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Problems continue for the hot new phone; Apple locks down angry users' threads

The iPhone 3G was supposed to be Apple's latest media darling, the successor to the device Time magazine called the "invention of the year".  In some effects the iPhone 3G has achieved this mercurial success -- but perhaps in sales only.  It quickly sold 1 million phones and oodles of applications and has cruised comfortably to sales of 3 million phones worldwide.

However, problems have prevented ever since launch.  The launch was muddled by problems connecting to Apple's servers.  Then there were reports that the new iPhone's plastic casing, part of the price cutting measures that had slashed the iPhone's price from $399 to $199, was defective and cracking.

Now more tough news has come for Apple with reports that the iPhone 3G is committing the cardinal sin of cell phones -- being unable to make a good connection consistently in covered areas.  The Apple message boards are ablaze with angry users complaining of dropped calls or poor call quality even with relatively good signal strength.

One user, Mr. Yarbrough, a 34-year-old accountant, describes, "I was driving down Folsom Street in San Francisco, and I got a dropped call 10 times. I get dropped calls just standing in one place.  I'm extremely annoyed, but I'm hopeful a software update will fix it."

It is unclear exactly how widespread the problem is as the message boards are a poor way to ascertain levels of failure.  The main thread on the Apple boards had 746 comments, when it was locked by Apple, allegedly because it, "was too long and some browsers were timing out."  Further adding to the difficulty of coming to any such metrics is the fact that Apple is denying that anything out of the ordinary is going on

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel states, "How a device performs in individual situations depends on circumstances like where you are in the 3G coverage, how close you are to a cell site. Things like terrain and buildings all come into play.  I'm not denying that people are having a less than satisfactory experience, but overall, the phone is doing great."

So what exactly is causing the problems?  Some users say that the problem is with faulty SIM cards.  They say after replacing the card their quality improved and problems disappeared.  However, one analyst, Richard Windsor of Nomura, is entirely convinced that the Infineon chipset on the phone is the source of the problems.  He says the dropped calls, service interruptions, and abrupt network switches resemble problems that phones with Infineon-based 3G chips had when first launching in Europe.

He writes, "We believe that these issues are typical of an immature chipset and radio protocol stack where we are almost certain that Infineon is the 3G supplier.  This is not surprising as the Infineon 3G chipset solution has never really been tested in the hands of users. Some people will not experience these problems as it is only in areas where the radio signal weakens that the immaturity of the stack really shows."

He says that no firmware update will fix the flawed phones.  However, he adds the problems may be limited to a specific batch of phones or certain build of the phone.  Who is to blame?  Mr. Nomura says to blame Apple.  He says, "this shows the risk of not going with a tried and tested solution."

Infineon says it’s looking into whether Mr. Nomura's comments on the chipset never before seeing deployment was true.

In the meantime problems continue to pile on from around the world.  T-Mobile Netherlands, frustrated by similar connection issues, has issued a statement acknowledging that problems exist and blaming its partner Apple for them.  The company posted a blog in Dutch, which crudely translates to, "The 3G coverage of T-Mobile is as good as the competition, there can therefore not lie (sic). We suspect that it is a hardware / software specific issue of the iPhone itself."

It appears that T-Mobile is currently the only partner to have acknowledged the problems. 

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ATT is just a useless monolith
By Phreedom on 8/13/2008 11:51:41 AM , Rating: 2
Six months ago: Ordered 4 original Iphones from ATT sales (over the phone), they charged the company card for all four but only shipped three. Reason? They have a policy of only allowing a max of three purchases over the phone. 8 man hours later, countless phone calls, a credit card dispute and a veiled threat to file suit against ATT, they finally refunded the money for the fourth Iphone.

The first gen Iphones worked ok but "More bars in more places" is simply not true, at least for the San Diego area. Having used Verizon and T-Mobile, I know this first hand. Additionally, Wife and I road tripped to Northern California this past June. My first gen Iphone had far more areas of "no bars" or "weak bars" and significantly more dropped calls. Her Verizon phone had far better reception and only a few dropped calls in remote areas.

That being said, I love to inflict pain on myself so I went ahead and purchased the 3G Iphone. After the first few days, I simply turned the 3G chip off because of ATT's sorely lacking 3G coverage. Absolutely useless.

