Lies, Damned Lies, and Coverage Maps

By  |  Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 6:15 pm

A&T on Island of Misfit ToysOddly enough, Verizon Wireless’s latest round of AT&T/iPhone-bashing ads–one of which relegates the iPhone to the Island of Misfit Toys–haven’t made AT&T any happier than the earlier spots did. It’s updated its legal complaint against Verizon to gripe about the new ads, and wants the court to force Verizon to pull them off the air. It’s also published a statement on its Web site which it says “sets the record straight” about Verizon’s commercials.

I like the idea of AT&T responding to Verizon’s ads in a straightforward and factual manner, but the statement is kind of disappointing–it says that Verizon’s ads are “false and misleading” and then points out that almost all AT&T customers have access to the slower EDGE network, and enumerates various virtues of AT&T’s network and devices (the speed of its 3G network, the popularity of its phones, the quantity of apps, the fact you can talk and do data at the same time). But it doesn’t ever make clear what Verizon said that AT&T considers to be untrue, and it brings up various points that Verizon never mentioned one way or another. Basically, it’s less of a response to Verizon’s ad and more of a laundry list of reasons to like AT&T.

The 26-page legal filing makes the case against Verizon more cogently, albeit at far greater length. (So does this AppleInsider post.) I get, for instance, why AT&T is annoyed about Verizon’s new “Blue Christmas” ad, which seems to depict an AT&T customer as being completely unable to use his phone.  Lack of 3G coverage isn’t the same thing as lack of coverage, period; the guy should still be able to make calls and access the Internet, albeit at a speed which may make him gnash his teeth.

AT&T complaint

Well, I’m not entirely sympathetic: I use an AT&T iPhone a lot in non-descript urban settings around San Francsico (especially in the SOMA neighborhood) and sometimes I can’t get the phone to work reliably at all, let alone at 3G speed. (The lobby of the Courtyard Marriott at Second St. and Folsom is an amazing Bermuda Triangle when it comes to AT&T reception.) There are times when my iPhone’s data connection is delightfully zippy, but there are also times when I identify with the “Blue Christmas” dude.

And isn’t a Verizon ad that accentuates the negative when it comes to AT&T coverage pretty much just the downbeat flipside of this AT&T ad, in which Bill Kurtis seems to suggest that he’ll have ready access to AT&T 3G as he travels cross-country in a sidecar? He better avoid small towns and steer clear of back roads–and even then, he’s going to spend an awful lot of time on sluggish old EDGE.

One other thing: AT&T thinks that the coverage map in Verizon’s ad is misleading. Which may be a defensible position. But AT&T’s own site both brags about the speed of its 3G and provides a data coverage map that doesn’t distinguish between 3G and EDGE coverage. (It does provide a guide to 3G coverage, but only in the form of a list of cities that have it.)

In other words, if you’re a consumer trying to come to conclusions about AT&T’s data network, neither the Verizon map nor AT&T’s own map tells you everything you need to know. Both emphasize the part of the story that makes the carrier who prepared the map look good.

A modest proposal: Maybe the phone industry can get together and agree on a standard for coverage maps that emphasizes useful information for consumers and which doesn’t have any particular agenda? Many of the maps I’ve seen over the past decade have been incomplete and/or confusing even when nobody’s been suing over them…

 
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  1. John L. Galt Says:

    That would be like asking humans beings to stop having wars, stop despoiling our natural environment and our politicians to stop wasting resources in pork barrel spending and start focusing on real issues, like education and stabilizing the economy permanently, rather than using bailouts.

    Seriously, though – neither company is going to play nice, especially as AT&T has never played nicely from the days that it was (in this region) BellSouth Mobility, which was then bought by Cingular, which was then bought by AT&T.

    Human beings, let alone billion-dollar corporations, are not going to say *one* thing that will make them look less than stellar, as you yourself noted – so your modest proposal will likely fall upon deaf ears. Or, rather, fall upon ears with selective hearing problems. Much like Jonathan Swift’s treatise did (although his was obviously satirical in nature to begin with).

