October 23, 2008

"3G" - The Ambiguous Phone Spec

Today, has been one of those tough lessons about technology. I'm a geek. I expect to get all my tech purchases right, but today I learned that the marketing folks pulled the wool over my eyes, so here's a post to help prevent another poor soul from falling into the same trap.

What is a 3G phone?

For me, the term "3G" evokes images of quick loading web pages, fast downloads and the often advertised "mobile broadband" notion. However, the marketing folks use 3G for that reason and they use it to mean better voice services.

I came to research this because I purchased a Nokia 6263 phone in May, 2008. At that time, I really wanted a Bluetooth phone and I didn't want it to become obsolete when T-Mobile finally got around to rolling out their 3G network - I wanted access to fast data when it came available. However, 3G service rolled out in my neighborhood on October 1 and I haven't noticed any speed increase.

It turns out that while the Nokia 6263 has 3G frequencies for voice - this shows up in specifications as "Dual-band WCDMA 1700, 2100". However, the phone does not have HSDPA which is required for that high speed data downloading I thought I was getting.

It took me all day today to figure this out.

This included two phone calls to T-Mobile support: The first rep told me 3G hadn't been rolled out to my area yet, the second told me it was rolled out to my area, but couldn't explain why I wasn't seeing 3G speeds and didn't offer any ways to measure my speed.

After the two confusing phone calls, I decided to visit my closest T-Mobile store where the two sales people disagreed about whether or not the 6263 was a 3G phone. Then the person who thought it was a 3G phone went on to tell me "you won't get 3G speeds through T-Zones." Still not satisfied, I drove to another T-Mobile store and found out that it just didn't work. While I was at this store, the store employee called T-Mobile support to find out more. The support person on the phone offered to sell me a new data plan that "might" improve my data speed. Instead I decided to do an experiment and used a G1's SIM card in my 6263 - the idea being that the G1 SIM should have the best data plan available and still the 6263 crawled around 90-100kbps on text.dslreports.com/mspeed.

The bottom line is that G3 phones means two things. It definitely means that voice calls and data calls can take place at the same time as specified by WCDMA. High speed data is a subset of G3 and only phones that support HSDPA will have the high speed data.

Now, for normal consumers visiting T-Mobile's web site, this is an even larger problem. On that pages, you can "Shop by Feature" and click on "3G". Doing so will display 6 phones: Nokia 6263, Nokia 3555, Samsung t639, SE TM506, Samsung t819, T-Mobile G1. T-Mobile's web pages offer no specifications. (The links above all go to PhoneScoop.com's specifications)

However, the "Features" section for each of these phones says:

T-Mobile’s high-speed 3G data network delivers the ultimate mobile Web experience in several metropolitan areas

Which is a false statement. Of the 6 phones listed above, only the SE TM506 and the T-Mobile G1 support HSDPA!!

Posted by rob at October 23, 2008 04:26 PM
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