iPhone 3G reception 'normal,' say Swedish engineers

iPhone reception tested against Nokia, Ericsson models to quell users claims of poor signal strength.

Apple's iPhone 3G offers "normal" reception, Swedish engineers who tested the smart phone said today, adding to the controversy over recent user reports of dropped calls and slow surfing speeds.

According to the Goeteborgs-Posten, Sweden's second-largest daily newspaper, tests done at Bluetest, a testing chamber manufacturer, showed that the iPhone 3G's transmission and receiving results were "completely normal."

Bluetest compared the iPhone 3G's numbers with those obtained from tests on a Sony Ericsson P1 and a Nokia N73. The bottom line]]: The Sony Ericsson proved slightly better at receiving signals and the N73 edged the iPhone at transmitting signals.

But Bluetest considered even the largest difference, 2 dBm between the iPhone and the Nokia in transmission power, as minor. "It is not much," the newspaper quoted Mats Andersson, Bluetest's CEO, as saying. "At a difference of 4-6 dBm one might start to wonder if there is anything wrong."

Andersson's engineers tested the iPhone 3G with wireless, GPS and Bluetooth disabled as well as enabled to eliminate the chance that other signals might be interfering with the phone's cellular connection. Bluetest reported no difference between the disabled and enabled tests.

Andersson did not reply to an e-mail asking for additional comment and information on the tests.

Owners of Apple's newest phone have complained of poor reception almost since it debuted July 11. The complaints, which center around frequent dropped calls, slow data downloads and poor signal strength, even when in areas supposedly covered by a 3G network, have prompted several thousand messages to Apple's support forum, as well as a lawsuit filed last week by an Alabama woman.

Although Apple issued an iPhone software update last week that it said included 3G communication improvements, users disagreed, maintaining on the support forum that the fix had not changed their phone's performance.

Also last week, Birmingham, Ala. resident Jessica Smith filed a lawsuit in federal court charging Apple with breach of warranty. Smith also asked that her suit be granted class-action status so that other iPhone 3G owners could join her in demanding that Apple replace or repair the phone, which she claimed was defective.

Most users have blamed Apple for the problems, saying that other 3G phones they own have no trouble keeping connected to a particular carrier's network. Some users in Europe, where 3G has been in place much longer than in the US, have also reported difficulty making calls with their iPhones.

But Bluetest's results, if valid, could shift attention from Apple to mobile operators. AT&T, for example, is still in the process of upgrading its 3G network in the US, where it's promised to add another 50 metropolitan areas to its coverage by the end of the year, and to double existing 3G capacity in nearly half its cell sites nationally.

Ironically, two weeks ago, another Swedish publication, the engineering weekly Ny Teknik claimed it had data from unnamed mobile experts that said Apple's phone suffered from substandard signal sensitivity because of a problem somewhere between the phone's antenna and its signal amplifier.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)

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