Why 3G Sucks
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Mobile!
Why 3G sucks can be traced directly to iPhones:
Cell towers have been completely overloaded since the release of the iPhoneAccording to Ekman, the biggest factor that goes into coverage dropping is overloaded towers. This happens for several related reasons, and they can all be traced back to the release of the original iPhone in 2007.
Back before the release of the iPhone, most phones ran on "2G" networks, which were more than enough to handle voice calls and downloading email.
Most people weren't watching video or looking at pictures from the Internet because most phones weren't even capable of that and the ones that were didn't do it very well.
Then Apple released the iPhone and showed everyone how to do it right.
Within a period of a few years, cell phone carriers were overwhelmed with iOS and Android users gulping up more data than ever.
This was a problem for two reasons.
First, the "2G" and even most "3G" radios on cell towers weren't designed for the number of users and the amount of data per user that these new smartphones brought.
To give you an idea of idea of how big the explosion in data growth has been, AT&T saw a 30,000% percent increase in wireless data usage between 2007 and 2012. Thankfully, the LTE, or "4G," radios that are being deployed now are actually designed for this kind of load.
Second, cell phone towers have to be connected to the Internet by a wired connection, kind of like massive WiFi routers. Back before the iPhone, these towers all had pretty meager connections.
As people began using more data on their smartphones, users ran into the same problem many people have when they're trying to watch Netflix at home and someone starts a massive download on another device. The connection simply can't handle all that data at once, and everyone's speeds gets worse.
To handle that, wireless carriers have had to increase the capacity of those wired connections more than tenfold since 2007. That means laying new fiber cables for and installing what are essentially giant "modems" at each tower. AT&T alone has spent $98 billion over the past five years making such upgrades, and even that hasn't completely fixed the problem (as anyone who lives in New York City or San Francisco can attest to).
4G / LTE fixes a lot of the scaling issues the iPhone created.