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Cellphones Wireless Networking Hardware

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

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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  • Centro (Score:4, Informative)

    by __aapmis4709 ( 1443729 ) * on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:50PM (#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:Why so serious? (Score:4, Informative)

    by FishWithAHammer ( 957772 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:20PM (#26314165)

    You do realize that the "many" are currently 2/2.5G phone users? Users locked into a contract that means you can't upgrade (without paying a pretty nasty chunk of change)?

  • they already chose (Score:3, Informative)

    by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:29PM (#26314227)

    I had my 2G (quad band) phone in Europe. I only ever got EDGE once, and that was in the complete sticks.

    The rest of the time, I only got GPRS. This is because that's all that was offered, GPRS and 3G.

    So far from being an idyllic solution, it seems in Europe the outcome is even more decided for you.

  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:31PM (#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 Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:37PM (#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 Fast Thick Pants ( 1081517 ) <(fastthickpants) (at) (> on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:39PM (#26314301)

    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!!!!

  • Re:FCC? (Score:5, Informative)

    by pin0chet ( 963774 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:02PM (#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.
  • by tonytnnt ( 1335443 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:08PM (#26314521)
    I'm not sure if any of you have actually tried to test AT&T's network coverage, but this [] 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 cities are fine, but as soon as you go outside of it, you're SOL. Same for most of the mountain-west. I just hate seeing AT&T maps with orange coverage everywhere when really, it's not. Such a crock.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:37PM (#26314741)

    "AT&T's "2G" network was the pre-GSM TDMA network. The iPhone works on the 3G GSM network.

    What is happening here is degradation of the stronger 900Mhz spectrum of the 3G GSM network which has twice the distance but half the capacity, because north america's UMTS runs on the 900Mhz band, so they can't expand the UMTS without degrading this."

              100% wrong.

              Marketingwise, AT&T called the TDMA network "digital". (Which is a poor term but that's what they used.) They did not call it 2G.

              iPhone *3G* works on a 3G UMTS network. There is no 3G GSM network. GSM is classified 2G, or some call it "2.5G" as long as EDGE is working. The older iPhone doesn't use 3G anything. If anyone does talk about "3G GSM" they are either talking about UMTS or just technobabbling a bit.

              There is no 900mhz service in the US, 900mhz and 1800mhz are used in Europe (for GSM). 800mhz and 1900mhz bands are used in the US (for whatever they want.)

              800mhz spectrum penetrates buildings better and goes a bit further than 1900mhz spectrum. This isn't always considered an advantage in the city though, they tend to have to tune the transmit power so neighboring sites don't interfere with each other.. if they have a lot of cell sites in an area, they will just have to turn the transmit power down at 800mhz so that extra range doesn't cause interference.

              There's no capacity difference between "900mhz" (i assume you mean 800mhz) and 1900mhz spectrum. You get x channels in y mhz of spectrum either way. In fact, the 800mhz spectrum was given out in 25mhz chunks (12.5mhz up, 12.5mhz down) (2 chunks per market) versus 1900mhz being more often 10mhz or 20mhz chunks (6 per market), so an 800mhz band actually has more capacity than a single band of 1900mhz.

              Finally.. UMTS runs at both 800 and 1900mhz in the US, it's up to AT&T to decide where to put it. Since UMTS is allocated in 5mhz pairs though, you use 40% of the 800mhz spectrum for each block of UMTS.. meaning it has room for 2 channels of UMTS, with the remainder left over for a little GSM.

              And the row here seems to be that AT&T is moving exessive amounts of GSM from 800mhz to 1900mhz and not setting the transmit powers and such right, so coverage is reduced. They would move this GSM to 1900mhz to make room for 800mhz UMTS -- either the first channel, or a second additional channel if they already had one at 800mhz.

              Just wanted to clear this up.

  • Re:Why so serious? (Score:2, Informative)

    by KStrike155 ( 1242390 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:46PM (#26314811)
    You're right, AT&T locks you into a service. But you're wrong about the phone aspect. You can not just go in and get a new phone by signing a new 2-year agreement. You need to have had your old phone for a certain period of time (that varies by the type of plan you're on).

    FishWithAHammer was saying that you can't upgrade without paying full retail price to AT&T, or by saving a bit of money buying it online. Either way, you're out a large chunk of money unless you're eligible to upgrade.
  • by Breakfast Pants ( 323698 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:46PM (#26314823) Journal

    If you read your contract with ATT, you will realize that any such lawsuit will have to go to arbitration, with a phone-industry appointed panel of phone industry lobbyists.

  • by Cousin Scuzzy ( 754180 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @07:24PM (#26315069)

    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 predictability of the problem gradually increased until I had no service every single evening when I returned home from work.

    I called Cingular (or AT&T, I can't remember which it was at the time) regularly and spent hours both on hold and troubleshooting with their customer service representatives. They sent me a used phone, the same antiquated model as mine, to try out. It had the exact same problem. Throughout it all they denied vehemently that there were any issues with their service or any specific tower(s). Naturally, their suggestion was to sign up for a new 2 year contract with a GSM phone.

