Tuesday, October 28, 2008

AT&T's 3G coverage

Lately I have been getting a lot of calls from AT&T Mobile Broadband users looking for an antenna. Most of the calls sound exactly the same, "I'm getting decent to low signal strength and my speeds are terrible". With each of these calls I ask for the zip code and look it up on AT&T's Coverage map. Nearly without fail they are in a not in a 3G coverage area for AT&T.

Lets take a minute to define a couple terms before I get ahead of myself:

3G = generic term used to describe all third generation mobile phone technology
EVDO = 3G technology used by both Sprint and Verizon, typical speeds of 600-1400kbps download and 500-800kbps upload
HSDPA = 3G technology that AT&T is using
EDGE = AT&T's 2g technology 75-135kbps download
1xRTT = Sprint and Verizon's 2G technology,


AT&T's network, much like Sprint and Verizon, has two different levels of coverage. The HSDPA 3G network is capable of speeds similar to EVDO 3G from Sprint and Verizon - about 600-1200kbps download. AT&T's EDGE network, according to their website, is capable of "75 to 135 kbps". This is similar to the 1xrtt network from Sprint and Verizon, with top speeds of 144kbps.

All three carriers have been upgrading to 3G coverage nationwide with varying degrees of urgency. 3G coverage on any provider is generally easy to find in major cities. Equipping a tower in the middle of a city is an easy decision as one tower can serve hundreds or even thousands of people. As you get further away from cities, as many of our customers are, AT&T 3G coverage falls off sharply, even where EVDO coverage remains very strong.

After seeing a recent increase in the number of calls, I decided to do an experiment. I found several locations that do NOT have 3G coverage and called AT&T to ask if I could get 3G on a mobile broadband device. With AT&T's coverage map in front of me, I asked about 5 different addresses that only have EDGE coverage - not 3G. On 2 of the calls I found the sales rep. to be honest and told me that I would only get EDGE service. They did have trouble telling me exactly what that meant in terms of speed, but eventually I was given the correct speeds. The other 3 calls were upsetting. I was told 3G was available and was quoted speeds of "700kbps-1.7mbps" and "6mbps".

So calling AT&T, may be get you the wrong answer.

Don't get me wrong, I personally have been a Cingular/AT&T customer since my very first cell phone. I have an iPhone 3G that I love. AT&T's 3G network can be very fast and is great where available. It doesn't seem like the people answering the phones have been told to lie or even know they are lying, but customers deserve a knowledgeable sales person.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN, OR CURRENTLY HAVE, AT&T MOBILE BROADBAND SERVICE, I'd like to offer some advice.

  • - CHECK COVERAGE: AT&T's coverage map can be found here: http://www.wireless.att.com/coverageviewer/ After entering your address click "Data" above the map, this will turn the entire map to shades of Blue. The Darker shade of blue is the "3G/Mobile Broadband" coverage and lighter shade is "EDGE" coverage.
  • -CALL 3Gstore: Although 3Gstore.com doesn't currently sell AT&T service we will be happy to check AT&T coverage, give you a link to the coverage map, even recommend the best AT&T device based on our testing. Either call our sales team at: 866-3Gstore (866-347-8673) or send us an email: sales@3gstore.com
  • -IF YOU ALREADY HAVE EDGE SERVICE: If you signed up with AT&T before reading this post, its not too late. We will be happy to walk you through antenna options if you are on the edge of coverage, or help you find a provider that has 3G coverage in your area.


HOW TO SPEED UP MY MOBILE BROADBAND IF I'M ONLY GETTING "EDGE":

As mentioned before, both Sprint and Verizon have much better coverage nationwide. Verizon recently released a comparison between their 3G coverage vs. AT&T (the yellow on the map is where Verizon has 3G coverage and AT&T does not):


Often the best antenna for AT&T is not an antenna at all. Paying the early termination fee and signing up for another carrier that actually has 3G coverage in your area is usually the best option. I know this sounds expensive and scary but, it isn't as pricey as you may think. If $225 improved your speeds from 75-135kbps to 600kbps-1400kbps, most people would agree, thats not a bad deal.

Currently, we have USB 3G/EVDO devices available for FREE on either Sprint or Verizon (after rebate for Verizon device) on a 2 year contract. Once you have confirmed Sprint or Verizon have 3G coverage the best option is to cancel AT&T ($175 or less) pay $35 or $36 activation fee for Sprint or Verizon and pay about $15 for Fedex ground shipping, a total of about $225 for speeds as much as 100x faster. Even a POOR signal from Sprint or Verizon 3G/EVDO should get you 3-4 times faster speeds than AT&T EDGE.