that shifting spectrum to 3G is the right way to go

          What I don't understand is why they have to shift all of 850mhz to 3G services. The cellular band (850mhz) was split into two by the FCC way back in the day. Each market has two licenses (A and B) with about 20mhz of bandwidth for each license. WCDMA requires a channel width of 5mhz.

          Seems to me that they could have left some 850mhz spectrum allocated to plain old GSM if they had cared enough.

    • by LoadWB (592248) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:24PM (#26314205) Journal

      If true, then this is exactly what Cingular did to the TDMA network (back when I had my GAIT phone, http://slashdot.org/~LoadWB/journal/123321 [slashdot.org] ) while transitioning to GSM/GPRS. Cingular quietly discontinued various network services to TDMA phones, then essentially told us "tough shit, get a GSM phone."

      I have noticed that my EDGE speeds have not been quite up to their norm lately. I was hoping this was just an anomaly, but I guess you never really can tell.

      I wonder how friendly T-Mobile is to unlocked phones. I really have a hard time abandoning my Sony Ericssons...

      • by whoever57 (658626) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:31PM (#26314241) Journal

        I wonder how friendly T-Mobile is to unlocked phones. I really have a hard time abandoning my Sony Ericssons...

        Friendly -- T-Mobile will even unlock one phone every 90 days for you, for free.

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          Too bad their network isn't that great. I don't get signal outside of my house and I live in the biggest city in NJ by population.

        • by zQuo (1050152) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @09:28PM (#26316367)
          T-mobile tries harder than the others, but t-mobile is blessed with the worst network coverage. T-mobile survives by having the best customer service, and enlightened data plan policies.

          The customer service folks are actually helpful, they will discuss how to configure unlocked iphones and other phones on t-mobile. They also unlock t-mobile purchased phones in 90 days, even sooner in most cases, etc.

          AT&T has the absolutely worst customer service. All the other carriers ('cept for T-mobile) are pretty evil. I would not be surprised at any informal price fixing... everyone is locked in anyways. But network quality is very important also, and T-mobile doesn't do well there.

          I only switched to T-mobile when they allowed their phones to do calls over the wifi network as well as the cell tower network. The coverage isn't great, but you can supplement it by placing wifi points where you use the cell phone the most... it actually is better for use in some rural areas. But my blood pressure is much lower whenever I deal with customer service, that's priceless!
          • I miss T-Mobile a lot. The coverage around here sucks (I spent half my drive to work with no signal) but the pricing and customer service can't be beat. I was getting 1,000 minutes for $40/mo.

            Now I'm on Verizon. Somehow they manage to occasionally beat T-Mobile on the customer service ratings. How that happens is beyond me. Verizon customer service is very hit or miss -- sometimes you'll get a great CSR and other times you'll get some pissed off miserable SOB that hates his job and takes it out on you.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I posted this on the OFB.biz article as a comment... LoadWB, you're 100% right, AT&T did *exactly* this before, and I expect them to do it again -- screw up 3G service to "encourage" people to go to LTE.
        -------------
        Par for the course. I predicted over 5 years ago that this is exactly what would happen once they decided to go to a post-GSM technology, based on the handling of the previous TDMA->GSM conversion.

        AT&T and Cingular (pre-merger you understand) BOTH did exactly the same thing du

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Cousin Scuzzy (754180)

        Wow, thanks LoadWB. I had the same problem as you with my TDMA service back in 2006. After being with AT&T Wireless and then Cingular since 1999, my service abruptly became very flaky. Near my house I would lose service for hours at a time, when otherwise I would have an exceptionally strong signal. If I walked a few blocks away from my house my service would resume again, though at poor signal strength. As quickly as the problem appeared it would go away for several days. The frequency and predic

      • by Macrat (638047)

        I wonder how friendly T-Mobile is to unlocked phones. I really have a hard time abandoning my Sony Ericssons...

        I'm using unlocked P910 and P990's on T-Mobile. Just pop in the SIM and go.

      • by afidel (530433)
        Cingular turned of TDMA mostly because they desperately needed the spectrum in a few crowded markets like southern California. They were known to have connection problems and a much higher number of dropped calls due to an oversubscription of available bandwidth so they freed up bandwidth by terminating the most inefficient technology and re-allocating it. The also warned people starting about 18 months before they did it and started charging increasing fees a year out. I loved my 6 year old Nokia brick, gr
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No it's not. I have Verizon, they kept analog in FANTASTIC shape right until the analog shutdown date. I mean, they surely did reduce the number of analog channels, but they counted analog in their call drop and fast busy stats, so they made sure to keep *enough* analog channels to keep service in good shape, urging people to get a new phone but not forcing them into it by destroying their service.
      They rolled out EVDO without harming existing service.. in rare cases

    • Forced Premature Obsolescence

      There, I fixed it for you.

