AT&T vs. Verizon: Bay Area iPhone Smackdown!
October 11, 2011 8:02 PM   Subscribe

as a san francisco bay area resident who is about to upgrade to the iphone 4s, should i stick with at&t (with grandfathered-in unlimited data package) or jump ship to verizon?

I have an iPhone 3G. It's an antique. I can't listen to my Spotify in the background while I use other apps. It's slow & cumbersome & has a cracked screen to boot. So I'm going to upgrade to the 4S. I've had an account with AT&T for years now, so I'd be grandfathered-in with the unlimited data plan. I don't use a ton of data currently, but is that because my phone sucks? I mean literally it takes 4-5 minutes to boot up the Facebook app.

I've heard wonderful things about Verizon. I live in Oakland but work in San Francisco, so use my phone on BART quite a bit. Mostly I use it to play Solitaire because I can never actually get on the network (even when the bars are full) during peak commute hours. So I've been pretty keen to jump ship.

But I've heard rumors that AT&T may have an edge when it comes to the 4S. And I'd hate to lose that unlimited data plan.

So tell me, nerds: what should I do? What would you do? Stick with AT&T? Or head on over to Verizon land?
posted by apostrophe to Technology (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This should help.
posted by alexandermatheson at 8:11 PM on October 11, 2011

Are you taking advantage of AT&T's unlimited data (> 2GB/month) and rollover minutes? If so those are two reasons not to switch.
posted by meowzilla at 8:13 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

IPhone 4S works with HSPA+, or faux G. It does not work with LTE or WiMax, so it will be faster on AT&T. Not to threadjack, but why the hell wouldn't they put an LTE radio in the Verizon version? Makes no sense to me.
posted by Crotalus at 8:20 PM on October 11, 2011

AT&T will probably have higher data speeds, though that's not necessarily such a big deal. I've never noticed Verizon to be particularly slow. Have you considered Sprint? They have unlimited plans for new customers and will likely be significantly less expensive than Verizon.

Crotalus - here is Anadtech's explanation.
posted by The Lamplighter at 8:25 PM on October 11, 2011

I've had very good experience with Sprint's 3G data in the populated regions of the Bay Area. If you happen to be way out in the boonies, Sprint will roam on Verizon for voice and 2G data. I get my Sprint iPhone 4S on Friday!
posted by zsazsa at 8:55 PM on October 11, 2011

Best answer: I'm not sure why people who don't live in the Bay Area would be answering your question. Because if they did live here, no one would be bringing up theoretical data speed--it doesn't matter if AT&T is faster in specs than the other two carriers, if you can't get signal, and if their data network is constantly overloaded, it simply doesn't matter.

When I am downtown during the workday, I can make calls but I can't get ANY data. When I am at home, I cannot get signal, at all.

I'm going to be making the switch, even though I have less than a year left on my contract and it'll cost me $170 to break it. I'll probably switch to Sprint (they have unlimited data, standard), given the how the numbers work out for my usage patterns.

You did see how AT&T was consistently rated worst, across the nation, in every market, in a Consumer Reports survey, right?

BTW, I got something in the mail from AT&T inviting me to a town hall meeting next week, to discuss improving coverage in my neighborhood. Too little, too late, jerks.
posted by danny the boy at 10:57 PM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

fwiw I live and work in SF and have not had trouble with Verizon. Reception for Verizon seems to be better than AT&T in many SF neighborhoods. Downtown SF I can use my phone in stores and in my office but people I know with AT&T end up near the windows, outside or borrowing my phone. My workplace went with Verizon cells too because of the better reception in SF.
posted by oneear at 1:15 AM on October 12, 2011

Response by poster: I'm not sure why people who don't live in the Bay Area would be answering your question. Because if they did live here, no one would be bringing up theoretical data speed--it doesn't matter if AT&T is faster in specs than the other two carriers, if you can't get signal, and if their data network is constantly overloaded, it simply doesn't matter.

yeah, maybe i should have that point more clearly. at&t is legendarily awful in san francisco. i can't even send text messages when i'm on the streets downtown & see more than 50 people around me. the system is simply too overloaded. so all the unlimited data in the world won't help if i can't get online. maybe i should just suck it up & go to verizon? i hadn't considered sprint--i guess they're now the dark horse, but it remains to be seen if their network will be able to handle all the new iphone users.
posted by apostrophe at 6:50 AM on October 12, 2011

I'm facing this decision too. In my house in Noe Valley I get 0-1 bars. Not that bars matter much: AT&T often fails to deliver data and/or voice in San Francisco even when the phone has 4-5 bars.

My strategy is to wait a month or two for the excitement to die down, then call AT&T and ask for a free microcell for my house as a condition of renewing the contract. I have no idea if they'll say yes, and I've been told the microcells don't work very well anyway. But that's my plan.
posted by Nelson at 9:07 AM on October 12, 2011

If you do any international travel, it looks like Sprint and Verizon will unlock the SIM card. This is a really big deal for me. I'm switching to Verizon.
posted by cosmac at 9:26 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live in the bay area and do not have an iPhone or AT&T. However, I've paid attention to this because at one point a few years ago several of my higher-ups at work had AT&T and iPhones and I was asked to investigate.

People have told me, anecdotally, that some of the reception issues are specific to a particular iPhone model. Some people who have AT&T but not iPhones claim they have good reception and service, and the other day someone with an iPhone 4 told me he gets great reception and that it was an issue with previous models only.

Take-home message: find someone with an iPhone 4 to ask about reception.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:37 AM on October 12, 2011

Best answer: I live and work in downtown SF. I occasionally take BART to the east bay. My Android phone gets excellent Verizon 4G signal virtually everywhere I am, as does my roommate's Verizon iPhone 4. We have signal in BART when going to the east bay, but not when going to SFO. I do lose signal in some corners of some buildings, as well as in most elevators. This isn't a problem for me, and it generally only happens when everyone else is losing signal anyway.

When I venture too far from the city, e.g. along Highway 1 to Santa Cruz or when going north to wine country, I do tend to lose data signal and lose some battery power when my phone frantically tries to find a connection. My friends with iPhones sometimes do and sometimes don't lose signal; the anecdotes are mixed.

I don't have metered data, so I have no idea how much I use. If you want to stream audio in the background while you use other apps, you should probably find out how much that uses.
posted by tantivy at 2:10 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FWIW I've owned the original iPhone, and currently own the iPhone 4, both were on AT&T here in San Francisco. The reception problems started happening (on the original iPhone) when I moved out of my old neighborhood on top of a hill, into my current neighborhood in the shadow of a hill. No one, and I mean NO ONE has ever been able to use an iPhone in my house or my neighborhood (Haight Ashbury). I've had about a dozen people verify this. AT&T basically has admitted to this, in writing. They're not working on it. They maybe have plans to work on it. I've lived in this neighborhood for 3.5 years, with no improvement. I'm going to that meeting next week, I'll tell you what I learn if you'd like.

I got the iPhone 4 and renewed my contract with AT&T because of these rumors that reception was an issue with the old hardware, and not AT&T. Boy was that a mistake.

Maybe it's Apple, maybe it's AT&T, but I can tell you unequivocally, if you want an iPhone, any iPhone, you should pick NOT AT&T.
posted by danny the boy at 2:17 PM on October 12, 2011

Response by poster: considering sprint. i think at&t's been ruled out. see ya, grandfather. i'll wait a month to see how sprint fares. if they suck, verizon. no point in paying for a phone you can never use.
posted by apostrophe at 8:11 PM on October 12, 2011

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