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July 5, 2010

Apple iPhones overstating AT&T's network strength

The iPhone 4 is Apple's fourth version of the popular smartphone that shook up the mobile device industry upon its release in 2007. More than 1.7 million iPhones were sold within the first three days of its release on June 24, making it Apple's most successful product launch in history.

But the company has been catching a lot of criticism in technology news outlets and blogs for what some believe is a faulty antenna design. Videos have sprouted across the Internet (see above) that show people gripping the phone and, moments later, noting how it loses signal strength.

And two Baltimore residents -- Kevin McCaffrey of Nottingham and Linda Wrinn of Baltimore -- are at the forefront of a class-action lawsuit filed last week against Apple over the antenna reception issue. (Neither McCaffrey or Wrinn could be reached for comment for this article.)

Apple promoted the phone's new antenna design -- which wraps around the steel frame of the phone -- as a feature that would improve reception, and not potentially hamper it.

Apple has tried to dismiss the chatter by saying that all cell phones lose signal strength, by one or more bars, when gripped. And, in a news statement last week, the company also said that its investigation of the issue unearthed another problem: the iPhone's miscalculation of signal strength.

Essentially, iPhones have been generously overstating the signal strength that AT&T -- Apple's exclusive wireless carrier for the phone -- offers on its network to iPhone users.

“Upon investigation,” Apple disclosed last week, “we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars.”

This disclosure is surprising because anytime a company admits to overstating anything, consumers should take note. Basically, Apple's iPhone has erroneously -- and as far as we know, inadvertently -- given AT&T's network more signal strength than it deserves to show on the iPhone.

In short, Apple's iPhones have been exaggerating the strength of AT&T's 3G network.

So, Apple will soon release a software fix that enables the iPhone 4 (and the 3Gs and the 3G versions) to more accurately read AT&T signal strength. The upshot: iPhone users will get a better reading of the strength of AT&T's network -- one that will jibe with a prevailing consumer sentiment that AT&T's 3G network can’t handle iPhones, at least with voice calls, especially in big cities such as New York and San Francisco.

I own an iPhone 4 and I have definitely noticed that when the phone has five full bars, and I grip it firmly in my left hand, it drops by two or three bars. When I release the phone, about five to 10 seconds later, the bars return.

But my ultimate conclusion is that my call quality thus far has not been affected, and my connection to the Internet -- for checking email and surfing the Web -- also works the same as past versions of the iPhone I've owned. At least for me.

So, for now, I'll wait to see if Apple's upcoming software fix – which will also be available for its previous 3Gs and 3G iPhone versions -- will have an impact before I decide whether to return it.

Cool App of the Week:

Fans of National Public Radio will likely enjoy its new iPhone app: NPR Music. The app, which is a free download, gives the user access to the broadcaster’s written stories about music, plus a huge library of interviews and musical performances from both new and established artists available for on-demand listening. A version of the app for the Android mobile phone platform is in the works.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 7:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: *NEWS*


The video is misleading. WHO HOLDS THEIR PHONE LIKE THIS? Besides, there are plenty of other wireless devices that can be choked out (see HTC Desire video on youtube not to mention countless anecdotal stories posted on line about other devices that users have begun cradling to death since the iphone 4 was released) by covering the antennas.

I have a simple answer to the filers of the class action suit: RETURN THE PHONE IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT. No one forced you to buy it... and no one is forcing you to keep it. If you don't like it, return it... for a full refund. What is the problem here??

The fact is that the majority of users can't choke the iphone 4 - go search the forums for happy customers and they are out there. Using the internet as a barometer of satisfaction is highly unreliable... the complainers will complain while the folks who are satisfied happily go on with their lives.

The other fact is that you should consider buying a case for your 199-299 dollar phone. I bought one on sale for $4.99 from This eliminates the issue. Either that or find some other way to cover the antenna area... lots of cheap alternatives have been offered.

As for AT&T's network: it's stumbling ability to function is vastly overrated. Just look at this article posted in pcworld:

Also, I read an article that quoted an antenna expert. His take on the bars? He said they aren't important... the most important measurement is dropped calls. I live in the DC/MD area and I rarely if ever have an issue with AT&T.

There is too much hysteria and hype over the wrongs of the iphone 4 and At&T. Again, if you don't like it... then take your business elsewhere. I can't believe how much attention such a simple issue has been given.

An in-depth analysis by Anandtech contributors Brian Klug & Anand Lal Shimpi suggests a very clear explanation of the iPhone 4 reception issue. This explanation not only makes technical sense, but makes the fundamental argument behind Apple's open letter MOOT.

I have been in the downtown Atlanta area on business for about a week and I have noticed that my calls have been dropping frequently.

I did the "death grip" test and sure to form,the bars dropped.

I am glad that Apple has addressed this problem, but it begs the question: Why did it take so long?

The iphone 4 seems to have a new problem popping up every day. First the reception problems and now the signal strength problem that has apparently been a problem for years. I think the Android phones are going to give the iphone a run for it's money.

Not so sure it is overstating ATT network as it is overstating iPhone4 , or any
iPhone for that fact, RF performance.

I am am iPhone user with ATT but never had or have problems with my blackberry, my wifes Palm, or the kids Android phones.... Hmmm... That Darn ATT network seems to discriminate against iPhones only! Surely must ne ATT and not Apple!

Gus, good follow up to your July 2nd article. Thanks.

Apple, Apple, Apple. What has happened to you? Just three weeks ago you were riding high on the iPad and the iPhone 4's pending launch. Then you let AT&T kill the unlimited data plan and gave us a phone that has lots of problems. You gave us a lame response from a petulant CEO and now you cannot even get the mea culpa right in iteration #3 or 4.

Read this awesome article that lays into Apple for its quasi apology. Very funny.

Apple have known about this "fault" for years. In 2008 they released a software update which supposedly 'fixed' the same issue and gave everyone a couple of extra bars of service.
The truth? Service quality didn't and won't change. The iPhone has just been reporting this wrong, deliberately or not

Kevin McCaffrey of Nottingham and Linda Wrinn of Baltimore illustrate a prime symptom of what is wrong with America. If you have a problem with the iPhone, Apple provides a very simple solution. Return the phone for a complete refund. Suing to get rich or to get noted is just plain stupid. Good luck on that law suit...

I have an iPhone 3G and my partner has a new iPhone 4. Side by side, holding the phone in our left hand and using the right to navigate (since we are both right-handed) his new phone loses signal and drops data while mine has full signal and connectivity. This is NOT a software issue. Go to Apple's website and watch the keynote address from WWDC. Watch the part where Steve Jobs was demonstrating the new iPhone and could not load a webpage and yelled at everyone in attendance to turn off their wifi - LOOK HOW HE WAS HOLDING THE PHONE. Remember when Gizmodo got ahold of the prototype? It was found inside a case that made it look like the previous model - which covered the metal antenna of the new model. This was not tested properly. Now, Apple is going to update everyone's software and make it look like they have less coverage when they do - and then blame all the dropped data and calls on AT&T, instead of owning up to their own design flaws.

I'm really getting frustrated with my At&t service, I can't even have a good 2 minute talk on my iphone without getting a call drop!I heard Verizon might provide a service for apple in the near feature so hopefully they would provide a much better phone service...

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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

Gus has a wife, a young daughter and two feuding cats. They live in Northeast Baltimore.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

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