  • I'm sure these new features are well defined in the contract you sign with A&T.

    • Yes. I'm also pretty sure that also in the contract is the right for AT&T to come to my house at any time they please and take my car out of the garage. There are lots of illegal things put into those EULAs and contracts. Just because it's in a contract does not make it enforceable. Or even right.

      Of course, the correct and awesome behavior would be if people actually read all the crap they're supposedly agreeing to and then quietly declined to sign in the first place.

  • Centro (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rock Chalk Jayhawk (1443729) * on Saturday January 03, 2009 @03:50PM (#26313945)
    Just a few months ago, I upgraded to the AT&T version of the Palm Centro. I was a little disappointed to learn that the AT&T version of the Centro doesn't support 3g while the Sprint version does. If AT&T was going to upgrade to 3g at the expense of 2g, they should have made as many 3g offerings available as possible. I've noticed as well that my signal strength has seemed poorer in many areas of Missouri lately than it was when I first purchased my Centro, but I'd never associated it with anything AT&T had done.
    • Re:Centro (Score:5, Funny)

      by (startx) (37027) <slashdot@ u n s p u n p r oductions.com> on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:12PM (#26314121) Journal

      Your signal strength degradation in MO has nothing to do with AT&T, and everything to do with your slashdot username!

    • Got my Centro three months ago and have not noticed any degradation of service during that time here in rural SC but AT&T reception has never been really great either.

      I thought AT&T's network went down yesterday while I was out shopping only to realize that Food Lion, or someone in the store(?), was blocking cell phones for whatever strange reason.

      • by afidel (530433)
        You were in a big metal box surrounded by more metal and you think there had to be someone blocking your probably already marginal signal?!? Dude it's a mobile phone not a landline with a really long extension cord =)
        • by fuego451 (958976)

          True, save for the fact that I had made calls from inside this store in the recent past with no indication of reduced signal. The day in question I got the 'No Service' message upon entering.

          The only dead spot I've found here in SC is in the depths of the Francis Marion National Forrest but I turn my phone off there anyway out of respect for the Swamp Fox and his men.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AmberBlackCat (829689)
      So are you guys saying AT&T isn't always the best cellphone service out there?
  • Edge service (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lon (37445)

    Where I live, AT&T has both Edge (2.5G) and 3G deployed - I only have the first gen iPhone so I cannot speak to 3G quality here, but over the past couple of months I have seen an improvement in 2G coverage and quality. My house used to be on the edge (hah!) of an Edge dead zone - but now we get nearly full bars and no missed calls.

  • NYC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by clinko (232501) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:10PM (#26314113) Homepage Journal

    In NYC my 1st Gen iPhone has become unusable. It's so obvious I'm glad someone else is noticing.

    - Pandora for the iPhone used to work, now it doesn't (Too slow).
    - Loading map searches on google maps takes a minute plus.

    The constants are my apt location and my desk location at work. I haven't changed a thing, but the network has definitely slowed down with the same "signal strength"/Bars.

    • Shreveport too... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Shawn Parr (712602) <parrNO@SPAMshawnparr.com> on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:58PM (#26314907) Homepage Journal

      It's funny, I noticed this a month or so ago in Shreveport Louisiana. I live in an area where Shreveport is the closest 3G network. At home we have horrible signal fluctuations, but when it works Edge is mostly fine. Before Shreveport went 3G I would get 5 bars and Edge was pretty good (for Edge anyway).

      After the 3G switch, I still get 5 bars of service, but the Edge symbol almost never comes on, instead I get the weird little 'dot in a circle' that tells you you are one GPRS, and with a 1st gen iPhone that means no data whatsoever. Calls are great though.

      Occasionally the E will appear for a short time, and when it does it is like the Edge network that was there before 3G came. But it only lasts seconds, or sometimes maybe minutes, then goes away again.

      At least with this setup I know out of the gate I'm not going to get service when the edge icon is completely missing.

      The first time I noticed this I was with some people who had 3G iPhones. With the 3G disabled their phones were doing the exact same thing, so I know it isn't my phone being weird.

      This is one of the few times I feel lucky to be nowhere near 3G service, as it would make my fully functional phone not work properly, and I'd be 'incentivized' to upgrade. Now I can keep my working phone, and slightly less expensive data plan for the time being.

