Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

Summary: When it comes to dropped mobile calls, the wireless industry is a lot like real estate: It's all about location, according to a J.D. Power study.

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When it comes to dropped mobile calls, the wireless industry is a lot like real estate: It's all about location.

J.D. Power measured call quality in a report released Thursday and found that AT&T lags in most regions. Verizon and Sprint were near the top of the rankings in call quality and T-Mobile connectivity was totally hit or miss depending on where you live.

According to J.D. Power, wireless customers are using their phones less for calls, but still cite dropped calls as the primary reason for switching carriers. J.D. Power rated call quality based on dropped calls, interference, failed call connection on the first try, voice distortion, echoes; no immediate voicemail notification and no immediate text message notification.

The study rated carriers based on problems per 100 calls. Like golf, a lower score is better. The more interesting data was the call quality by region. These findings should factor into your choice of wireless carriers.

For instance, the Northeast findings illustrate how T-Mobile is a no-show far too often. Verizon Wireless dominates:

Ditto for the mid-Atlantic region:

In the Southeast, three carriers carry the day, but AT&T is still in the basement.

Only the North Central region---Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin---gets solid performance from AT&T and T-Mobile over Sprint and Verizon.

In the Southwest---Texas, Oklahoma and the surrounding states---T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon are all respectable.

And in the West, Verizon and Sprint lead in call quality. AT&T is again in the basement.

Add it up and AT&T may be in trouble if it loses its exclusive on Apple's iPhone. Simply put, the network performance just isn't there. Meanwhile, consumers know all about AT&T's network woes and that fact may be holding back Apple's iPhone sales. In a research note, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster delivered the results of a survey of 258 cell phone users. Munster was out to see how the iPhone's much publicized antenna issue affected sales and the answer was not much. However, Munster noted:

We found that for every one respondent that acknowledged the antenna issue about three complained about the iPhone not being on Verizon. In other words, the lack of an iPhone on Verizon is holding sales back by about three times more than the antenna issue.

When you handicap AT&T's regional performance, Munster's findings aren't all that surprising.

Topics: Telcos, iPhone, Mobility, Networking, AT&T, Verizon, Wi-Fi

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23 comments
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  • This only really matters for feature phones.

    A big part of the accelerating uptake of smartphones comes from, what I believe is, the fact most people don't like talking on the phone. When your smartphone offers you the option of SMS, MMS, full-function email (often to multiple, and especially separate work/personal, servers), GoogleVoice transcriptions, and complete syncing to your work and/or personal computers the need to talk to people that you don't want to suddenly goes away. I don't have any hard numbers, but I'm willing to bet that over the past three years the average number of talk-time minutes has gone down for all carriers, but especially for AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

    Of course that doesn't let AT&T off the hook for improved but still fairly awful coverage in places like the SF Bay Area and Manhattan. However, the fact that Apple and AT&T are [i]still[/i] selling boatloads of iPhones despite this well-known fact just shows how little call-quality matters, at least to smartphone buyers.
    matthew_maurice
    • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

      @matthew_maurice: So, does this make iPhone users smart or not so smart?!!
      Nsaf
      • Tmobile provides better data coverage

        Having traveled trough over thirty midwestern and eastern states this year through interstates, highways, rural country roads, having a sprint samsung moment, a bb from att, an incredible from verizon and a vibrant as well as a g1 from tmobile. Tmobile prove to be the one the best data coverage, even where sprint and verizon had none, examples are:

        Arkansas highway 30, 40, 55 thug has some issues in western arkansas, britain sprint and att have none, specially on northern 55.

        Missouri, Minnesota, drive from branson to rochester tmobile provides coverage all the way both voice and data. ask others only when you went through major towns, and even them not that.

        Northern Pa, similar issue as previous paragraph.

        West Virginia, att had the best coverage near Natrium, otherwise ask others had none.

        I could go on, but there is no need to. On interstates Verizon had the best speed for data. In metro areas to mobile out did sprint and everyone else.

        But data coverage you can count in t mob
        Uralbas
    • "Most people don't like talking on the phone"

      @matthew_maurice

      I tend to think that is a generational thing. If you said "Most young people don't like talking on the phone" I might agree, but not most people in general. I still find direct voice communication to be concise and efficient, more so than texts or emails. Sure, there are times when voice communications are not a good thing, such as in movies or meetings, but that is what voice mail is for. Texting in those situations is also not polite or professional, nor is constantly checking your phone every time a new message hits.

      One difference between older and younger generations is the need to be connected. I actually don't want to be connected all the time, and so far have refused to have a phone with email, text, and browsing capabilities. When I go into a meeting or theater I shut off my phone, and I just spent the long holiday weekend camping where I had no signal whatsoever. Of course, my younger counterparts are just the opposite, and suffer withdrawal if they are disconnected for even a few minutes.
      itpro_z
    • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

      @matthew_maurice

      In northern New England (ME,NH,VT)the service is dismal. I have a hard time getting a signal in my own house. Verizon was always available - even on remote island and/or mountain/lake locations. I'd love to get a iP 4, but will wait to see if Verizon picks it up next year.
      ExEC135CrewDog
    • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

      @matthew_maurice

      I've been told that the reason for the poor call quality is due to the moving over to GSM, what AT&T believed to be the "next" popular cellular medium for consumers.

