Yesterday on my commute to work, I became annoyed with the spotty coverage and slow connection provided by Verizon Wireless. I tweeted my frustration.

Imagine my surprise when AT&T’s social networking Tinkerbell responded to me: “Connect when and where you want with our reliable 4G LTE!”

I found that amusing. The reason I switched to Verizon Wireless was because AT&T was so awful. I bought the first version of the iPhone, with AT&T as the sole carrier. The device was a delightful and innovative glass brick. Great apps, brilliant design, game-changing paradigm shift. Except for that whole wanting-to-make-phone-calls on it issue. For that purpose, it was worthless. That’s what I mean by glass brick. I returned it for a full refund, and got some ugly non-iPhone at Verizon that I actually could make phone calls on.

Once Verizon got the iPhone, I returned to the glass brick, new and improved — now with phone-calling capabilities!

All of which raises the question: Why are telecom services in the U.S. so unconscionably awful? Sure they’re expensive, but at least they are slow and unreliable! We invented most of the technologies so why are they so superior in other countries? continues here

Category: Really, really bad calls, Regulation, Taxes and Policy, Technology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

20 Responses to “Why Does US Cell Phone Service Suck?”

  1. Seaton says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, and you pointed to the obvious problem: The various companies spend too much money on lobbyists to protect their vested interests—make more money for “us” in the company, and be happy we created an oligopoly.

    Similar experiences to yours I had as well. Isn’t it interesting how much money ATT pays out in dividends? Well, now I’m not on ATT, but I keep the investment in shares. I can’t beat them one way, so I’ll try another.

    Change? Not going to happen as long as Congress & Senate are beholden to the lobbyist that gets the legislator’s attention directly—it’ll never happen to me. I don’t got that much money!

    And this is the sin of America’s Capitalism nowadays. Choices? Whine, and live here…or move.

  2. Derektheunder says:

    It’s by design. Keep the system at varying degrees of shittiness, and companies like Verizon and AT&T stay on top. If they all had great coverage and worked perfectly well, competition would eliminate the top tier’s ability to charge so much for exclusive phones and lock us into contracts.

  3. VennData says:

    Reagan’s FCC wanted the market to build out our systems. While every other country in the world chooses a standard, not us. We are for “free markets.”

    Standards? We don’t need no stinking standards.

    But Reagan is still your mythological hero. If Reagan and the GOP built the railroads every state would have it’s own guage.

    • Iamthe50percent says:

      Correction: Every COMPANY would have its own gauge.

      • VennData says:


        Reagan knuckled under to the lobbyists to let them do whatever they wanted while the entire rest of the world decided to standardize within their regions. The sort of “free markets” that only allow the huge players to compete.

        Big business screwing small business, sound familiar GOP voter? Oh. You think the Republicans are for small business? ROFL!

      • rd says:

        I am surprised that the Tea Party has not recommended that the free market require that each railroad company have their own gauge. That would be a two-fer as it would make it much more difficult for Washington, DC and the Russians to invade the central part of the US and occupy it. It is believed that one of the reasons the Germans did not reach their early objectives in Operation Barbarossa, beginning their ultimate loss of WW II, was because the European railroad gauge is different from the Russian gauge (which happens to be the same as the US) and shipments had to be transferred between train to continue their journey.

  4. raholco says:

    Comparing the US to Europe is a fools game as Europe was way ahead of the curve with a EU-wide GSM technology mandate before the US ever got on board with it. Heck, Sprint had a GSM network in the DC area in the early 1990s but shut it down when they started to roll out CDMA – many frequent European visitors to the DC area were pretty peeved that they couldn’t roam on Sprint and wound up having to buy a US phone.

  5. ByteMe says:

    It’s easy to offer country-wide service when your country is smaller than Texas (or — for some countries — smaller than Ohio). Offering consistent coast-to-coast service on a rather large and geographically diverse continent is not so simple. And cell service was so slow to be adopted here because land lines were relatively cheap and plentiful… in other countries, land lines were expensive and had per-minute charges, so shifting to cell service was not a big economic adjustment.

    • Ralph says:

      I have to agree with BR here.

      I live and work in some of the densest population densities in America — In New York City, with just 302.6 sq miles, and 8.4 million residents, and 17,800,000 people every work day. Residential density of people per sq mi at 27,779. Pop density per Sq mi = > 60,000!

      And of the bedroom communities Nassau County, Connecticut, Westchester, N NJ, outside of NYC are some of the densest suburban regions in the nation. Service stinks in all of these areas.

      So much for the density argument!

      • ByteMe says:

        I didn’t make a density argument at all. I made a size argument. Cell towers don’t exist in a vacuum. You have to link them together with fiber optics to make a network function from coast to coast, sometimes in places that are dense, sometimes in places that are barren, sometimes in the middle of the mountains. But everyone expects a signal everywhere and complains when they don’t get it, never appreciating the scope and scale of what they’re really asking about.

