Is There A Myth Behind Bars?

Reception_mc-1Of course the answer to the question in the headline of this post is yes. I don’t know if you’ve been following the recent testing going on regarding Apple’s woes with the new, some would say regrettably named, iPhone 3G, but there is a wave of influencers out there pointing their fingers more at the networks than at the hardware after these tests. Logic would seem to dictate that the test findings (which in essence boil down to ““it depends”) would reveal vagaries and differences. And this isn’t just true with the iPhone either. It affects other handsets and wireless cards and multiple networks.

That old saw, ““Your mileage may vary” is more than true here, even in the best of circumstances. We’ve all seen coverage dwindle away to nothing at conventions, sporting events, and any large confluence of users trying to access the network. But it brings up some interesting issues when it comes to truth in advertising, and perhaps even billing and accounting.


If a user goes over his/her precious cap they are charged more for doing so. Caps and tiered plans are bing floated around by broadband providers under the guise of protecting their networks, which simply translates into upping their profit margins. But unless a user really pushes hard, there is no reduction in the billing rate when service degrades and a device becomes unusable.

This past weekend I experienced a very interesting adventure. I was on duty for the shows we were performing at another location in the heart of what passes for a downtown in our largest town. On all previous times I had been there, I was able to have pretty good EDGE connection speeds. On Friday night, I noticed that I couldn’t get any data access at all over EDGE. The same was true on Saturday. Intriguingly at home (about 1.5 miles away) I had no problem receiving a connection. Between shows, I decided to take a quick jaunt (about 6 blocks) to the local AT&T store and see if they had any idea why this could be. When I walked into the store the first salesman I ran into seemed to anticipate my question. After doing a hard reset on the phone (I had already done this previously) we walked over to the test phones on display, and embarrassingly enough (for him) he couldn’t access the web on any test phone (not just iPhones) in the store. After some checking he discovered that AT&T was doing some repair work on a local tower (intriguingly enough located on the campus of where we were performing). They began that work on Friday and weren’t going to complete it over the weekend.

So essentially for that section of our downtown, you were out of luck if you were an AT&T customer for the weekend. What’s interesting is that your device has no way of telling you this. A full array of bars and an ‘E’ are both present.


Only half-jokingly I asked the salesman if AT&T was going to knock something off of the bill for customers in this area since in his words, ““this is basically a brick with a phone this weekend.” The pained look on his face said it all.


Apple (and other handset makers) may, at the moment, think they have a  get out of jail free card, based on this latest testing publicity, and the carriers may be sweating a little bit more than usual. But in the end, it is the customers who are stuck trying to figure out what’s going on behind the bars.


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