Wireless network problems on the rise, study says

Wireless network problems on the rise, study says

Summary: Wireless network issues are increasing as more consumers use web services on their smartphones. Plus, winners and losers in each region of the U.S.


Perhaps to no one's surprise, wireless network issues are on the rise, according to a new study.

J.D. Power and Associates -- you know, the market research firm best known for giving automakers shiny trophies they can use in advertisements -- says that increasing mobile Web and e-mail usage is causing problems with network performance.

In its semiannual 2012 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study, which evaluates calling, messaging and data activity in the U.S., J.D. Power found 10 problem areas:

  1. Dropped calls
  2. Calls not connected
  3. Audio issues
  4. Failed/late voicemails
  5. Lost calls
  6. Text transmission failures
  7. Late text message notifications
  8. Web connection errors
  9. E-mail connection errors
  10. Slow downloads

In other words, everything I experienced this week using my smartphone while traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

But it's the data-related issues that are growing the fastest. J.D. Power says that rates for these incidents (mobile Web connectivity, loading performance and errors) during the first half of 2011 measured 16 for every 100 network connections in the period between July and December 2011; the latter half clocked in at 19 for every 100, with slow downloads leading the charge. Calling and text messaging incident rates remained unchanged.

J.D. Power says the data demonstrates a consumer base that's increasingly using smartphones for their Internet connectivity -- duh -- but more importantly how steep the challenge is for wireless carriers to meet that demand through infrastructure investment.

To wit: between July and December 2011, wireless customers said they connected to the mobile Web or used mobile e-mail 20 times within a 48-hour period. (They clearly didn't include many ZDNet readers in their sample.)

The good news is that there's financial incentive to address the problem. Wireless carriers continue to compete on the basis of coverage, and consumers have shown that they're willing to spend more ($17 per month more, on average) for it.

The winners and losers:

  • Northeast, winner: Verizon
  • Northeast, loser: Sprint
  • Mid-Atlantic, winner: Verizon
  • Mid-Atlantic, loser: Everyone else
  • Southeast, winner: Verizon
  • Southeast, loser: T-Mobile, Sprint (tie)
  • North Central, winner: U.S. Cellular
  • North Central, loser: Sprint
  • Southwest, winner: Verizon
  • Southwest, loser: Sprint, T-Mobile (tie)
  • West, winner: Verizon
  • West, loser: AT&T

Topics: Networking, Collaboration, Mobility, Wi-Fi

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • but..

    smart phones and tablets are the way to go supposedly.
  • I live in the Northwest

    And I have Verizon, we have 2 smart phones (one 3G one 4G), 3 feature phones & a 4G Hotspot on our plan. We have very few issues and really no complaints with the service. I have friends that have AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile. They seem to complain about their service on a regular basis. One of my friends just recently switched from AT&T to Verizon and was amazed that he has not had a dropped call in a month compared to several when he had AT&T. I know that network coverage is area specific, but in my area, 30 miles north of Seattle WA, Verizon is the best by far.
  • Verizon--cell phones--hotspot--Southwest Michigan

    We switched our cell phones from AT&T (formerly Centennial) around April of last year. Had nothing but good things to say about the, great coverage, great customer service.

    We had tons of trouble with our Virgin Mobile Hotspot, plus bad customer service, so bought a Verizon 2 year contract hotspot, sometime last summer. Had great connect and great customer service.

    Our phones are 3g, our hotspot is 3g and 4g capable. Phones still work great, but the hotspot started going downhill around Christmas time, and has slowly gotten worse.

    Come to find out, sometime in November or December, 4g became available in our area...but we are in an extended extended extended area, according to their tech. Our hotspot keeps searching for the 4g, which is very limited here, which is causing our internet to go slow and drop while it is searching. There is no way to stop our device from searching for 4g, so we are pretty much stuck. Impossible to get a hotspot these days that isn't 4g capable, and until 4g becomes more available in our area, we can't upgrade our phones either, or they will do the searching for 4g and cause dropped calls, or no service.

    I can't fault Verizon, and they have offered to waive early termination fees on our hotspot and our phones. But, if we did that, we would have the same problem with any other company. It sucks, technology wise, to live in the sticks.
    • The phones can be made to work on CDMA/EVDO only

      I'm surprised the hotspot cant too. Verizon has been aggressively rolling out 4G in the midwest. I was recently in some rural markets near Toledo and was surprised to have 4G so maybe they will bring it out your way soon.
  • No issues with Sprint here

    I've been out west, central, and east....haven't had one problem with Sprint yet since I moved from AT&T in November.

    With AT&T I had issues all over the place, I'm 2 miles from an AT&T cell tower, I'd be out within sight of it and still drop calls....

    AT&T's response? "It's not us, it must be your SIM card, let's replace it for the 200th time".