The Network Behind the iPhone

by Devanshu Mehta Jun 28, 2007

The network is a pretty big deal in deciding whether to buy a cell phone—but just how big may depend on how you plan to use the device and the prevalence of WiFi where you live.

The only real streaming that the iPhone seems to be capable of is YouTube—and major downloads don’t seem to be anticipated at the moment. Apple’s own theory seems to be that WiFi is the way to go, and the cellular network is only a worst-case stop-gap. That may be possible in San Francisco, the land of Google WiFi, but the rest of the country is not one line of Starbucks, each with its own public WiFi. Though this does seem to be their intention. Also, you can get arrested for using a coffee shop’s WiFi without buying coffee!

According to AT&T:

“EDGE is a third-generation, high-speed, mobile data and Internet access technology. It’s fast enough to support a wide range of advanced data services including video and music clips, full picture & video messaging, high-speed color Internet access, and email on the move.”

The iPhone, however, is not third-generation (3G).  The EDGE network advertises downloads at 75-135Kbps, though most users seem to report more dialup-like speeds. Upload speeds may be up to 30Kbps, though reliable numbers are scarce.

So why didn’t Apple go for 3G on their phone. There is no clear answer, though there is one non-answer from Apple about 3G. Basically, they employ the old political tactic of answering the question they wished the interviewer had asked, and in the process revealed that they see a Utopian future of municipal WiFi everywhere, or something close.

AT&T has another network called BroadbandConnect that sounds cooler, but the hand of Jobs tilted against it, I suppose. Earlier this month, there was some word (via gizmodo) that AT&T is boosting the capacity of their EDGE network equipment. Apparently, the protocol itself can support higher speeds but their infrastructure can’t—especially with simultaneous data and voice. Of course, this is investment in a 2.5G technology in an increasingly 3G world.

All of this brings up some interesting questions for extra credit:

  • Is it possible, through a software upgrade, to enable 3G on the iPhone in the future? Currently, AT&T only offers 3G in major metropolitan areas in the United States, but when access is more universal I am sure the second or third generation iPhone will be ready.
  • What are the real data rates on the iPhone? Technically, EDGE networks should be capable of upwards of 200Kbps—just not the EDGE network AT&T has. Taking the rumored upgrades of their network, the phone’s own capabilities and the quality of your network connection—what real data rates are being experienced? For those of you who already have EDGE phones, what kind of speeds do you see and have they improved in the past month?

I’m all for going all WiFi all the time, but it seems like an unrealistic expectation for now. Apple may have built a fantastic phone, but people who spend $500 on a phone are likely to be used to already having broadband speed. It would be unfortunate if the potential of the iPhone is left unfulfilled because of the network.

Comments

  • Speaking from experience here as a Cingular customer for over 3 years (AT&T previously).

    3G isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. It doesn’t allow handovers which is the absolute worst when you travel from 3G area to NON-3G area while on the phone. You know you left because it hangs up. Going through the 3G switchover was also a PITA as calls would drop consistantly and getting the phone to stick to one serivce was a Pain.

    Bandwitdh speeds… Connecting my PB to my wifes Sliver we use as a modem here’s what I saw. In Hilton Head, SC we got consistant 130+KPS connection speeds. With Safari it felt like DSL, only when I’d connect to local WiFi areas with better bandwidth did we notice a difference. Running YouTube videos, connecting to clients systems the speed diff was not noticed.

    In Harrisburg, Philly and Baltimore the connection speeds would stay around 96, dropping to the 50’s in Philly for one day (unsure why but it was only 1 day out of the 3 it did it). Still Safari and VNC connections were fast enough. Email was fine but uploads with attachements were slow, expected.

    Now WiMax… San Fran has it, Philly has it, Baltimore has it in downtown areas, Harrisburg won’t ever have it (Mayor Reed keeps building Museums nobody is going to instead of anything else and this includes snow removal-we had a budget for one days worth last year) but this is the way the future and EVEN if municiples started charging a few bucks to get it in and keep it going it will propogate throughout the US.

    The iPhone is using 2.5g most likely for better handoff. Imagine being at home on your WiFi downloading an iTunes track or movie or whatever but your connected to the web, maybe your in a chat. You go out and get in the car. You drive away the Phone handsoff to cell singnals. You can’t do that with 3G right now, it would drop the call/connection. I had it happen to me twice this morning.

    That’s my take. But I’m sure a software upgrade to turn on the 3G part is most likely built in.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Jun 28, 2007 Posts: 172
  • “That’s my take. But I’m sure a software upgrade to turn on the 3G part is most likely built in.”

    This is assuming that a 3G radio is built in, which we don’t know whether it is or not.  I would guess that the second gen would have one, but probably not this one.

    Andrew Harden had this to say on Jun 28, 2007 Posts: 19
  • “3G isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. It doesn’t allow handovers which is the absolute worst when you travel from 3G area to NON-3G area while on the phone. You know you left because it hangs up. Going through the 3G switchover was also a PITA as calls would drop consistantly and getting the phone to stick to one serivce was a Pain.”

    I don’t know about 3G networks in the US - but in the UK, that just isn’t true. I have a 3G phone which connects to 3G if possible but, if I move out of a 3G area, then it reverts to 2.5G or whatever’s available.

    So I don’t know if your problems are to do with the US ‘version’ of 3G or your cellular network - but it’s not 3G per se.

    Not that I’m saying your problems aren’t real just that it’s not necessarily a symptom of 3G as such.

    hitchhiker had this to say on Jul 01, 2007 Posts: 48
  • Nah, man it’s US. UK had 3g, what 10 years ago? Were just switching over now and not everywhere mind you. At my house I’m in an Extended Digital Cellular network, or was up until Monday when (I guess) the new tower I can barely see the top of over the tree’s went live. In which case Tuesday I was downstairs in the basement working and for some reason my Phone rang (I had it with me to sync up and download video’s of my kid). Low and behold I’m now in regular Cel coverage and 3 bars of strength (out of 5). So I guess nomore freezing my rear to talk to someone on the celly in winter.

    So I’d say when it comes to portable communications over the pond seems to have it better then we have it here.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Jul 05, 2007 Posts: 172
  • Does it really good ?
    This is assuming that a 3G radio is built in, which we don’t know whether it is or not.


    wow gold

    wow-gold had this to say on Nov 12, 2007 Posts: 2
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