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Could iPhone's data rate be a fly in the ointment?

EDGE network browsing might slow down some users

June 28, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Early reviews of the iPhone, while overwhelmingly positive, point to one potential major weakness: the relatively slow EDGE wireless network from AT&T Inc. that the device uses for data transfers.

While many data applications, such as e-mail, are reported by early iPhone reviewers to work quickly over EDGE, they have lamented the iPhone's Internet browsing ability.

For example, based on two weeks' of tests, The Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg called it a "major drawback," while The New York Times' David Pogue called EDGE "excruciatingly slow," meaning it took him two minutes to launch the Yahoo site and 100 seconds to launch

Reviewers -- and some analysts -- have wondered why the iPhone wasn't designed to work with a faster network such as AT&T's HSDPA, which is up to 10 times faster than EDGE. EDGE, which stands for Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution, is a 2.5G technology, advertised as offering download speeds of 70Kbit/sec. to 135Kbit/sec. HSDPA, which stands for High Speed Downlink Packet Access, is a much newer 3G technology that supports download speeds of 400Kbit/sec. to 700Kbit/sec. It serves as the basis of AT&T's BroadbandConnect branded service.

The main explanation from AT&T and Apple Inc. for using EDGE is its network reach, which is much greater than HSDPA. "EDGE is the largest, reaching 270 million people, 50 million more than any other high-speed network," said Mark Siegel, spokesman for AT&T in an interview. "Apple wanted to use it."

Apple CEO Steve Jobs made the same point in an interview with the Journal, also noting that EDGE relies on GSM (Global System for Mobile), which is used in 80% of the world.

Siegel said rigorous EDGE test results by industry testing groups show it is "second to none." He said that a Consumer Reports survey from January showing "middling to low" customer satisfaction for AT&T Wireless was based on surveys of readers, "which is a little different than our very rigorous testing with live testers." AT&T has also invested more than $16 billion since 2005 in improvements to all its networks, a point that impressed Apple, he noted.

"People using iPhone on the EDGE network are going to have a fantastic experience because of the unique way iPhone caches data," Siegel said. "It will enable people to get what they want very quickly, such as a stock quote in a second or two and weather, while e-mail may be even faster."

Siegel did recognize the browsing difficulty as well. "But when you browse the Internet on this device, you'll get the real Internet, not a truncated version, which is very different from most phones. You go to the real CNN."

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