Fed up with unreliable data service

Published on January 26, 2012 under Technology, Apple / Mac / iPhone, Google / Android

No signal on iPhone

I'm sure the photo above is quite familiar to many out there who own smartphones. You're in the car, on the bus, on the train, or even on foot and you whip out your smartphone of choice to look up something, scan a QR code, check your email, or even look up directions on a map...only to find you don't have service.

This has been my story as of late. Originally I would have spotty data only on Chicago's subway system, and I accepted that mainly because I was underground. However, I'm finding that "Searching" message showing up far more often in places above ground, even in areas where one would not expect it.

The final straw was one night sitting on the bus in the middle of downtown Chicago, attempting to pull up my email. While I saw a full set of bars and "3G" on my iPhone display, nothing would happen. I finally ran a speed test on my connection, and found I barely was connected at all. I was astounded, and asking myself why I paid $25 a month for data when I can barely access it.

Seemingly a problem on all carriers

I know that many will first and easily proclaim that the problem is that I'm on AT&T service, and I agree with that. Unfortunately, I'm stuck on a contract with them until October of this year. However, from chatting with friends, I'm coming to find out it's not just AT&T, but also Verizon, Sprint, and even T-Mobile. One by one I've heard all these tales of horrible spotty data service in the middle of the city.

So what is the problem? We see all these new, wondrous devices and software innovations, but it seems the infrastructure holds it all back. I honestly can't sit there listening to any keynote speech with "oooohs" and "ahhhhs" as some new smartphone or tablet is introduced, simply because I have no faith in the idea that we'll see quality data service.

Another factor to bring into play is the population effect, where a massively populated area of data-sucking phones will tax the system, and thus make for poor service. I recall a coworker who went to a street fair one afternoon and saw most of those in attendance on smartphones texting, posting, and clicking photos with Instagram and similar apps. She literally could not get a signal to save her life, and it made her wonder what would happen if one had to dial 911.

The barrier to innovation

My recent experiences have led me to cut back. I've knocked my data plan down to the smallest one (200 MB a month as opposed to 2GB). I've also purged my iPhone of practically all of the data-driven apps and internet shortcuts. No more reading blogs and news apps on my phone. No more watching videos. No more Instagram. Nothing but email, maps, and some social media...although I won't even use the social media apps on 3G, but instead look for a wifi.

I will say this has changed my life a bit. I'm not pulling out my phone as much as I used to. I'm not checking Facebook when I'm waiting in line somewhere or sitting alone at a restaurant (while my fiance goes to the ladies room). I do watch my stats to make sure I don't have an overage, but in many ways I feel like a crack addict coming off drugs.

Regardless, all of this does make me question if smartphones and even cloud computing are being pushed towards destruction simply because of the fact that no carrier can seemingly provide solid data service. I wonder about all those app innovators looking to become entrepreneurs, only now worried that more consumers might end up like me...moving backwards.

In all honestly, I am seriously contemplating going back to a dumbphone and instead picking up an iPod Touch for some app and mobile site testing. I know many could not fathom doing this, but again I ask why are we paying all this money every month for service we're not getting?

Why should I buy the next big smartphone if I can't fully use it?

Should we think about pushing for free wifi all over major cities? Or come down on the carriers and the government to get us solid reliable service?

Maybe I'll come back when my contract ends and I can try other carriers, but I'm not having a lot of faith in a world where it's all at our fingertips anytime anywhere.

What do you think? Is your data service solid?

Tags: smartphone, data, service, poor, spotty

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