      • rd says:

        I think the density is the problem as a single tower gets many more users in NYC than in Upstate NY. You get fairly good coverage in moderate density locations with few dropped calls. However, I always feel like I am going to a third world country when I go to NYC or DC because it can be difficult to get a decent signal. Urban areas with less than a couple of million people generally have decent cell phone coverage. Europe and Japan have much smaller areas to cover so they can put far more towers in place in their dense areas whereas North America needs to spread the towers out on average because of the long distances, so dense areas can end up on the short end of the investment game.

    • Crocodile Chuck says:

      Australia* has managed to do it. :)

      * Identical in size to the ‘Lower 48′

      • Tezzer says:

        Australia has roughly the population of New York, it’s a different problem entirely. U.S. service sucks because of three major things that add up to a very difficult problem:

        1. The distribution of our population means a national carrier has to spend a -lot- of capital on infrastructure to get nearly everywhere
        2. The density of our major cities means a lot of people are competing for limited bandwidth per cell (the AT&T iphone problem was a huge one in NY, SF, LA, Boston- too many customers for the available resources in those locations)
        3. Competition for customers, real estate and spectrum means an individual carrier can’t always solve the problems experienced by their most vocal customers because somebody else got there first. Existing infrastructure comes in several flavors (TDMA, CDMA, GSM) so you frequently can’t even buy your way out of the problem.

        Not to mention a confounding factor: NIMBYs and tin foil hat wearers that stop the installation of cells in sensible places (like church steeples and on top of telephone poles)

      • ByteMe says:

        No, they didn’t.

        Largest operator right now is Telstra. Look at their coverage map and tell me that it compares to what Verizon has done in the USA:


  6. advsys says:

    Corporate culture is the core of the problem. Over all societal culture is part of the problem.
    Society for accepting sub standard treatment.

    Example. American car companies sucked for 25 years. it was not until they were headed towards total financial meltdown that things changed. The shareholders and the consumer are to blame. We never demanded better. We never voted with our pocket books.

    The phone companies have been this way for a while. It is time for activist shareholders.

  7. BennyProfane says:

    Maybe, but, I get much better service in the middle of the Colorado Rocky mountains, far from a population center, than I do in Upper Westchester county in NY.. But, I think that has a lot to do with NIMBY attitudes of the wealthy here. “No cell towers will ruin my perfect little faux New England landscapes, no sirree.”

    • BennyProfane says:

      That was in response to Byteme.

    • Biffah Bacon says:

      Usually they hide them in church steeples in New England. Any tall structure can host a relatively easy to hide antenna array, and frequently the companies with antenna desires pay property owners rent to place them.

  8. badaitz says:

    I live in Vietnam HCMC and my internet and phone service is excellent. I receive unlimited data for $3.50 a month. I able to purchase a SIM card pay as you go for about two cents a minute. There’s no contracts and I have never had a dropped call.

    I curious how long Americans (we) will sit on our asses and allow K street to control Congress and our lives? Are we so apathetic that nothing will get us to protest the injustices that abound?


    Bruce Daitz

  9. Livermore Shimervore says:

    It will improve because it has to. Verizon used to sell long distance, that’s gone. They used sell text, WhatsApp made it that a free lunch for all worldwide. All they have left is cellular data. They used to sell minutes now they sell GB’s.

    I was on T-mobil. I bought the original I-phone and unlocked it (quiet a process before it became much easier just a few months later). T-mobil were nearly as awful as AT&T in NY/NJ. Then the big 3G rush came on and I figured I should jump on unlimited data ASAP with Verizon. I thought about waiting until the iPhone came to Verizon to make the switch but decided that was too risky, best to secure an unlimited plan now. I picked up a Motorola Android phone and that was it I was hooked, no chance I would ever go back to an iOS device. Barely two months later Verizon shit-canned unlimited data with still no sign of the iPhone. Big mistake Apple, they went for cash over market share. Verizon has since made about $12,000 from my contracts and didn’t even have to subsidize my last Android phone since that’s the rule if you want to keep unlimited data. In all those years LTE has not really improved. If anything I noticed a big drop in LTE speeds when Apple finally managed to put out an iPhone with 4G LTE in 2011 (the last premium smartphone to have LTE). One minute I was regularly enjoying blazing fast 17 mbps from my regular lunch spot and the next day I’m getting barely getting 4 mpbs. MetroPCS users were getting faster speeds on their 3G than I was regularly getting on Verizon 4G. And I still had those same black holes in coverage on the last 10 minute leg of my commute that have not gone away in all these years. The bills are still expensive since it’s Verizon. I noticed T-Mobil are offering unlimited 4G for about the same price as Verizon but I doubt anyone will jump ship until their unlimited data gets taken away.