The Network or the Device – Where is the Fault?

Last year, I wrote an article on Wi-Fi speeds in the household and what you can check to get the most from your devices and your network. In similar vain, problems with connectivity and performance on mobile networks can be caused by many things including the device itself. I thought I would share one such experience that I had today.

This afternoon, whilst I was out and about at Hornsby in New South Wales, I had both my Samsung Galaxy S and my Apple iPad whilst I sat outside David Jones. My wife had gone in to buy a couple of things so in the meantime I thought I would browse some websites on my iPad in the meantime. To my annoyance, my iPad would continually fall back from 3G to GPRS with incredibly poor speeds and reliability yet when looking at my Samsung Galaxy S it never lost 3G connectivity or full reception and happily hummed along with HSPA goodness. Rebooting the iPad didn’t solve the issue so I was left to setup my phone as a wireless access point and join my iPad via Wi-Fi to get any use out of it.

My expectation was that the iPad, being a larger device, would have larger cellular antennae and therefore more reliable connectivity. The fact that a different device worked without issue ruled out a network blackspot or marginal coverage being the cause of the issue. This would leave other causes as the root of the problem, such as (but not limited to):

  • a flaw in the cellular driver in the device,
  • an incompatibility with the mobile network element in the area,
  • the ability of the device to withstand a certain threshold of interference in the affected area.

Particularly with networks as large as mobile networks in Australia people need to be very careful to understand all of the variables before making comparisons. Not all mobile networks are designed identically nor are the network elements, handsets or modems used on the network nor the software that makes all of this stuff work. This is before other factors such as local geography, travel velocity, signal strength and potential sources of interference (such as buildings or reflective/refractive objects). Carriers and manufacturers also undertake testing of new devices but this doesn’t always uncover all of the potential issues given these variables.

In a nutshell, if you are wedded to a particular device (or brand of device) then maybe your best solution is to change carriers but, if you are willing to try alternative devices or check with someone else with a different device you may be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.

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