Regular readers know that I’ve been singularly unimpressed with Apple’s choice of Cingular (later AT&T) as the exclusive US carrier for the Jesus Phone. It’s not just the idea of a five-year exclusive (which made sense under the old business model but not the new one), but also the mediocre quality of the Cingular’s US mobile phone network.
The iPhone 3G was supposed to take advantage of AT&T’s wonderful new HSDPA network. Promoters of this UMTS (W-CDMA aka 3GSM) technology claimed it would deliver downloads at “8-10 Mbps”. AT&T invites prospective customers to “Download and surf on the nation’s fastest 3G network.”
At the same time, iPhone 3G user are unhappy with their network performance. Wired asked its readers around the world to run a test to report their actual download speed, to distinguish between iPhone performance problems and network performance problems. Here is what they found:
- Tests in Germany and the Netherlands achieved 2,000 Kbps.
- Tests in Canada delivered 1,330 Kbps
- AT&T provided an average speed of 990 Kbps
- The only carriers that were worse were two Australian carriers, with an average speed of 390 Kbps
In some major metropolitan areas that are supposedly 3G-rich, 3G performance can be very slow. For example, zooming in on San Francisco, you'll see that 10 out of 30 participants reported very slow 3G speeds — barely surpassing EDGE.The hypothesis is that AT&T didn’t buy enough 3G radios in the cities where the iPhone is most popular, and thus the network is getting overloaded.
As skeptical as I am about WCDMA and “wireless broadband” in general, AT&T here may have a slight advantage over its US rivals. On the wireline side, they finally have a solution that beats all DSL (although not a cable modem or FiOS or uverse). On the wireless side, neither of their EVDO rivals (Verizon, Sprint) do much better, claiming only 600-700 Kbps — although a July review of a Sprint modem measured an actual speed of 966 Kbps for its EVDO service.