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AT&T Wireless, terrible service in San Francisco

:: Sunday, July 19th, 2009 @ 12:29:48 am

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Those of you who follow my posts know that I complain about AT&T at least a few times a week. I finally called them up today to have a chat about the deteriorating service in San Francisco, threatening to terminate my account, and was informed by the retention department that a tower a 4th and Howard stopped working some time ago. This may be one of the main reasons I’m getting such terrible service because it’s the closest tower to me; however, it does not explain failed calls in other parts of the Bay Area. The retention specialist told me that two new towers would be going in at 5th and Shipley on July 31st. She then credited my account $30 for my troubles.

If I turn off 3G on the iPhone, I can often make calls without getting the dreaded “Call Failed” screen. Since the Blackberry Bold on AT&T doesn’t have a feature disable 3G, I’m out of luck unless I de-brand the device, which seems a bit risky.

If AT&T service is still bad after the new towers go up on July 31st, I’m switching my Blackberry plan over to Verizon1 (I’ll probably get the Blackberry Tour, since works overseas with its support for CDMA/EV–DO, 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE and 2100 MHz UMTS/HSPA). It will be worth the $175 termination fee to have a phone that can do things like making and sustaining calls without failing. The iPhone will stay on an AT&T plan, but I won’t be using it for voice anymore.

UPDATE, August 3, 2009: I switched my Blackberry over to Verizon and am loving the call quality and ability to make a phone call. My iPhone is still on AT&T. The new towers are supposed to be up less than a block from me. I am getting 3 bars on 3G instead of 1 bar, but I’ve already dropped one call this morning. I’ll write another update after more testing.

UPDATE, August 3, 2009: I am actually fluctuating between 1 bar and 3 bars, even when the phone is stationary. Whatever.


  1. When I used to be on Verizon, I would drop about one call every month. On AT&T, I’m dropping a few calls a day, and if something happens like WWDC or a typical day’s rush hour, it can be difficult to even connect on a single call. Many friends on AT&T have reported similar statistics. 

| San Francisco, CA | link | trackback | Jul 19, 2009 00:29:48
  • http://www.davidpatchen.com Dave

    I have ATT and they really don’t seem to be the least bit concerned about customer satisfaction. I called them to complain about both the shitty service and expensive plans (Kim’s Sprint is a ton cheaper). ATT wasn’t interested in being competitive, nor concerned with crappy service. If Verizon has a comparable BB with comparable international service I’m gone. ATT sucks.

  • Scott

    It’s always good to leave 3G off– also for better battery usage. I had a lot of call failures when I first got my iPhone 3G, and after replacing the phone twice, now I just stick with Edge. Scott

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Dave — Blackberry Tour on Verizon does international, but I haven’t done research on Verizon international vs AT&T international.

    Scott – Bold on AT&T doesn’t allow for EDGE only. So phone calls using the Bold on AT&T are out of the question! Also, I disagree re: the blanket statement. Data on 3G is almost always better.

  • http://www.cornforthimages.com Jon Cornforth

    AT&T works great here in Madison Park-Seattle. Also in Juneau, most of Lynn Canal, Icy Strait, and even Cross Sound in Southeast Alaska. Maybe you guys should all move?

  • http://www.myfishtank.net Johnny

    i switched from verizon to att for the iphone. if verizon had something similiar (the storm sucks) to the iphone..i’d be gone in a second. i love the iphone but i can NEVER have one completed call longer than 5 minutes without droppping the call. sucks.

  • chuck gillen

    I have Verizon, and last week I was in the area of 4th and Mission, and absolutely could not make calls. My call would get dropped, and the phone would turn off completely every time. So, it’s not only AT&T. Anyway, good luck with your new service. I have used Verizon Wireless for a long time, and just recently started having problems with dropped calls.

  • CJS

    I, too, have AT&T in San Francisco and agree that the service sucks big time. I live in the upper Market area, and voice calls are of terrible quality almost 100% of the time, and drop about 40% of the time. My calls and emails to AT&T have elicited NOTHING – not even faux concern from the reps I have dealt with. They need more towers, stronger signals and they need to stop the advertising of “more bars in more places” until they have the necessary proof to make that claim stick!! They claim (on their website map) to have 3G service totally covering the SF area, but when walking my dog in a square mile area around my house I go to the Edge network about 80 percent of the time! Hardly total 3G coverage. The map is a lie!

