Why do users put up with terrible cellphone service?


I can’t tell you how many iPhones I’ve seen in the past 24 hours here at SXSW Interactive. The best, though, is when you see these people cursing AT&T, saying things like, “Why would AT&T beef up its network in Austin when it knows 8 zillion iPhone users will be swarming the city for the next week?” This phenomenon—people being unhappy with the cellphone service, despite the flashy ads promising “amazing speed” and “more bars all over the damn place”—was picked up by the Times. The important thing to take away is that while companies are trying their best to improve cellphone service, there’s several technological hurdles that they have to overcome in order to deliver a truly worry-free phone.

The biggest culprit is AT&T, because of the iPhone. While 3G is supposed to be the Best Thing Ever, spotty network coverage continues to annoy people. Coverage may be just fine in San Francisco, but when the phone cuts out on the West Side of Manhattan, as comedian Jim Norton outlined in his latest book, you begin to wonder why, exactly, you’re paying all that money. You might as well be talking into a tin can!

There’s a few reasons why your cellphone still stinks. The transition from 2G networks to 3G networks (and the upcoming transition to the various 4G technologies) is a lot harder than simply flipping a switch. And since not every phone uses the more advanced 3G network, the likes of AT&T must keep the older cellphone towers up and running. They’re essentially forced to support an inferior technology when better alternatives (3G) are already available.

When it comes to the iPhone, it looks like people are willing to put up with spotty coverage in order to use the Apple device. Guess people can’t live without mobile Facebook and scrolling to unlock!

Now would be a good time to remind people that, while cellphones aren’t exactly great, they’re as great as they are. It is what it is, in other words.