Plagued by lousy AT&T service

I’m about an hour and a half away from Boston and Providence, R.I., respectively, in what’s referred to these days as an “exurb” (short for “extra urban,”), too far away to be a suburb but not quite in the sticks. It’s the sort of place where couples of modest middle incomes can afford decent houses on plots of land big enough to raise children so they can have trees in their back yard, and I expect it’s pretty typical middle-class living for a lot of folks in the United States.

And my iPhone reception is terrible.

Look, the phone is a terrific piece of hardware. The built-in capabilities, the new applications (and yeah, the instability that seems to come hand-in-hand with the iPhone 2.0 update)—I like it all (except for the instability part). But at the end of the day, the iPhone is primarily a phone, and for me, anyway, it’s coming up really short in that department. And I think it’s AT&T’s fault.

I regularly experience dropped calls, or calls that get garbled beyond my ability to understand what’s being said. And I know I’m not the only one. One of my closest friends lives and works west of Boston, in an area called “MetroWest”—a vast, densely- populated area of suburbs where people work, shop and live. And he experiences the exact same problem with his iPhone.

Now, both of us are Verizon Wireless ex-pats, and miss that network quite a bit. In fact, my wife still uses Verizon Wireless, and she’s still quite content with her service.

This problem isn’t exclusive to the iPhone 3G, either. While indications are that some iPhone 3Gs may be experiencing poor call quality because of an alleged issue with the chipset, my experience has been specific to my first-gen iPhone. The friend of whom I speak — and he’s only one friend of many who have iPhones, and report similar phenomena — indeed has a 3G model, but his problems with dropped and garbled calls long predate his upgrade.

I know that the iPhone won’t work on Verizon Wireless’s network—Verizon uses CDMA, while AT&T uses GSM— but the bottom line is that my customer experience on Verizon Wireless as a phone user was better than it’s been with AT&T.

Things aren’t perfect at Verizon Wireless. Trying to get data on or off the phone is a royal pain in the posterior, thanks to Verizon Wireless’s draconian efforts to make sure it makes money in every single aspect of cell phone use. Games, new applications and even wallpaper and custom ringtones are ridiculously complicated to install, for the same reason.

But making and receiving calls—ostensibly the most important reason you have a cell phone—s a singularly better experience with Verizon Wireless than it is with AT&T.

So with rumors afoot that Apple’s exclusive arrangement with AT&T for the iPhone may have been extended to or through 2010, I’m resigned to my service continuing to stink. But I’ve also put off buying an iPhone 3G, because I don’t want to extend my service with AT&T any longer than I have to—at least until the company manages to get its coverage act together and prove to me that it’s serious about this “more bars in more places” ad campaign. Because I just don’t see it.

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