Friday, July 3, 2009

A Walk in the Park

Two years ago, when I tried out the original iPhone, I was successful in using it in a local large park, a couple miles from my home. So, I knew when trying out the Pre and the 3GS, I needed to make a return trip and test the speed and browsing from a friendly picnic table. One reason this is a good location is the presence of a cell site atop a nearby water tower just south of the park. Cell service in the park is generally very good.

So, what did I discover? For starters, both phones showed 5 bars and the EV/3G indicators on. I fired up the browsers and loaded the iconic Web site, and got timings of 28 seconds on the Pre and 21 seconds on the 3GS. I also loaded, a site I visit every day. Again the 3GS bested the Pre 16 seconds to 33. I also ran several mobile speed tests (downloading a random file) from Here it got more interesting. On the Pre, I got speeds (in kbps) of 444, 654, 685, and 229. On the 3GS, the results were: fail, 804, 989, 215, fail, fail. So, while it achieved higher speeds at times, the iPhone (on AT&T) also failed to connect half the time!! This is similar to the experience that PC World got in it's tests, (wherein AT&T failed to connect about 1/3 of the time.

This was a quiet Friday night with hardly anyone in town! What would happen when the circuits are busy? The AT&T network seems shakey, at best.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Day in the Life of 3G

My various speed tests led me to want a better understanding of the cellphone data networks, so I did some Wikipedia and Google research (mostly fruitless and confusing) trying to make sense of 2G, 2.75G, 3G, EVDO, 1xRTT, EDGE, HSDPA, etc. I came away more baffled than ever. This is not surprising, since there (apparently intentionally) is no standard of comparison.

I did find an article from PC World, however, that shed major light on the issues. I highly recommend it: "A Day in the Life of 3G". The summary:

"During March and April, we spent a day testing the major 3G services in 13 cities across the United States. Verizon's service showed a combination of speed and reliability, Sprint's results lent credence to its 'most dependable' claim, and AT&T's network showed fast upload speeds in most cities."

But, read the entire article, and you will learn a lot. The meaninglessness of "bars", for example, and the importance of "backhaul".

And remember: the Network is as important, if not more important, than the Device. And all data service (like politics) is local! Your results may vary, so test them before you commit to a two-year, multi-thousand dollar contract.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How's the Northern Network?

We took a weekend trip to our summer place "up North" (about 20 miles southeast of Traverse City). This was a prime test of the speed of the Pre and also the iPhone 3GS. How far would the 3G networks extend? In the past, I've had pretty good Sprint service on the Treo 700p and even ok on the old 600 (almost 5 years ago!). This is important, since we have no phone or internet service at the old 1911 farmhouse; even electricity was an add-on!

It didn't take long to find out. On our drive, just north of Lansing (the other side of I-69) the iPhone dropped off the 3G service and onto Edge. It never recovered all weekend. This is consistent with the AT&T coverage maps. Sprint, on the other hand, has pockets of 3G around most cities and along long stretches of the highways. Over two days I took many speed readings and Web site load times, the Pre ranged from 80-900 kbps; the iPhone from 20-190.

To be fair, at our summer house, both were on 2G in the range of 80-150. This is much better than 2 years ago, when AT&T had no service (phone or otherwise) at all. But overall, Sprint is a more consistent network. There were multiple times when the iPhone wouldn't connect or would drop service. On Sprint, there was only one data dead spot -- southeast of Cadillac along M-115. In that area, only roaming phone service was available.

Bottom line: if you want smartphone highspeed data service in Michigan north of the 3 main metro areas, stick to Sprint, and avoid AT&T.