      It turns out that we didn't "buy it" ... the USA, I mean. Apparently, the GSM coverage is a good technology, and it is widely used overseas, but AT&T doesn't "own" the whole band ... just a part of it, which is where the delimma lies.

      In areas like San Francisco Bay, or even Austin Texas, you can have full bars on your signal strength and still get service that is likened to a poor connection. The problem is the "hand-off" between cells. When the cell channels available are limited, your hand-off just may get dropped by a tower that has run "out of" available cells, due to the traffic in that area.

      I remember using my AT&T once in the local medical center. The signal just couldn't make a solid call. I stepped out into the parking lot, thinking that was my problem. Once out there I had full bars, like before, but the same problem existed! I took my phone back and went to Sprint/NEXTEL. All-of-a-sudden I had excellent service where others did not! Was it the towers? No, it was the band service. The GSM that AT&T has just couldn't handle the traffic right there in that area.

      I've also experienced the sobering awakening when you use an AT&T phone on-the-road! You can be traveling along, utilizing all of the wonderful features of an iPhone and all-of-a-sudden it's like someone "pulled the plug"! NOTHING! Oh, you still have cell service, as in a "phone call", but your data? Forget it buddy ... it's history! You're in "the sticks" now! (with AT&T's GSM) Apparently, the other carriers, since they use TDMA/CDMA, they have a broader coverage area and better tower coverage ... and you "still have" your data when roaming out of the metropolis!

      Is AT&T bad? No, but I wish they'd incorporated CDMA/TDMA into the iPhone alone with GSM to make it a multi-band phone ... data and all! Now, that would be "sweetness"!
      rAllcorn
  • iPhone Signal Strength--not!

    Never a first adopter I finally got an iPhone4 because my sons have them and we were intrigued by the FaceTime feature. But, because I often had almost no signal, I returned it in two weeks. Mike, one hour south of Raleigh, NC
    mmacdona
  • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

    I have to believe this has something to do with the phone that is being used. I have had AT&T for 8 years and have lived in 3 different Northeast/New England states and in those 8 years I've never had an issue with dropped calls. Sure, it's happened once or twice, but nothing notable. That said, I often talk to a friend in the southwest who has At&T , AND has an iPhone (i don't have an iPhone) and those calls often drop, but I'm pretty sure it's on that end, not mine. Maybe the service is worse there, or maybe it's the iPhone, I'm not sure.

    Also, my company had verizon for the last 4 years and I often carry a work phone, and I've never had an issue with dropped calls on Verizon either. That said, AT&T coverage seems much better where I am than Verizon because there have been a number of times that I was somewhere and had no (zero, zilch, nada) reception on my work phone and had to use my personal phone instead, which seems to get reception damn near everywhere!
    mgrubb9
  • Funny, my experience is different.

    Having an iPhone 3G and now a Droid X, I can tell you I think AT&T's call quality is better than Verizon's on 3G.

    AT&T sounded "fuller" and just a hair better to my ears.
    Verizon sounds a little "tinny" and coarser.

    Yes, I have the Google Voice recordings to back this up.
    itguy08
    • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

      @itguy08

      I agree too. My parents and both my sisters have verizon and all there phones sound fuzzy when they call me. It is like talking to a drive through speaker sometimes.
      bobiroc
    • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

      @itguy08
      This may be due to the device and not the service. I have been told that as far as "coverage" goes, Verizon wins hands down! AT&T, however, is the only carrier that offers simultaneous data and voice - data usage while you are in the middle of a voice phone call. That's pristine!

      I'm not sure if this is due to the GSM choice in band, or if it's just the way their system is tailored. Personally, I'd prefer that they "add" the other type bands (CDMA/TDMA, etc.) to the GSM in the iPhone so that you'd have the best of both worlds - multi-use during a call with AT&T's GSM, the capability of going worldwide with the GMS; "and" the CDMA/TDMA, etc. of the other guys so that you could use "their service" when you leave an AT&T GSM area, and maintain your phone/data usage.
      rAllcorn
  • If you leave the graphic bars off of those charts

    and just look at the numbers, it appears all the major US carriers have significant problems. Varying from a low of 5 to a high of 16 "problem" calls per 100, I would say each of them needs to step up and improve their networks.
    wizard57m-cnet
  • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

    I care about the signal in my house and on the streets where I drive the most, not REGIONS! These numbers are interesting to analysts, not regular users. Average people make decisions PURELY on anecdotal evidence, not studies. AT&T has no signal where I live so I switched to Verizon, it's that simple. Now I will say another aspect of Verizon is over the years, their customer service is a notch better than AT&T for SURE. They don't allow devices on their network until they've done a thorough shakedown. It has paid off, they are the best because they focused on the long term, not purely on marketing like AT&T.
    alexaaa5
  • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

    THis is good but can the ATT be broken out by iPhone vs all else?
    When I switched from the iPhone to the Nexus One I had a significant decrease in call drops.
    Wonder if the ATT number is influence by the iPhone?
    I suspect it would have to be...
    rhonin
  • Had to drop Verizon a few years ago...

