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My go-to reference on the situation is https://blogs.oracle.com/ksplice/entry/essay_3g_and_me.

Like Keith says, more important than whether you have 3G, 4G, or LTE is:

""How much spectrum has the carrier licensed in my city, and how much is allocated to this kind of modulation?

How many other people am I sharing the local tower with? In other words, how big is my cell, and how many towers has the carrier built or contracted with?

How much throughput are my cellmates trying to consume?

How much throughput has the carrier built in its back-end network connecting to the tower?

You might notice that all of these meat-and-potatoes factors involve the carrier spending money, and they all involve gradual improvement in behind-the-scenes infrastructure that's hard to get customers excited. Persuading you to buy a new cell phone with a sophisticated modem and sign up for a two-year contract is a different story. So they don't sell you something measurable where they could be held accountable; they sell how sweet it feels to be using a sophisticated radio modem protocol to talk to them.

If the carrier sold you "384 kbps Internet access anywhere in the coverage area, outdoors," that would be something you could hold them accountable for. The carrier might even have to put a brake on signing up new customers until it could build new towers or license more spectrum for everybody to share, if it made that guarantee.""




I don't buy it. My carrier (AT&T) is almost certainly rate-limiting bandwidth to phones in my area, doing deeper inspection on their transparent proxies, or both.

In 2014, as measured by the Ookla app on an iPhone 6, I was routinely 50/17 and 60/20 speedtest to various servers in the region during business hours at home and work. I know this because I took a screenshot in disbelief.

Today, service varies from 1.5/1 to 10/3 during the day, and 10-15/3 at 5AM. I don't buy that usage has increased that much.


Which market?

In the case of the NYC market, AT&T had the worst spectrum planning of any major carrier. They are suffering because they chose to rely on low-band spectrum rather than densifying their network, and are now trying to band-aid the solution by using carrier aggregation of oddball downlink bands. It doesn't change the core problem of having too many people on each sector.

The reason they have to stake 2G dead this early is because they are spectrum starved and already only running it in HSPA guard bands. They need every resource they can get since they haven't been spending money at throwing towers in every possible place in the city for years. They've been using it to buy a satellite company, a Mexican carrier, and WCS spectrum that's worthless without densification. Priorities.


>> In the case of the NYC market, AT&T had the worst spectrum planning of any major carrier.

They've been having a hard time since the late 1990's when they introduced the "one rate" plans and basically oversold their coverage area in NYC.

I distinctly remembering long articles talking about how the networks were so saturated, dealers were still activating phones on their network knowing the customers wouldn't get a signal and would have zero reception in NYC, even after being told by several courts to stop signing up customers.

Here is the text of the class action lawsuit that made it all the way the NYC Supreme Court: http://www.whafh.com/modules/case/docs/2556_cid_3_AT&T%20Cel...

EDIT: some of the articles I alluded to are listed in the class action starting on page 9.


"all the way the NYC Supreme Court"

In New York, the "Supreme Court" is the trial-level court. Above that is the "Supreme Court, Appellate Division" and above that is the "Court of Appeals".


It's been a long time since buying and erecting towers was part of the carrier zeitgeist. I appreciate your frustration- but I don't think your understanding of the fundamentals of how carrier networks operate reflects reality.

You might find this article helpful: http://www.cell-tower-leases.com/Cell-Tower-Lease-Rates.html


For rural markets your logic applies, they simply don't need many new macro sites. The biggest issue in these markets is getting decent backhaul to the towers.

But that logic does not work in an urban market. Which is where the speed complaints are coming from. The other carriers are all beating the drums on densification and focusing on building out DAS systems, what's AT&T doing?

AT&T backed off their densification commitment after their Leap purchase by arguing having more macro cells and spectrum works. The complaints and speedtests speak for themselves.

See this article: http://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/at-t-drops-goal-deplo...


Good counterpoint.


Upstate NY, mostly Albany area.


i've had phone (3g unlimited[0]); business DSL (connected 0.4miles from the trunk!); and Cable service from AT&T.

I can say with 100% of confidence, they oversell like crazy and are limited on both wireless spectrum as their pipes capabilities.

Even if they have much better coverage than Tmobile where i live and work, i will still endure it and not give them my service anymore.

[0] remember they charged extra if you had an iphone? ha! always used android and nokia. Also of note, they managed to overcharge my all-unlimited account for $800 above the contract for two consecutive months.


Netflix, HBO go, those sports streaming things, increased proliferation of smartphones, Pokemon go, web pages are continually getting heavier.

Seems reasonable to me. 2 years is a long time to be comparing against. Your carrier should be upgrading their infrastructure, but if they are not these numbers seem ok.


Our local time warner affiliate has been awesome in contrast, and their network management is awful.

Seems weird.


Mobile data usage has gone up a LOT in two years.


I've never known a carrier (or isp) to offer any speed without a "*experience may vary" type disclaimer. Is this different in the US?


As a rule all consumer services are on a "best effort" basis. Service with guaranteed performance exists, but is marketed exclusively to businesses and is much more expensive. It turns out that providing guaranteed service costs a lot more even if the end result is the same 90% of the time, that last 10% is a real margin killer. Consumers would generally rather accept the occasional less-than-stellar service than pay nearly twice as much for it.


Yup, you'll see this if you've worked with datacenters too, you can get a 100mbit connection on a gigabit link on which you mostly get gigabit connectivity, but only 100mbit of it is guaranteed for much, much cheaper than you can get a guaranteed gigabit link. And in my experience (for personal and small business purposes at least) that guarantee is rarely worth its name.


The end result, more often than not, is 10%. At this point, it has nothing to do with industrial guaranteed service levels, it's marketing X and delivering Y<<X.

Who cares about the price, as a customer I want to at least be able to know what I'm buying before committing 6, 12 months. There can be no competition or progress when we continue allowing ISPs to promise theoretical bandwidths that they don't come close to, ever.


> Who cares about the price?

I do.


Nope. Physics is the same everywhere.


And conveniently, from a user's perspective, damn near impossible to discern from poor network management.


You either meant inconveniently or from the ISPs perspective.


"And conveniently [for the ISPs], from a user's perspective, damn near impossible to discern from poor network management"


pdpi for the win. (And ambiguous phrasing for the loss)


The speed of light in vacuum is a constant, but depending on the medium (ie., frequent scattering), the time it will take for a signal to reach from point A to point B will be much more than the time it takes for a light wave to cover the same distance in vacuum.


God, no. I think this is one of those "would be nice if" hypotheticals.


Carrier frequency as well. Depending on carrier, rollout status, and device, you can have a vastly different experience in a given area indoors vs outdoors.


Seems like it would be much more expensive than the elastic demand model used now unless you used the guarantee.


The problem with the "elastic demand model" (or the "sell, don't deliver" model) is that it's not working out in the marketplace.

ISPs, instead of expanding network capacity when they lose their side of the "elastic demand" bet, throttle companies like Netflix or extort them into financing their lacking capacity.


That's not really true. Wireless carriers are expanding as quickly as they can. The problem is they're out of bandwidth, so the only way to expand capacity is to shrink the cell size.

And you can't just throw up hardware wherever you want. The bureaucracy involved (from the FAA to the FCC to local planning boards to code inspections to historical societies to nimby obstruction) in getting a single site up is staggering. Those sites are going up, but it takes time.


I wouldn't really consider selling a service to be extortion.




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