  • FCC? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dmomo (256005) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:14PM (#26314131) Homepage

    Does this only affect at&t 2G phones? Even if-so, should this not fall under the jurisdiction of the FCC? Is a company allowed to create devices/systems that use the spectrum in such a way that they interfere with other devices created by the same company?

    Clever contract wording or not, this just doesn't seem like it should be allowed.

    • Re:FCC? (Score:5, Informative)

      by pin0chet (963774) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:02PM (#26314453)
      Read the article again. This isn't an device interference issue, but rather an issue where AT&T is moving EDGE/GSM to a higher frequency band that has inferior characteristics to other bands that AT&T used to use for EDGE. The problem is that the higher frequency doesn't offer the same signal strength in certain places, so EDGE users who've been switched to the 1900mhz band will notice a lower signal in certain areas.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Output power is the same for both frequency bands. The higher frequency provides greater distance loss but also better in-building penetration. So while those a further distance from the tower don't get as good reception, those closer to the tower but obstructed by an object (or in a basement) have improved reception. But everyone looooooves to complain about cell phone comapies so the story is about those with coverage losses instead of those with coverage gains.
        People (ok, people over the age of 30) ne

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Shakrai (717556)

          Output power is the same for both frequency bands

          Not exactly. Output power on the mobile side is limited to 30dBm (1 watt) under 1900mhz vs 33dBm (2 watts) on 850mhz.

      • To see signal strength in db on your BlackBerry hold Alt and type NMLL on the home screen.

        I just bought another 8310 (GSM/EDGE) because I've seen far too many reports about short battery life on the new BlackBerry's. I really hope that I don't see too much degradation of service. Hopefully it's a valid reason to get out of contract for free. If not, the sales rep last told me that canceling a contract was only $75 now, so if you need a new device it's probably cheaper to pay the $75 and get the discounts/re

      • So this is really a problem with physics/RF characteristics. Well damn it, I want to sue the fabric of spacetime then! =)

        /I kid, I kid

    • by MaineCoon (12585)

      I've filed a complaint. I hope more people do the same.

      In the last 4 months I've seen my signal strength go from 4 bars to no bars in my home, nearby grocery store, and at the hobby shop I hang out at every other weekend.

      I'm on PrePaid, I have no contract, but I've got over a hundred dollars in my account still.

    • Wildly OT, but following your homepage/sig link (your site?) and putting in my comments page address gives http://socuteurl.com/fuzzybutt [socuteurl.com]

      Coincidence? I THINK NOT!

  • Get with the times, 2G is going the same way as Pulse Dialing did for land lines.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      1 - These damn 2-year contracts make "getting with the times" a real pisser.

      2 - Pulse dialing for land lines still works fine... right? Well there are some systems that *never* supported it, nasty phone trees and VOIP providers and whatnot, but it works on every POTS network I've ever plugged into. Flick the little switch on the back of your phone and try it, or, if you've got rhythm, just tap out the numbers using the cradle switch! Weee, fun!!!!

      • by fm6 (162816)

        Flick the little switch on the back of your phone and try it,

        Do they still make phones with a pulse/tone switch? Seems strange, since the last pulse-only POTS service disappeared a long time ago. So the only purpose the switch serves is to create frustrating delays for people who don't know what it's for.

        But you're right, POTS still supports pulse dialing. And a lot of people are using it, judging from the number of rotary dial phones for sale [ebay.com].

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          But you're right, POTS still supports pulse dialing. And a lot of people are using it, judging from the number of rotary dial phones for sale.

          Judging use of a product by its sale availability is basically wrongheaded. You might also note that the phones for sale are probably not in service.

          • by fm6 (162816)

            When I said "a lot of people" I meant "hundreds", which is enough to account for those eBay sales. And I very much doubt that that many are being sold for use as planters.

            I also have to quibble with your sig. Not all trolls are ACs. Some are even editors [slashdot.org].

        • by jandrese (485)
          Actually, big areas of the country are tone dialing only. Usually entire regions are switched over as part of an equipment upgrade. When this happens, the phone company basically calls everybody who is still sending pulses down the line and tells them that in 1 month or whatever their old pulse phones won't work anymore. They typically offer to upgrade any archaic pulse-only phones for free when this happens.

          Given that this switchover was hitting even semi-rural areas like Bluefield, WV several years
          • by Shakrai (717556)

            I'd bet that your average American Slashdotter would discover that switching their phone to "pulse" would prevent it from successfully dialing.

            I still have a rotary phone. Old school Ma Bell phone with an actual ringer in it. It worked just fine five minutes ago.

        • Do they still make phones with a pulse/tone switch? Seems strange, since the last pulse-only POTS service disappeared a long time ago.

          Disappeared? Maybe in the first world country where you live. My university still has an internal pulse-only network.