    My house was in a gully and had no signal whatsoever in my house from Verizon. AT&T works great there. Verizon works great everywhere else, but I need my cell phone to work at home!! Haven't had too much trouble with AT&T (in Austin, TX). Couldn't pry the iPhone out of my wife's hands for anything, either...
    Carrion
    • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

      @Carrion
      femtocells from Verizon seem to solve this problem nicely.
      rspiewak1
  • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

    Here is the question I am beginning to have. This call quality issue for AT&T has been around for some time now. AT&T is spending like drunken sailors to improve the performance of the network, yet the dropped call issue continues. It can not be that it is simply that AT&T is stupid or don't care or are trying to save money. I mean, why would they spend $19 Billion to improve the network performance and yet have dropped call results like these? Further, you have got to be kidding me, do you really think that AT&T specifically targeted New York and San Francisco to have really crummy service. I mean, do you really believe that AT&T would not kill themselves trying to deliver the best network performance in these trend setting areas? I mean, I was born at night, but not last night.

    There has to be another factor here. The engineers at Verizon can't be that much better. Something else is going on. Could it be spectrum? Could it be cdma technology vs gsm?

    What do you think it is?
    snow53
  • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

    Figures lie and liars figure, old adage yet I think these MUST be factored in.
    How many customers does each carrier have. The article implies that the survey was based on "per 100" calls which at face value seems okay. But if one carrier only has 100 customers versus a carrier that has 100,000 customers the figures get skewed. The more customers you have the greater the possibility of dropped calls. Simple logic! If you have 100,000 customers than your "per
    100" calls will be SIGNIFICANTLY higher vs.100 customers.
    Statistical info MUST be on a level playing field, EVERYTHING MUST be factored in. ergo percentage of customers reporting dropped calls, types of phones used, % of total customers of ALL carriers(market share).
    Secondly, how many of the ATT customers are using the Apple i-
    Phones which are NOTED for crummy antenna's, lousy reception!! I think ATT is the only one able to offer the iPhone. Maybe I'm mistaken? But this too must be factored in as you can't trash a carrier for a cell phones short comings. People Will Not give up their precious iPhone's but will trash ATT for lousy service. Was this taken into account?? How many of the dropped calls were because of the short comings of the iPhone?
    I know J.D. Powers is noted for being reputable for it's ratings but if the above weren't factored in than their findings don't amount to anything reliable! Sorry J.D.
    Remember the Chevy Corvair, Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at any Speed" car. Depending on how a pollster/ rating company skews
    it's questions or doesn't include some items, this car could have been deemed the safest car on the road ever instead of the worst car EVER! Showing my age on that one!
    If J.D. factored EVERYTHING in then their survey is valid. If not, then it was a TOTAL WASTE OF TIME!!!!
    The more customers one has, the greater the chances of complaint's from users. It's as simple as that!!!!!!! No rocket
    scientists needed here.
    I think what is needed here is a MORE factual breakdown of the
    statistics, type of phones reporting dropped calls, carrier market
    share( how many customers each), % of complaints per carrier.
    "Per 100 calls" by itself doesn't portrait a valid survey without factoring in all of the above, ergo a invalid survey.
    Remember this; "If you ask all the WRONG questions you could have the wonderful smell of a rose rated as stinky as a skunk and
    the statistics would validate your findings!"
    Disgruntled_MS_User
  • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

    There are so many factors that effect call quality that it is not an easy job to test it.
    First off, if you can't test with the same phone the data is very suspect. Phones are radios and we all know that radios differ in their ability to receive. In this case there is the added variable of sending as well.
    My first question to a sales tech when getting a phone is, "Which one has the best radio?" If he/she doesn't understand the question I get someone who does. From there I have to decide which features I want most and which I can live without.
    Too often it matters little to the buyer how good the phone is, but whether it is one of the currently "in" phones to have. There is little incentive for the current "in" phone maker to MAKE a better PHONE when theirs is already selling well.
    And to the person who spoke about a younger generation having withdrawal if they are out of touch for even a short time, I can attest to that. I have seen MANY kids who could "touch-text" faster than I can "touch type" using only one hand and the phone in the pocket. Most kids appear compelled to answer a text just as soon as humanly possible.
    rogersks
  • RE: Wireless call quality matters and that's bad news for AT&T, good for Verizon, Sprint

    Actually in Northern Wisconsin and northeast Minnesota AT&T is king. They bought out the CelluarOne operation based out of Minnesota a couple years ago. (AllTel was just a good if not better than Verizon.) GSM works inside buildings and CDMA doesn't. I get better reception out in the woods on the trail than I do at the house. Down state it becomes nearly even beween all the players.
    ptvjr