    I bought into the hype, but after researching a lot for a couple of weeks, into the new VZW DROID – I like the phone, it’s definitely not perfect, but I am overall satisfied. However, if you go to the Motorola tech forums, in 1 week there have been over 800+ unique threads and who knows how many individual posts (when I joined there were 100+ – on Sunday). I do like the phone, but I cannot say one way or another if it works well in all areas – it has its own issues, but many are already set to be addressed around Dec 11, according to a leaked memo from VZW that has surfaced on the web. The fact that it is a GPS unit alone makes it worthwhile for me – that is one less expenditure for me – I get both in one.

    In the end, provided that it is not seen as a monopolization, it would be good to see standardization of both carrier signal types as well as coverage information. however, I am not gonna hold my breath (and I bet you’re not either).

  2. David Hamilton Says:

    Interestingly, exactly the same row has just broken out in the UK between Orange and 3 http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/29416/3-complains-orange-3g-coverage-claims.

    3 have called for “a common standard applied across the industry, to give consumers a more realistic picture of 3G coverage available to UK consumers on all networks”, which precisely echoes your last paragraph.

  3. DZ Says:

    “which seems to depict an AT&T customer as being completely unable to use his phone. Lack of 3G coverage isn’t the same thing as lack of coverage, period; the guy should still be able to make calls and access the Internet, albeit at a speed which may make him gnash his teeth.”

    There have been many instances showing full bars yet I no data service (as reported by the iPhone). There are days (like when on work travel to Guernsey, WY) when I have no bars, no voice, no data, nothing.

  4. heulenwolf Says:

    From what I remember reading about using the 1st gen iPhone, EDGE-only, it really is frustrating waiting for something to load in non-3G mode. I see why AT&T doesn’t like Verizon’s commercial but I don’t see that they have any kind of case. The adds clearly state they’re talking solely about 3G coverage. I think the lawsuit is just posturing and will be thrown out if it ever makes it to court. Given the highly graphical, add-ridden nature of today’s webpages, I would not want to surf the web over such a slow interface, nor be stuck waiting while the radio switches back and forth between the levels of service and has to reconnect. If AT&T’s service weren’t reported by users to be so terrible in so many highly-populated places, I might think twice about Verizon’s adds. Given how widely reported AT&T’s poor coverage is, however, I think it was clever of Verizon to take advantage of it.

    Also, please don’t put too much stock in AppleInsider’s ads, uhh, I mean articles. Their prior “article” on the topic pitted AT&T’s 3G signaling rate (3.6 Mbps) against Verizon’s actual tested download speeds (1.4 Mbps) as if they were comparing common terms: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/11/10/att_defends_its_data_network_from_verizon_ad_attacks.html

    With that same method, you could argue that 802.11g is faster than N because G’s 54 Mbps signaling rate is higher than actual download rates you sometimes get through an N-router. I no longer trust anything I read there, especially from “Prince McLean.”

  5. tengeta Says:

    Reasons to like AT&T? Yeah, I’m not reading anything for or against the iPhone on this site anymore.

  6. Jim Says:

    AT&T is almost back to a monopoly where they were before Congress demanded they cease to be monopoly.

    I no longer have anything AT&T. Their customer service is a joke, people on the phone are rude and incompetent. There are pages and pages on the Internet to how bad AT&T really is. The BBB in Atlanta has a special consumer complaint desk just for AT&T.

  7. Jim Says:

    AT&T is almost back to a monopoly where they were before Congress demanded they cease monopolizing.

    I no longer have anything AT&T. Their customer service is a joke, people on the phone are rude and incompetent. There are pages and pages on the Internet to how bad AT&T really is. The BBB in Atlanta has a special consumer complaint desk just for AT&T.

  8. Mike Says:

    Check your phone.. I live in SOMA and my phone works fine

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1 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Tynan on Tech » Hey AT&T: The map is the least of your problems Says:

    [...] Technologizer (and iPhone addict) Harry McCracken describes a typical AT&T experience: I use an AT&T iPhone a lot in non-descript urban settings around San Francisco (especially in the SOMA neighborhood) and sometimes I can’t get the phone to work reliably at all, let alone at 3G speed. (The lobby of the Courtyard Marriott at Second St. and Folsom is an amazing Bermuda Triangle when it comes to AT&T reception.) There are times when my iPhone’s data connection is delightfully zippy, but there are also times when I identify with the “Blue Christmas” dude. [...]

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