A new and comprehensive survey of more than 2,600 iPhone users suggests that data speed problems with the phone are attributable to carrier networks rather than to hardware problems with the phone itself as previously had been widely suspected.
The global survey was conducted by Wired.com, which asked iPhone users to enter their iPhone data on an interactive map. A total of 1,638 U.S. users participated, accounting for the majority of participants.
The individual tests varied with many users saying their iPhones operated as advertised at high-throughput speeds while others complained they are receiving no improvement from their new iPhones. Some even said they can't use their iPhones at all.
"The most '0' results for 3G download speeds came from U.S. participants -- presumably those dropped from the 3G network," Wired said. "In the United States, 63 participants reported '0'. Altogether (globally) there were 80 '0' figures reported."
"Wired.com's survey of iPhone 3G users suggests that widespread data speed problems have more to do with carriers' networks than with Apple's handsets," said Wired.com on its Web site.
Another separate study of iPhone reception in Sweden seems to back up the Wired survey that hardware problems aren't responsible for iPhone reception problems. In tests of an iPhone, a Sony Ericsson P1, and a Nokia N73, analyst firm Bluetest AB found the iPhone to be "completely normal," according to media reports. In some minor features, the iPhone didn't perform as well as the other phones, but those features were considered inconsequential as far as overall reception was considered.
So what's the problem? Why are so many iPhone users complaining of poor reception while so many are delighted with its high data speeds?
Wired found that in some major metropolitan areas, 3G can be very slow. In San Francisco, for instance, 10 or 30 survey participants said their iPhones operated with very slow speeds, barely surpassing the snail-like EDGE network.
Wired also quoted a femtocell specialist who suggested that 3G towers are overloaded causing the slowdown. If that's the reason, then iPhone users are likely to eventually get the iPhone advertised high speeds when the tower infrastructure is improved and upgraded.
The fastest speeds were found in Germany and the Netherlands, and Wired noted that those countries and other European nations have been deploying 3G base stations for a much longer period than AT&T, which has the exclusive marketing arrangement to sell the iPhone in the U.S.
"It [Apple] needs to wait for all of its carriers to optimize 3G network behavior -- in terms of number of towers, how they're positioned and how much bandwidth each tower can handle," Wired said.