Today’s Quandary for Tomorrow’s Technology

Verizon is expected to announce their iPhone tomorrow… what to do?

What to do?!

Long time readers may remember that I purposely purchased my iPhone 4 from Apple this past June (or July) for the full, unsubsidized price of $599. Why would I do such an outrageous thing? Well… because AT&T was trying to screw me, telling me that I didn’t qualify for the early adopter price ($399) until Nov-2010 and I wouldn’t qualify for the fully subsidized price ($199) until Feb-2011. My thought was “I’ll get an iPhone 4s or iPhone 5 in the summer of 2011 anyway… Apple never lowers the price of anything – I’ll wait until summer and “split the discount” across two years.” Sounded like a good idea at the time.

Then Windows Phone 7 released to the world. That was the first hit to my well laid plan because some of that hardware is down right sexy and the OS has been pretty good, from what I’ve seen. They got a Kindle app now and Angry Birds will end up there at some point… but I resisted. So far anyway.

Now there’s the iPhone on Verizon. So what?

That’s the problem… the iPhone 4 has been a shitty phone. Hand down, it’s shitty, in terms of making or receiving voice calls. I’ve had better luck calling people on Skype for voice calls than using the AT&T network for them, and that’s sad because 60% of my monthly bill involves voice minutes. All that money for a service that rarely works, much less works well. *sigh* Dropped calls, missed calls, lost calls – friend of mine didn’t get Voice Mail for days – and a lot of “hey, you’re breaking up” moments. It is simply broken.

But why is it broken? The short answer is that no one is sure why it’s broken, but there are many theories:

AT&T – Sure it could simply be AT&T’s network. It could be that their 3G service is just horrifically bad, even in a populated city like Seattle. Or New York. Hard to say, but I’m not talking about some po’dunk town here. Like Connecticut. I’m talking like major city with tons of signal and I still can’t call, drop calls, or don’t get calls, all the time. In Redmond, where you can arguably stick a finger in the air and make a call without any hardware, my iPhone gives me about 30 seconds of trouble-free calling a day. And other people have AT&T 3G phones and can use them to, well, make phone calls. Hard to say if the entire network is to blame or not.

iPhone Users – AT&T has often lamented that it has to deal with iPhone traffic. Because of this, I’m a firm believer that they are routing all of the iPhone traffic across a different network infrastructure than the rest of their phones. This is not uncommon, actually. RIM requires this for their data connections; so do other services for wireless carriers. So it is quite possible that AT&T has declared X% of their network for iPhone and there’s so many users on the system that it’s bogged down. One flaw in this path of logic is that around work there are a lot fewer iPhones than there used to be, so by all estimation, I should have better coverage at work, with fewer iPhone users on the network… sadly, it’s still shitty. Reliably shitty.

iPhone 4’s Antennae – not in so much about the whole “death grip” thing but just in general, how good is it really? GSM technologies are known to be worse than CDMA/1xRTT tech. Back in 2001, they had tweaked CDMA coverage in Hong Kong so well that PCMCIA modem cards worked, you had coverage in elevators, and when you cross the foot bridge from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, you literally had no coverage between the city and China proper. 0 coverage. Total dead zone, on purpose, to ease security concerns and roaming charges. Was like they had CDMA force fields up on the shore, but after talking to some tech ppl out there, they CDMA towers are just that good with regards to coverage. Anyway, there is the possibility that the antennae on the iPhone 4 just aren’t up to snuff. And that’s with or without a bumper… I used a bumper for a long while and had just as many problems without it.

iPhone 4’s Radio Stack – this could simply be FUD but it’s going to be mused about anyway. I’ve seen poorly implemented radio stacks while working on phones that were in alpha or beta testing. They could screw up a wet dream. In fact, they behaved just like the iPhone 4 does for me now: dropped calls, choppy voice… 5 bars showing on the device yet someone calls you and goes right to VM without the phone even knowing a call was coming in. Meanwhile, people that are using their Windows Phone 7 devices – also AT&T – are getting, making, and sustaining calls… unless Assertion #2 is to blame, there’s something other than AT&T’s network wrong here. There was also a web article a while back, explaining why iPhone 3Gs’s stack was lackluster for GSM based technologies… I have to imagine that if it was broken in 3Gs that’s still true for the 4, but there’s no confirmed “facts” that the stack is bad… one posting on the innertubes doesn’t make for dogma.

So, how do you fix something that’s obviously broken but you don’t know why it’s broken? I don’t know either… I could say screw it all and go Windows Phone 7 or I could go with the CDMA iPhone and really bollocks up my phone plan, calling patterns, and pay more money per month, since my AT&T data plan is still grandfathered as unlimited…

I think I’ll just wait and see what happens for a change.

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