Posts Tagged ‘signals’

It seems my earlier “clarifications” fell really short and did not give a complete picture regarding the wireless network issues. Here is more…

1) With my earlier post I was not trying to shiFt the blame away from AT&T for the network issues or dropped calls. My intention was/is laying out the elements involved (technical mostly) in wireless comms so that we may be able to suggest solutions or have a more informed opinion. But if someone still insists in criticizing, do criticize the right place having a better and clearer picture of what’s going on.

2) My earlier “the wireless network is a huge huge collection of hardware” fell very short of how complex the wireless network can be because it is not only about size (and huge size should not justify crappiness) it also includes quality, and usually more than one wireless carrier is involved; see the comment Gregg Thurmanover posted on macdailynews.com regarding the New York Times article “AT&T Takes the Blame, Even for the iPhone’s Faults”:

“The big problem with user experience is that they haven’t a clue why they are having a problem. They use ATT but the person they are talking to uses Verizon (or something else). Is the dropped call ATT’s fault, or is the fault at the other end? Without proper recording and analysis technologies, with complete disclosure by all the carriers, NOBODY knows where the problems exist.”

The reality is AT&T cell phone users connect/call not only AT&T cell phone users but also Verizon, or T-Mobile, or Sprint cell phone users. This makes “blame AT&T” the more difficult to assert (looks like diversifying the blame would be more accurate; an instance would be the iPhone 3G radio issue suggested in the NYT article, which is part of the hardware networking devices I talked about in my earlier post).

Reality means, every cell phone call (signal) travels through a [usually] big number of different and diverse wireless networks (and at times wired as well if your call goes to/comes from land line) before it reaches the other end (and this is sometimes true even if calling an in-network user).

It also means.., let’s say we are in New York cell phone calling a friend in San Francisco, whose carrier is different than ours, in a nice day for the continental US and the call is dropped (frustrating it is). Who, what do we blame? Man, it is very difficult to know what happened in between and why. I wouldn’t know and couldn’t explain. But we very easily throw the blame to our carrier because it is the “visible” suspect, who else could we blame? Understandable but honestly, we have no clue of what happened much less who is to blame.

Technical note: In this scenario of so far away calling, your call likely travelled wirelessly within your city/region portion. After that, we don’t know how it went to SF, although most likely fiber optic (or other wired medium), or it could have gone mixed travel, wireless and wired. I, as a user, don’t know how my call was carried, and I don’t care, I just want NO fumble. And the same “could have gone mixed travel” pattern very much applies for a wireless call within the same city same carrier.

3) Some say images help to understand things. Has anyone seen how the wireless networkS (yes in plural) look like from atop? Not me. Not like a spider web; spider web seems too structured for a wireless network; probably on some cities/places only. Like a fish men net (similar to our interstate highway system)? Maybe on some places of the country. Concentric circles? Not likely but who knows. The image I tend to lean most is the one of a collage of [mostly unstructured] networks sewn together.

4) We have to accept the diversity of our landscape. The wireless network solution for a [New York] city is not and will not be the same for places like The Grand Canyon. Means the wireless network is as diverse as our landscape; building a network in some places will be nearly impossible, some places do not financially justify building it at all, and in some places is not even necessary to build one. These factors perhaps play part in an assessment for a carrier to determine whether to build or not to build a wireless network. This is for those talking/complaining about “poor coverage”.

5) What do we want out of the wireless network? If we see the network pipes as threads this is what we want:

  • Larger/longer threads – greater coverage.
  • Better threads – reliability (lesser drops, lesser noise).
  • Thicker threads – capacity (bandwidth), more “water” in less time.

So what with all these clarifications? If you want to blame your carrier less frequently…

  • Try to stick with that carrier that has the fewer networks sewn (if you can determine that).
  • Try to stick with that carrier having/building/upgrading better technology for the wireless network. A simple example from the wired world… For my land line phone service I would subscribe with the company using fiber optic for the wires over the one that still using copper; the company using fiber optic will likely have less trouble carrying my call and it will connect me faster. I don’t know much about the different wireless technologies but the criteria holds, go with the one having better technology for carrying wireless signals (the larger network with “same-kind” technology – coverage, the more resistant to obstacles – strength, greater capacity – faster). An instance would be  choosing 3G over EDGE.
  • Try to go for the carrier with LARGER/GREATER self-owned wireless network (if you can determine that).
  • If you travel abroad frequently it won’t matter what home carrier you pick, your call will usually be carried by multiple carriers in different countries to the other end. In this case you may want to go with the lesser cost for the wireless service.
  • If there is only one carrier in your area and cannot live without cell phone and cannot move then you are in a pickle and yes, you can keep blaming your carrier.

In summary…, because of the complexity of the wireless network and the inherent weaknesses of wireless signals it makes really hard to know what failed (specially when it’s the signal getting lost) and who is to blame. Nevertheless, carriers have to do their best to keep a good signal up and running; the wireless carrier that can achieve that will get the most wireless subscribers.

Even though I’m not a cell phone user, I like phone communications (wired or wireless) and even more when they work. It felt really cool when I had the chance to experience Nextel’s then just introduced walkie-talkie technology; I was able to connect/talk with a coworker in Monterrey while I was in Mexico City, instantaneously after the push of a button!!! (no dialing) If you know about the topographical shape that separates those two cities (you can check Google maps) and you know no satellite was involved, then you tend to believe telecommunication is magic.

What phone carriers do for us is already amazing.

Questo, que lotro.., salud!


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