    • by drfireman (101623)

      Great analogy. If the switch to tone dialing were being made today, pulse dialing phones would still work, but it would take upwards of a minute to connect after dialing. For many customers, pulse dialing would either sporadically or completely stop working completely, and the phone company would tell you they can't fix it. To fix the problem you would have to get a tone dialing phone and upgrade your service with the new tone dialing package. Within 18 months, the phone company would introduce new ultr

  • by Belial6 (794905) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:37PM (#26314283)
    This is nothing new. When AT&T and Cingular merged, They started "not repairing" the AT&T towers. When I called about the problem, I was told that when Cingular took over the towers, they were not given the passwords to maintain them (an obvious lie), but that if I wanted to sign a new 2 year contract, I could start receiving a signal again with a plan that had less minutes and cost more per month. After much arguing, they eventually just let me cancel my current plan with them and I moved to Verizon. (Yes, I know that they are evil too.)

    I found it unbelievable that anyone would pay more, receive less, and sign a new contract with a company that just failed to live up to their old contract. Unfortunately, my pessimistic view of the general public was once again shown to be overly optimistic.
    • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @07:34PM (#26315531)

      That's incorrect.

      First of all, in many areas of the country, AT&T (merged) sold the Cingular towers off to T-Mobile (this was the case in California). They only used the AT&T towers.

      There was a complex migration, you could read a lot about it by the people who tracked the switchover on howardforums.com.

      The only thing that you say that does make sense is about your reception. If you had an old AT&T "Blue" SIM, your phone would not access any Cingular towers. But the only thing you had to do to fix it was to get a new "Orange" SIM (which were literally orange). If you didn't didn't do this soon after the merger, you started to see reduced coverage rather quickly. A new SIM should be free if you complain about your coverage to AT&T's customer line (not a store, the stores always want to put you under contract as there is money it in for them). But even if you couldn't swing that, a new SIM can be purchased for $20, no contract extension necessary.

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        No, it is not incorrect.

        What AT&T did when they made the brief switch to Cingular that dropped coverage is irrelevant. The service that was contracted for with AT&T stopped being supplied. Personally, I knew that they were lying which is why I put "not repaired" in quotes, and specifically said "an obvious lie". That doesn't change the fact that phones that previously worked and were under contract stopped working as a direct result of AT&T/Cingular's actions, and "not being repaired due t
      • by LackThereof (916566) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @07:22AM (#26319283)

        This is also the case for me.

        I was a Cingular customer pre-merger. I started seeing my service degrade slowly; I noticed it more prominently when I got a new 3g capable phone.

        I went to an AT&T store, told them my problem. They gave me a new SIM card, and all my reception issues went away. The clerk said it was common; he said that phones with the old pre-merger SIM cards wouldn't connect to all the towers, so they were trying to give everyone new SIM cards. Not sure how much of that was actually technically accurate, but the core of it is that a free, up-to-date SIM card solves all problems.

    • by Shakrai (717556)

      After much arguing, they eventually just let me cancel my current plan with them and I moved to Verizon. (Yes, I know that they are evil too.)

      Verizon is evil but they do actually take some pride in their network. I've never known them to make changes that screw existing customers out of service. Here in the Northeast it's pretty hard to beat their coverage. At the end of the day what else matters?

  • I'm not sure if any of you have actually tried to test AT&T's network coverage, but this http://www.wireless.att.com/coverageviewer/ [att.com] is a very generous map for where you can get "good coverage" in the middle of the country. If you want a better idea of where you're get good coverage, zoom in one level from the furthest out. A lot of that partner coverage is subpar. Then look where their 3G coverage is. That's really where you're going to get a "great" signal. For two examples look at Wichita, or Omaha:
    • The cell phone coverage maps viewed at a national scale are virtually indistinguishable. They all work everywhere in densely populated territory, and only near a highway in rural areas. All the providers refuse to build towers in areas where they can't get enough customers to make money off of them.

  • by nbahi15 (163501) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:09AM (#26317489) Homepage

    For me I choose AT&T over technology. I have no love for the company but GSM/UMTS is a worldwide technology, and for better or worse I am backing the standard. Verizon, and Sprint both deal in proprietary technology, which in my opinion is the real problem in the US. The FCC has allowed companies to use cell technology, nasty contracts, and DRM technologies (SIMLOCK) to provide customer lock-in. IMHO the FCC should dictate the technology, and it should be the same path most countries are on, GSM/UMTS/LTE. They should also disallow the contractual lock-in, and SIM locking.

    The government picking a technology standard that enables US customers to have real choice is a good thing.

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