In spite of all that, the sheer coolness of this phone makes all the negative aspects of having it (mainly ATT) tolderable..but just barely.

I'll say this, as soon as Apple's contract with ATT expires and other carriers get the Iphone, I'll be leading the pack in the mass exodus of ATT. Early termination fee or not, I'm gone.

RE: ATT is just a useless monolith
By phazers on 8/13/2008 12:26:37 PM , Rating: 2
Just my 2 cents worth: I had to sic the FCC on AT&T several years ago, as AT&T refused to drop me as a customer after my contract expired. Despite calling (and being disconnected by AT&T customer service), emailing, letter-writing and even sending a carrier pigeon, AT&T kept billing me month after month and assessing me nonpayment penalties and threatening my credit rating. Luckily I kept notes and copies of every communication to them, which the FCC says to do.

After the FCC made their inquiry, AT&T got very nice and wanted to know what my problem was and that they would do everything possible to resolve it. So I wrote back and told them that their cellphone service sucked bags of wind compared to Verizon or even Sprint, their customer service made Nazi Stormtroopers look good in comparison, and that I hoped they would go bankrupt and die a painful corporate death as soon as possible.

Shortly thereafter they sent me a refund check for my last month's service and never bothered me again...

Although I have nothing against the iPhone, I would never, ever go with AT&T again.


By djdjohnson on 8/13/2008 12:27:29 PM , Rating: 2
If you look into the "more bars and more places" claim, it is based on global coverage, not domestic coverage (watch the fine print in their commercials). Yet the vast, vast, vast majority of global coverage isn't provided by AT&T. So they have to rely on the GSM coverage of other GSM carriers to make that claim.

Long story short: AT&T has inferior coverage to the other national carriers.

RE: ATT is just a useless monolith
By AlexWade on 8/13/2008 1:28:15 PM , Rating: 2
I will agree that AT&T has a lot to work on. Their customer service is inept. At least they aren't rude like Sprint. But this iPhone problem is not AT&T's fault. Users across the world are reporting problems with the iPhone on 3G. Some people were saying that their phone worked fine until a firmware update.

Have fun with that waiting game. Apple loves exclusivity. No way anytime soon will Apple leave AT&T.

It has been my experience that in smaller cities, AT&T is second to none but in larger cities AT&T is bad. For instance, I live in a minor city. My AT&T service is great. I go to a bigger city, and I have some problems. Mostly my problems are with full towers. And so when traveling and the phone has to switch towers and the tower is being switched to is full, your call is dropped. When staying with one tower, I never ever get a dropped call. AT&T just needs to upgrade the capacity of their towers.

By robinthakur on 8/14/2008 5:45:08 AM , Rating: 2
My 10 cents. I think its very easy for anecdotal evidence and hysteria to spread on the net, and this seems to be the case here. Whilst I don't think Apple should censor its customers, what's to stop people or even competitors going on their discussion boards and conducting malicious campaigns of posting? For one reason or another, Apple definitely attracts its fair share of trolls, just take a look around here. Apple should state that the problem is being investigated before locking the thread. I'm sure it is being looked into already, but some greater urgency and transparency would be appreciated.

My direct experiential evidence with the iPhone 3G is that it was a little rough when I got it but since 2.0.1 it has improved in leaps and bounds. The Network carrier is responsible for the signal strength to use the device though this is really Apple's fault in tying it to one carrier. I have been using iPhones since they were released and prefer the latest 3G over the orginal despite the more robust metal frame on the original.

Now, to qualify this, I work in the centre of London and a 3G signal is strong pretty much no matter where I go. Were that not to be the case, your experience may differ. Certainly, cellphone signals in the US are at a much more immature state than in Europe. If a 3G signal is not available, the iPhone drops back to Edge then GPRS for me. That's what I'd expect it to do and it does it fine. I've not had 1 dropped call on my iPhone 3G even with 2.0 firmware. There have also not been any cracks or general problems with the housing on my 16GB white (1 month old now)

The only major problem I had with it was when it got stuck in a restore loop after apdating to 2.0.1 but that was easy enough to fix.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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