    At the time I strongly suspected that they were intentionally degrading the service to weed out the old technology, but not until I read your post just now did I get any degree of confirmation. You were lucky to eventually get through to someone who was truthful with you. I have no problem with changing technology, but feel that it is unacceptable to intentionally degrade the service your customers are paying for with no warning, no explanation, and no positive incentive to move to the new technology. This was the treatment they were giving me after subscribing to their service for 7 years.

    I decided to complain with my wallet, so rather than sign up again with AT&T I switched to T-Mobile. Of course then I had endless problems with T-Mobile charging me for hundreds of phantom text messages and I ended up dropping them shortly thereafter. Sadly, I'm back with AT&T now. At least my 2 year contract is up so now I can try to find a competent, honest provider if such a thing exists in the US.

  • Re:FCC? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2009 @07:30PM (#26315113)

    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) need to step back every once in a while and marvel at how amazing it is that you can talk on a cell phone at all instead of constantly complaining that they don't get reception in one location (but hell no you aren't going to build a tower in *my* neighborhood).

  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:00PM (#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 [].

  • by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:34PM (#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

    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 Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Saturday January 03, 2009 @09:34PM (#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.

  • Re:Not that much.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @10:12PM (#26316267) Homepage

    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 zQuo ( 1050152 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @10:28PM (#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!
  • Re:FCC? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @02:00AM (#26317767) Journal

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 04, 2009 @03:16AM (#26318035)

    I worked for them, officially TDMA was called 2G and GSM pre-UMTS was called 2.5G (EDGE). The article summary is incorrect, it's not the 2G network that's being degraded, as there should be nobody on it. It's the 3G 850Mhz GSM network being degraded. The iPhone 3G is in fact a UMTS capable GSM device, so it wouldn't be affected if the UMTS signal is available and enabled.

    Somewhere during the cingular merger, 2.5G GSM became 3G. I quit when the **** started to hit the fan because trying to sell a cingular plan to a ATTWS customer was a pain in the effing ass.

    I was fully aware of what I was writing, and for all intents and purposes, I know this is slashdot, nobody is going to spend more than a minute reading a 0 score comment, so I truncated the comment to just the logical conclusion.

    The TDMA/AMPS system was on 800Mhz, internally at ATTWS this is called the 800Mhz network, even though it was really on 850. The 1900Mhz network is what the GSM network started on. T-Mobile at the time was still only operating on the 1900Mhz network, and up until the "no more roaming" GSM plans became active you were getting crap for GSM coverage in most cities because they were all a patchwork of 1900Mhz networks.

    This is the same 1900Mhz patchwork people are getting bumped back to. You may be getting crap service because the ATTWS 1900Mhz bandwidth in the area is less than the T-Mobile bandwidth in the same cell area, and because it's cheaper to use the "home" network than the roaming provider, the phone is ALWAYS going to prefer the home provider even if it's of inferior quality.

    Next point. With the introduction of the 850Mhz networks (for the sake of simplicity, all the US frequencies between 800Mhz and 900Mhz for cell phones are "the 850Mhz" network, but that's too hard for people to remember what their phones actually do, blame Nokia) and removal of AMPS and TDMA capacity from the system, it becomes available for 3G GSM, or at the time "2.5G". All the 850Mhz equipment was rolled out EDGE enabled, which gave them a hammer to hit cingular and T-mobile with. But the only phones/devices that supported it at roll out were the Nokia 6200, a device I still have.

    So what is happening now is the 850Mhz networks are the newer of the equipment installed (circa 2004), and ATTWS is just flipping the switch, so to speak, The UMTS networks are getting the bandwidth that was previously allocated to GSM from AMPS/TDMA.

    To add insult to injury, Apple's marketing of the original iPhone without the "3G" effectively makes people think that their current GSM iPhone isn't 3G. It is 3G. As far as ATTWS is concerned at least.

    In reality, the original iPhone is a 2.5G (EDGE) device. The iPhone 3G is a 3.5G device. EDGE was originally supposed to be rolled out for TDMA, not GSM.

    So a "3G" defacto marketing is really a GSM phone with a minimum of EDGE.
    A "2G" GSM device is one incapable of EDGE or only capable of GPRS.

    The "2.5" GSM devices sold by ATTWS, without EDGE, were in fact "2G" devices. However the Siebel billing system used by ATTWS pre-cingular used "2.5G" in everything under GSM, including UMTS, EXCEPT if you were upgrading from TDMA to GSM, in which you would be transferred to the "3G" department.

    Confused yet?

    ATTWS marketing, pre-cingular, called all TDMA devices, pre-GSM, "2G"
    All GSM devices, were called "2.5"G and UMTS devices were called "3G", except if you were calling in for customer service, in which "2G or Digital" was one phone number and "3G" was the other. We just told people to check for the SIM card, if they couldn't find it, back to TDMA you go.

    Post Cingular, All the GSM devices started being called 3G, regardless if they had internet features or not.

    So the original iPhone, under current marketing, was in fact a 3G device. The iPhone 3G, is also a 3G device. However since the iPhone 3G does UMTS, and the original iPhone does EDGE, they are both "3G" as far as the GSM marketing is concerned.

    It would be more appropriate, to call the i

  • by LackThereof ( 916566 ) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @08:22AM (#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.

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