A reality check on Jobs' 3G network complaint

Customers who wanted the iPhone 4 line up in San Francisco the day the phone hit stores in June. The phone's popularity here has caused a strain on local 3G networks.

Customers who wanted the iPhone 4 line up in San Francisco the day the phone hit stores in June. The phone's popularity here has caused a strain on local 3G networks.

(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

It turns out Steve Jobs wasn't exaggerating all that much when he said it can take three years to get a cell tower approved in San Francisco.

Since the day Apple sold its first iPhone, AT&T, the exclusive American iPhone carrier, has been under fire for its spotty network coverage, particularly in San Francisco (but New Yorkers are also prone to iPhone reception beefing). The complaints got louder with the 3G phone and hardly abated with the release of iPhone 4.

A seemingly exasperated Jobs addressed the problem in a June 16 press conference. "When AT&T wants to add a cell tower in, oh, Texas or somewhere, it takes three weeks to get approval in a typical community. To get a cell phone tower in San Francisco, it takes something like three years," he said at the press event to discuss the iPhone 4's antenna issues two weeks ago.

AT&T has acknowledged shortcomings but only to say that it's spending a lot of money to increase its 3G coverage. AT&T said at the end of last year that it had spent $65 million from 2008 through the third quarter of 2009 on upgrading its 3G network in the San Francisco Bay Area. What AT&T hasn't said is why it's taken so long for iPhone users to see a noticeable change in their coverage quality.

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