9.16.2012 | The long-term view of LTE for the iPhone

I've been an AT&T customer for the better part of a decade now. With the exception of a brief, regrettable decision to try T-Mobile for a week in 2007, AT&T has been getting all of my wireless dollars for a couple of reasons: superior technology, and wider coverage. All of that changes with LTE (long-term evolution), the next generation of GSM technology (which once made AT&T the better choice) that is being deployed by all of AT&T's competitors: first Verizon, now Sprint, and soon T-Mobile.

When I stuck with AT&T through its problems with the iPhone, I supported the "underdog"—though people had complaints about AT&T's network, they were spending billions on upgrades, and I did see improved signal, especially in the DC area. But I still experience dropped calls, and since I moved to San Francisco I've seen frustrating dead zones (especially in the Inner Richmond) that have no sign of improving.

As I'm looking to upgrade to iPhone 5, if I wanted the best service in San Francisco, it's pretty clear I'd have to go with Verizon. Their LTE network is already deployed here, and in many other cities nationwide. But they're as expensive and limiting as AT&T, and I've never been a fan of their marketing.

As I look at Sprint, I see extremely limited LTE service that has a very strong chance to get better. With their partner Clearwire, they're going to provide hefty LTE service in urban areas that should avoid the need for Wi-Fi to be part of their basic network strategy as it was with AT&T. And with Google Voice integration, I'm going to be able to keep the personalized phone number I got with Google and use it with the iPhone's built-in phone and messaging software. That's pretty nifty.

Until I get the iPhone 5, T-Mobile is a tempting option now that my AT&T contract is up. With their SIM-only value plans, I can get the same level of service as AT&T for $65 a month instead of $100 (and my AT&T service is already discounted by 15%). But I'm not sure how extensive T-Mobile's iPhone-compatible (1900 MHz HSPA+) 3G coverage is. They won't say on their Web site, and I haven't found any public statements reflecting an area-wide deployment in the Bay Area. So AT&T it is for now.

As an early supporter of the T-Mobile merger with AT&T, I'm seeing now how competition may benefit consumers more in the long run, but it's frustrating to watch two large companies have a head-start on new technology deployments while the smaller, more consumer-friendly companies plod along in their deployments. Competition has a price, it seems.

Update (9/21/12): I've talked with a T-Mobile representative on the phone who's sending me a SIM to try out. He claims iPhone-compatible 4G is available in my area. I've started the process of unlocking my phone and will keep y'all posted.

Update 2 (2/9/13): I've since found out that Sprint's and Verizon's LTE implementations do not yet allow voice over LTE, so there's no using voice and data at the same time on their networks. That leaves AT&T and T-Mobile as my only preferred options. And since I've experienced the range limitations of T-Mobile's network, I'm still left feeling wistful for an AT&T/TMo merger, even if TMo has better terms.

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Blogger Tony Stark said...


8:52 PM  

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