Wireless Expert On iPhone 4 Antenna: We Got A Problem

Richard Gaywood - PhD in wireless network planning from Cardiff University - has tested the iPhone 4 communications problem. Before he thought there were no problems. Now his conclusion is clear: "The iPhone 4 is a fantastic device but a lousy phone."

Gaywood performed various tests that analysed the network throughput of the device. Basically how fast the iPhone 4 could transfer data measured in megabits per second under different conditions:

• Flat on hand

• Covered grip (using a piece of cloth between the hand and the phone).

• Care grip

He first tested the iPhone 4 in a weak signal area, then in an area with a very strong signal, in direct line of sight with a cell tower.

The resulting data was clear under both situations: there is a performance penalty when you hold your iPhone with your bare hand, independently of the bars displayed. When the signal is very strong, the impact is less noticeable. When the signal is weaker (chart above), the problem could stop communications altogether, like has been demonstrated already for both internet access and voice calls.

Test under strong signal conditions

Gaywood argues that Apple's explanations and solutions are conflicting, and that everyone should be affected by the signal problem:

If you're in a strong signal area, you may not ever see the effect, because even with the attenuation from holding the phone you'll still have plenty of signal left over. But that doesn't mean you aren't going to be affected by the issue unless you are never, ever in a weaker signal area—and the second test above suggests that 3G data transfer rates are still going to be slower anyway.

He also claims that, from his experience, it doesn't feel like a software fault to him. He says that he is waiting for a formal response from Apple, thinking that "there's some deeper problem here". For now, however, Apple keeps denying the problem: While talking to iPhone 4 users, Apple Care support has orders to deny the problem, arguing that all mobile phones experience this problem. While this is technically true, as the empirical evidence from Gaywood and thousands of users shows, it affects the iPhone 4 much more than any other device. The obvious reason that Gaywood points out in his article: The user is, at all times, in contact with the antenna through metal.

Anandtech performed some signal attenuation tests as part of their in-depth analysis of the phone. This shows the differences between the iPhone 4, the iPhone 3GS and the HTC Nexus One:

They also weighed in the whole antenna issue:

The main downside to the iPhone 4 is the obvious lapse in Apple's engineering judgment. The fact that Apple didn't have the foresight to coat the stainless steel antenna band with even a fraction of an ounce worth of non-conductive material either tells us that Apple doesn't care or that it simply doesn't test thoroughly enough. The latter is a message we've seen a few times before with OS X issues, the iPhone 4 simply reinforces it. At the bare minimum Apple should give away its bumper case with every iPhone 4 sold. The best scenario is for Apple to coat the antenna and replace all existing phones with a revised model.The ideal situation is very costly for Apple but it is the right thing to do. Plus it's not like Apple doesn't have the resources to take care of its customers.

Both Anandtech and Gaywood argue that Apple's response to this situation is not good. Their expert testing shows what thousands of you have already denounced. The tests results show that the iPhone 4 suffers from a design problem that affects the core functionality of the phone: make calls and receive data.

Hopefully a fix is in the works. [Fscked and Anandtech]



    in fairness:

    “The iPhone is a fantastic device but a lousy phone.”

    has been true for every model. should have known what you were getting into.

      What utter garbage! Despite being an all-in-1 device, my iPhone 3GS has the best phone functionality of any phone I've ever own, and I've used Nokia, LG, Motorola, Samsung to name a few.

      even the attenuation table above is a testament to the excellent design of iPhone 3GS.

        Her Indoors loves her 3Gs. Well, she's mostly into texting her pals and making the odd call. She couldn't give a monkeys for all the other stuff it can do. It also fits very nicely into the dedicated pockets in her Gucci, LV and Prada handbags.
        I'm stoked as I inherited her cute little F480 which suits me to the ground. It's a fantastically built phone to boot with great telephony and texting and a snappy little 5 meg snapper an' all! Innit?!?

    Maybe Apple should just re-brand it as the "i 4" and be done with it.

    Did you even read signal attenuation comparison box?

    No that hasn't been true for other iPhones and at the very least, relatively, this is definitely true for the current model

    Sometimes I ask myself who the people are who comment on this site.

    who really uses their iphone as a phone these days anyway? i mean, phones? they're a little out of date aren't they?

    Err.. pretty much everything else I use the phone for pretty much requires signal too.

    @JobBOY26, @Ben

    It's obvious that matt is exaggerating somewhat so take it easy.

    I'm pretty sure his claim was regarding the iPhones as a general phone and not anything specific like signal attenuation.

    He is kind of right though. If all you want/need is a phone than iPhones (smartphones in general) are definitely the wrong choice.

    Call quality, speaker quality, voice quality, signal strength, noise cancellation, BATTERY LIFE, etc.

    There are a lot of things that older and simpler phones still do better than modern smartphones.

    I actually came away from Anand's excellent review with a different opinion. Yes, the antenna design flaw sucks, but given how easily you can rectify the problem with a case (which I was definitely going to get anyway) I just don't see it as a big deal. Anand demonstrated that with the addition of the bumper case, the iPhone 4 performed dramatically better than it's predecessors as a phone:

    "From my day of testing, I've determined that the iPhone 4 performs much better than the 3GS in situations where signal is very low, at -113 dBm (1 bar). Previously, dropping this low all but guaranteed that calls would drop, fail to be placed, and data would no longer be transacted at all. I can honestly say that I've never held onto so many calls and data simultaneously on 1 bar at -113 dBm as I have with the iPhone 4, so it's readily apparent that the new baseband hardware is much more sensitive compared to what was in the 3GS. The difference is that reception is massively better on the iPhone 4 in actual use.

    With my bumper case on, I made it further into dead zones than ever before, and into marginal areas that would always drop calls without any problems at all. It's amazing really to experience the difference in sensitivity the iPhone 4 brings compared to the 3GS, and issues from holding the phone aside, reception is absolutely definitely improved. I felt like I was going places no iPhone had ever gone before. There's no doubt in my mind this iPhone gets the best cellular reception yet, even though measured signal is lower than the 3GS."

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