So I did some extensive and very repetitive speed testing in Manhattan around 5pm today and last week. Trying to uncover a conspiracy on the part of AT&T and Apple to deliver good performance to customers in the flagship Apple store to mislead those customers into forgetting about all the AT&T sucks blogging they’ve read by somehow beefing up performance in and around the store just log enough to keep the people happy before they exit the store with their new device and walk a quarter mile north (or in any other direction) and encounter the sordid truth of AT&T’s performance.

The store, as usual, was packed. And this was in midtown Manhattan during peak business hours when AT&T especially sucks. Again, the place was swarming with people screwing around with mobile devices — in contrast to a relatively quiet Central Park where I performed subsequent tests while connected to another tower — with all sorts of radio waves flying around the place. Not so easy to ensure good coverage in such an environment with wifi let alone cellular. But failing to deliver decent carrier performance in the flagship store of the company that makes your flagship phone, well, that would be bad for business.

I’ll shut up momentarily and let these two pictures do the talking.

Woah, hi ladies! Guess I was too busy speed testing to enjoy the view. Anyway, a ten minute stroll later…

Hey AT&T, neat trick, whatever you did to cover the dense Apple store ten times more effectively than the park. Maybe it would work in other places, like the rest of the city and while you’re at it Frisco too and wherever else you still insist on sucking. On the other hand, who knows, not sucking as much would mean drastically changing your business model and given that you’re making money, I guess something like this, pleasing your customers by delivering what you advertise, could backfire somehow. Better sit back another few years and let your competitors continue to experiment with that approach first.

Update: Went back today and an Apple Genius confirmed that AT&T installed a system inside the store to boost performance, so there you go.

Doug Simmons


  1. Who gives a crap about New York’s coverage! I don’t live in NY and have great coverage,why do you people think that your city is a barometer of the networks performance in the rest of the country. Give this a thought maybe New York just has too many flipping people in it. Stop whining and switch to Verizon. Maybe you will get better service.

  2. Okay but what I was driving at, until I got sidetracked with the AT&T sucks in my city which as we all can agree on is the most important city in the country, was that while AT&T seems to suck throughout the city, it’s pretty good in a very crowded place that sells iPhones and iPads that use the AT&T network, suggesting that AT&T may have the capability, in terms of laws of physics, to make things right throughout the city, but they may be electing not to exercise that capability.

    By the way, regarding the whole throttling uploads controversy that flared up in the beginning of the month, they still do that, at least in some places. They said it was Lucent’s fault and that a fix was on the way but that was two weeks ago. Which is weak. Or it’s intentional.

  3. In AT&T’s defense, when the network doesn’t suck, it’s awesome. WCDMA/GSM is superior to CDMA in terms of talk and surf and max speeds (provided the infrastructure is good). Here’s an instance of the infrastructure being good, back in March, and this is among the reasons why I stick with them.

    On the other hand this was on a Sunday and my building has cell towers on the roof.

  4. I can do better than that with Android’s Antennas application which maps out towers you’re connected to, which individual one you’re using at a given moment and the ones you’ve previously used overlayed onto google maps.

    But I doubt it will know the coordinates of any such femtocells — though if I’m inside and getting good bandwidth but the program doesn’t see any towers elsewhere, somewhat safe assumption that they’re using femtocells, particularly if I exit the store, the Antennas app shows I am then connected to a tower and I get significantly different performance.

    I’ll make a reminder in Google Calendar.

  5. In a less abrasive way, I completely agree with TJ. New York City seems to be the only place the “AT&T sucks” people come from. I live in a metropolitan area and have consistently good data reception ranging from 1.8-3.6mbps every day. Coverage is exceptional, too. Two of my friends in other large metropolitan areas (not NYC) agree. Wish blogs didn’t slam the provider so much just because a single city or two has too few towers/bandwidth per iPhone…

  6. Doug – you didn’t pull out the Goog satelitte images to see if there’s a tower on top of one of the buildings that surroudns the Apple store? If not, then they may have a femtocell type setup within the store…that’s actually my bet.

  7. I can confirm at&t sucks in LA and downtown LA. Forget about getting decent reception and data on the Sunset strip. At&t blows and it’s problems are not relegated to New York kiddies.

  8. Well I just dropped by the Apple Store again and asked a friendly Genius what’s up with the higher speeds and better signal strength (< -55db) inside the store versus outside. He said that "AT&T came in and installed this big antenna wire thing that runs all around the store." So, case closed. I remarked that it would be nice if AT&T would run such a wire around the rest of the city. Since this is such a red hot juicy article I suppose I'd better add an update to the article.

  9. Yeah, well, maybe not if that wire thing is connected to the same backbone, the backhaul, as the towers like the consumer femtocells are, or at least AT&T says they are when defending putting people on the data meter even if they’re on a femtocell.

    Unless it just comes down to physics, how many radio waves an individual tower can stomach regardless of its pipe.

  10. when you really think about it, putting the wire in that store actually does help the rest of the city because it essentially takes all of the people in the store “out” of the city, freeing up bandwith on whatever tower would have normally taken all of those people in the store, and in an apple store with all those iphones streaming uncompressed data… sounds to me like AT&T is on the right track…

  11. The problem though, is that it takes all the fun out of hunting down the elusive Apple fanboys to taunt and tease.
    If they are all located in one spot, whats the fun in stalking them, it’s like shooting a fish in a barrel. All it would take would be one well placed comment and a riot would ensue.

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