Monday, August 2, 2010

Is antennagate a problem in Singapore?

Since the iPhone 4 was released in Singapore, we've been keeping a close watch to see if the iPhone 4 would suffer from significant signal problems here. The results so far have been interesting.

Before we go on, let's be clear: the issue isn't whether or not the signal on the iPhone 4 gets attenuated when you hold the phone. In the famous antennagate press conference a few weeks ago, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the iPhone 4's signal does get attenuated when it is held in a particular way. He also noted that this was a problem that other smartphones experience as well.

To us, the more important question is the practical one: is this problem here so bad that calls drop as a result?

We don't have a definite answer yet, but the early results have been encouraging. Galwithawand has a video on YouTube showing her iPhone 4 on the SingTel network (running iOS 4.0.1) dropping from three bars to one bar when held. However, she reports that she has never had a dropped call.

The most impressive video we've seen is one by research engineer Tawfiq Taher. In a video he posted on Yfrog, he was able to get the signal to drop from five bars to one bar in less than a minute, just by holding it. (In the video, he is running iOS 4.0. He has upgraded to 4.0.1 and sees the same problem.)

When we spoke to Tawfiq, he told us that the signal attenuation occurs when he holds the iPhone in the middle of his living room in his home in Bukit Panjang. He says he does not have to grip it hard to bring the signal down. "You just have to hold it like you would normally," said Tawfiq, who has a background in electronics engineering.

Interestingly however, even though the signal goes to one bar, he does not suffer from dropped calls. "When it goes to one bar, it switches from the 3G network to the GPRS network, and then the signal bars actually go up again," said Tawfiq.

This corroborates a video made by Mike Foong of The IT Channel. He also has a video showing a drop from three bars to one bar when he applies the grip of death. However, in his video, after he turns off 3G, he is unable to make the bars drop.

These three videos do not prove anything conclusively of course. This much, however, we can say:

1. Yes, the signal does get attenuated, which we would expect.
2. Even when the signal goes down to 1 bar, it is still able to hold a call, possibly because it is a better antenna.
3. When the 3G signal becomes very poor, in some cases the phone switches automatically from the weak 3G network to the strong GPRS network, and this helps to prevent the call from dropping.

We are still collecting data on this issue so do write to us at editor at imerlion dot com if the antenna is causing you serious problems. If you are able to completely kill your 3G signal and make it drop calls, please let us know. We'd also be interested to know if the reception on your iPhone 4 is better compared to your 3GS (or 3G).

(One note about dropping calls, we have a 3GS running iOS 4.0.1 on the SingTel network and it drops calls constantly, and it seems, more so after being updated to 4.0.1. We are now seeing a "no service" message regularly which we had never seen prior to updating. We are also seeing the calls drop especially when the phone attempts to switch from the 3G network to the GPRS network. If you have this experience, let us know. We'd love to try to gather some data.)


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Lim Thye Chean said...

Can follow up with the question: does the situation improved when in the case/bumper?

Jimmy Yap said...

Actually, Tawfiq confirmed with me that when the phone is in a case, he is unable to make the signal drop. So yes, the situation does improve with a case/bumper.

pinto said...

I'm using an iPhone 3GS running iOS 4.0.1 on StarHub. I have been getting frequent dropped calls ever since moving to iOS 4. Upgrading to iOS 4.0.1 didn't help it nor made it worse. Still experience dropped calls on a regular basis. And I was on headset and seat at my desk for most of those calls, so I wasn't moving nor touching my phone.

Also, people often can't call me - they get a busy message. I don't know they've called until StarHub sends me an SMS saying I have a missed call.

Dropped calls and failing to get through to my phone hardly happened on the previous OS.

Kar Wei, Michael said...

i've been using my iPhone 4 since last Friday. No drop calls with and without a case. Except the signal was weak up at Satellite Park near the NUS Prince Edward hostel.

Jean said...

Is the unlock programe for iPhone 4 out yet?? Thanks

chOO said...

In certain spots in my home where signal is low, i suffer dropped calls every time my hand blocks the "x-spot".

This is very disappointing. In a case, the phone still could manage making calls, but sometimes with poor call quality. Surfing on it is out of the question at some time, in my home in bedok and office in kallang.

I'm not sure if it's my phone that is faulty. Will monitor a few days and decide if i want to get it exchanged.

I'm pretty sure SingTel would try their best to refuse to exchange for this reason as it's already a "fact" that iPhone 4 has poorer reception.

But well, what can I do? Can only find other faults as reason to exchange. And does the full refund applied to phones bought contracted to telcos here?

discoburg said...

I too experienced drop calls on my IP4. Apparently a friend of mine is saying that my set is from wk 29 of production and apparently the later weeks will be better in terms of reception.

Also he raised question about my serial number as it is starting with 7R instead of the double digits that most sets have.

wu said...

galwithawand here... the maker of the video in your article..
I have an update. the antenna issue does not happen at some places.. i tested it out at my friend's place just now and the bars were at 5 and they refused to drop no matter how hard or long i gripped the phone..

Yiang Hwee said...

frequently dropping from 3G to o is as bad as calls drop. This happen to Singtel iPhone 4. In my area (Hillview), 3G signal can get lost with just one feet away. iPhone 3GS with IOS 4 does not have this issues. Call to Singtel hotline, the helpdesk will ask you to restart your phone and cannot help further. They told me - Thank you for your FEEDBACK. They just ignore us. I don't think the bumper will improve this situation.

Muhammad Fadli said...

I'm running on os4.0.2 and my 3G signal also is very poor in some places especially in my home. But with 3G off seems faster data loading. Compare to my iPhone 3G running os4.0 with no problem with 3G on..should be iPhone 4 having this issue. This is s**t..

mR w-0-n-G said...

I totally agree with all of you here. Both me and my brother has iphone 3GS and updated to OS 4.0.1 We started to realised ever since after the update, the phone signal is getting from bad to worst. So how can we fix it? Any one knows? Please advise.