  • Chester

    I use AT&T and you know I’m in precisely the same ‘hood and I don’t have problems…but I have a Samsung dumb phone and almost never use the 3G network…so it’s probably an AT&T 3G problem and not a general network problem?

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Chester — yeah, it could be a 3G issue. I seem to be able to make calls better on EDGE.

    Again, the Blackberry Bold doesn’t support turning EDGE off. Otherwise, I doubt I’d be complaining so much, since the EDGE / WiFi combo seems to be OK.

  • Michael P.

    Been using a Motorola device with ATT for a long time. Over the past 6 months, I’m experiencing far more frequent call drops and phone resets. Thought it was just the device. However, based on these reports I now suspect the network is key a factor.

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    More AT&T loveliness. Trying to login to AT&T website gets me:

    “L115: We’re sorry, but we are experiencing a temporary system error that prevents us from retrieving your account information. Please try again later.”

    3rd time in 2 days that I’ve received an error upon trying to login.

    AT&T is making this really hard because they lowered their Blackberry plan price to $30. I’m on a family plan, so my total cost is $40. If I switch to Verizon, the cost will be $79.99 (450 minutes + domestic Blackberry) + $5 for 250 text messages. That’s $45 more per month, which is pretty serious. I hate AT&T enough to *really* want to pull the trigger on bailing out on them, but it might not be worth $45/month.

  • Andy B.

    AT&T recently told me that three new towers were coming online in SF by the end of August. I live in the Upper Haight (Waller & Clayton) and usually suffer with constantly varying signal strength between 0-3 bars, which almost always results in dropped calls. Switching off 3G dodesn’t seem to help.

  • Pingback: AT&T: Stronger in all the Wrong Places: A "retention specialist" let slip that…

  • Rick

    Hi Eric. So, it’s August 1st. I wonder if AT&T has installed the new tower at 4th and Howard here in San Francisco, as your research discovered. I live about four blocks from that intersection and have “full bars” on my iPhone…..maybe it’s true that AT&T installed the new tower? We shall see…..curious to know what you think.

    • Rick
  • http://echeng.com echeng

    I get home tomorrow and will make some calls to see if they go through. I just had 3 calls dropped in a row while taking to someone who lives in the Mission, but I’m in San Diego now. Who knows which side had the problem…

  • Rick

    Hi Eric – so, does coverage seem better now that you’re back in San Francisco? Hope so.

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Still dropping calls. # bars unchanged, at home. Oh well.

  • http://www.robdog.com Rob

    Its August 11th, 2009 and my service keeps getting worse. I live in the upper Market/Castro district of SF (intersection of Caselli & Clover.)

    I USED to have great service until 3 weeks ago. Now I can’t receive a call from within my house or out front, I have to be on the back deck facing the top of 17th/Clayton and the Randal Hill Rock.

    I have an original iPhone in pristine condition (at least on the exterior), I’ve never dropped it and completely shut it down once a week.

    This “crap service” has happened once before for about a month, then my reception went back to… decent. Enough to not miss calls. Now I tell my friends to send me a txt and I’ll try calling them back. Ridiculous. I never had dropped calls with Verizon.

    Sounds like AT&T doesn’t care. Any advice? I’d love to get some money back for all the dropped calls (95%).

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    The new towers have done nothing for my call quality. I’ve only dropped one call on my new, Verizon Blackberry. I am so glad I switched back. It was worth the $175 cancellation fee.

  • OahuDreaming

    It’s not the iPhone. It’s the AT&T Wireless network. I live in the Bay area and the phone service here is terrible. At first I thought it was the iPhone. Prior to the iPhone, I had Verizon. So I was in Oahu last week. Got 3G coverage every where I went on the island including some remote places on the North shores. None of my phone calls were dropped. Did not get the “Call Failed” message at all for a whole week. I was able to have an hour long conversation for the first time since I bought the iPhone 2 years ago. So it’s not the iPhone that’s causing all these problems. Verizon is right. It’s the network. This is ridiculous that we’re locked to AT&T in order to use the iPhone.

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