Sprint's Singing the iPhone Blues
A leaked internal memo indicates Sprint is dealing with significant problems relating to iPhone data speeds on its network. Users are complaining about particularly slow download rates. "Sprint has been offloading much of its data on its [4G] Clearwire WiMax network, but the iPhone doesn't support WiMax, so that means Sprint's CDMA network has to carry all the load," said In-Stat's Allen Nogee.
Oct 25, 2011 2:21 PM PT
It's a complaint heard often in the iPhone's earlier years: Download speeds are sluggish.
This time, however, the victims are iPhone owners on Sprint's network.
The problem is probably due to excessive downloading by iPhone 4S owners, speculated Allen Nogee, a research director at In-Stat.
"Smartphone users, and especially iPhone users, tend to use a large amount of data, and new smartphone users consume even more," Nogee explained.
"Overall, iPhone performance on the Sprint network is consistent with our expectations and the rest of our high-end portfolio," Sprint spokesperson Michelle Leff Mermelstein told MacNewsWorld.
However, "we do see opportunities to optimize performance, specifically in high network capacity areas," Mermelstein added.
Why iPhone 4S Users on Sprint Are Mad
Judging by user gripes, data download speeds for the iPhone 4S on Sprint's network appear to be abysmal. One iPhone 4S user complained on the Sprint community forum of experiencing average download speeds of 170 Kbps. Another, in Milwaukee, Wis., experienced download speeds of 200 to 220 Kbps.
On its website, Apple claims the iPhone 4S doubles the maximum HSDPA data speeds to 14.4Mbps.
HSPDA, or High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, is an enhanced 3G protocol that's also sometimes referred to as "3.5G," "3G+" or "turbo 3G." It supports downlink speeds of 1.8 Mbps, 3.6 Mbps, 7.2 Mbps and 14 Mbps.
The Devil's in the Technical Details
Here's the problem: HSDPA is not supported on Sprint's network. Sprint, like Verizon Wireless, supports CDMA, so their networks can't leverage the iPhone 4S's HSDPA capability.
Instead, both Sprint and Verizon Wireless can only support CDMA's 3G EVDO (Evolution-Data Optimized). EVDO can operate at up to 3.1 Mbps for the forward link, from the base station to the mobile device.
In other words, the iPhone 4S is just another 3G device on Sprint's and Verizon Wireless's networks. Several reviews comparing iPhone 4S speeds on various carriers' networks shortly after the device was launched on Sprint Oct. 14 said it was slowest on this carrier's network.
However, "Sprint also did benchmarking of Sprint's iPhone against competitors' iPhones and the testing showed little to no performance difference," the carrier's Mermelstein stated.
Other Possibilities for the Lethargy
If iPhones performed within roughly the same parameters on various carriers' networks, what's causing the slowdown on Sprint?
It's "most likely a combination of issues, including whether the software' s optimized to work with the network, how many users are hitting the network at one time, and what the users are doing," Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at Lopez Research, told MacNewsWorld.
"With less customers than AT&T and Verizon, Sprint probably wasn't completely ready for the iPhone," In-Stat's Nogee suggested.
"Sprint has been offloading much of its data on its [4G] Clearwire WiMax network, but the iPhone doesn't support WiMax, so that means Sprint's CDMA network has to carry all the load," Nogee told MacNewsWorld.
Prepping Sometimes Just Isn't Enough
Why didn't Sprint prepare for the flood of network capacity demand that resulted from the influx of iPhone 4S users on its network, given that AT&T has suffered the same problem with its iPhone users?
"Preparing isn't always possible and is certainly not always cheap," Nogee explained.
"Wireless operators only have limited spectrum they can use," Nogee added. "With only so much spectrum and only so many cell towers, capacity can't be increased without a great deal of expense."
Sprint doesn't have "any specific area of concern" and sees areas in which it can optimize the network as "typical optimization work," its spokesperson, Mermelstein, said.
"We are listening to our customers and working closely with our partners at Apple to ensure optimal performance of iPhone devices on our network," Mermelstein added.