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AT&T CEO lays out plans to improve 3G coverage in 2009

post #1 of 53
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Speaking at Mobile World Congress, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega revealed the company's plans to extend 3G coverage to more cities in the US, improve existing coverage, and incrementally ramp up data speeds to retain the title of the fastest American 3G network.

In an interview conducted by Engadget at the event, de la Vega defended his company's 3G network in comparison to rivals and described how the company worked with handset makers to improve reliability. He specifically cited Apple, noting, "we communicate with Apple and say, you know, if we tweak this it would work better, so they've been very good about working with us and making sure that as we look at things to do the drop calls there, they're going to implement it."

AT&T to complete 850MHz 3G rollout in San Francisco this year

On its end, AT&T has now rolled out 3G service to more than 350 cities. The company is also in the middle of completing a frequency band transition from 1900MHz to 850MHz in several markets. By the end of 2009, de la Vega said, "we'll finish [the 850MHz transition in] San Francisco, we'll finish parts of New York, and then that'll bring the best technology 3G on the best backbone to significantly improve the quality and the coverage for 3G on our network."

The longer wavelength, lower frequency 850MHz band has been growing in popularity among mobile providers because it provides greater coverage area using fewer towers and better penetration through walls and other barriers, such as foliage. AT&T uses both 850MHz and 1900MHz bands for 3G UMTS in the US.

Last June, Kris Rinne, AT&T's Senior Vice President of Architecture and Planning, was cited in an industry press release as saying, "AT&T has delivered HSPA service at 850MHz wherever possible, with more on the way this year as we redeploy additional 850 spectrum previously used for our TDMA network," indicating a continuation of the company's often repeated strategy of deploying additional 850MHz coverage to strengthen its 3G service in the US.

Retaining the title of the fastest 3G network in the US

"We're also looking to improve the speeds of our 3G network," de la Vega said in the interview. "As I mentioned before, we have the infrastructure capability to go to 7.2 [Mbit/s], and we'll have the capability to go 14.4 and 20 in the next couple of years, so I think there's coverage we're going to improve, there's quality we're going to improve, and there's speed that's also going to get improved."

Just as AT&T's 2G GSM network was enhanced with the EDGE upgrade, its parallel 3G UMTS service is being upgraded using HSPA. The current upgrade phase, as defined by the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project), is Release 5, which is targeted to reach peak data rates of 14.4 Mbit/s. Verizon Wireless and Sprint both use incompatible 2G CMDA-2000 and 3G EV-DO technologies.

While the rest of the world has largely standardized on UMTS for 3G service rather than CDMA/EV-DO, Verizon plans to join the party over the next couple years with the move to LTE (Long Term Evolution), now under development for specification in 3GPP Release 8. That should finally end the technology divide that has split the US for nearly two decades, although Sprint is moving ahead with plans to build out WiMAX, an entirely different technology based on IEEE 802.16e, a networking specification for mobile, high speed wireless broadband that competes against both 3GPP/GSM and Qualcomm's CDMA standards.

When asked if he was worried by Verizon's need to be "the first to upgrade to LTE before AT&T just because their technology path is at a dead end right now," de la Vega answered, "I think we're much better off to say that they [Verizon] don't have a way to improve the majority of their footprint for the next year, because they're going to have to build a whole new network nationwide. We don't have to build the new network."

"We've already got HSPA [networks built out] and when we go to Release 7," de la Vega said, "we can go all the way up to 20 megabits per second [...] so I think for the next couple of years, AT&T will have the best and the fastest 3G network in the country while Verizon and others are continuing to look for what to do with LTE or WiMAX or whatever they decide to do."

"We think that LTE, for us, will be in the 2010, 2011 time frame. We are, right now, capable of taking our network and improving the speed of it up to 20 megabits per second. So we think that carries us through the next year, year and a half, then I think you begin to look at LTE as the next step."

The current iPhone 3G supports downloads up to 3.6Mbit/s, although finding a usable 3G signal on AT&T's network is difficult in many areas, including cities where AT&T reports 3G coverage, such as San Francisco. New phone hardware will eventually be required to take advantage of the faster download speeds made possible through HSPA upgrades, although the improved signal coverage that comes with those upgrades will continue to benefit existing iPhone 3G owners.

Addressing high mobile fees and value in a global downturn

One of the other advantages AT&T has in operating a 3GPP/GSM network is the ability for its customers to use their phones internationally. However, the roaming fees involved with international travel are spectacularly high. Engadget asked, "Do you see more interoperability between, and more communication between international carriers and domestic carriers for roaming and that becoming less of a financial burden?"

"I think," de la Vega answered, "that we continue to work with our international carrier partners to figure out how to have lower roaming costs. We just put in a new plan for the iPhone that lowers some of the international costs for iPhone users, and so we are gonna continue to work to drive those costs down, you can rest assured of that."

Speaking to what customers can expect from AT&T in 2009, de la Vega said, "You're gonna expect us to continue to improve and expand our 3G network, and you're gonna continue to see us deliver great value to customers at a time when the economy is asking our customers, or is driving our customers to seek really good values."
post #2 of 53
(Cue the anti-AT&T comments)
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post #3 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

(Cue the anti-AT&T comments)

You beat me to it....
post #4 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

(Cue the anti-AT&T comments)

Really I can't complain, I moved from Verizon to AT&T in the Rochester NY area and have been very happy with the coverage. The coverage, in the block house of a building I work in, is spotty but Verizon had zip there. On vacation iPhone works great in Vegas.

As to places outside of the US, yeah they better do something about the cost. It is basically highway robbery. The big problem here is that AT&T, Apple and it's other carriers need to remove their collective heads from their butts. Fortunately I don't travel much for work anymore, but if I did the iPhone would have to be left at home. Way to expensive using data or not. In many cases simply buying a phone locally will save you huge dollars. Frankly unlocking the iPhone for the use of other sim chips is the way to go. Even if they charge a fee it would likely pay to go that route for any non trivial travel.


Dave
post #5 of 53
I'll believe it when I see it. I'm getting a whopping 50Kbps on my EDGE iPhone.
post #6 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Galley View Post

I'll believe it when I see it. I'm getting a whopping 50Kbps on my EDGE iPhone.

Just be patient. Your Edge iPhone will soon be getting 1 MBps. Also, ATT will be upgrading your car to get 200 MPG with no modifications.
post #7 of 53
It would be great if AT&T would expand its 3G network to me. I'm like in between it on both sides (north and south via Rochester NY and Elmira/Corning NY). I'd also like to see the 850MHz spectrum here as well. If there's one complaint I have about the iPhone is it doesn't get shit for a signal when entering a building. Soon as you go outside its like boom...3 or 4 bars, go back inside and you're back down to 1, maybe 2 bars, or even no bars.

This is the reason why I didn't get the iPhone 3G...I would only get EDGE coverage and I didn't want to pay for 3G speeds only to get 2G speeds.

Did I read the article right when it said Verizon would be switching to a technology similar to AT&T? Would that mean you could "hack" the iPhone and make it run on Verizon's network if so? I know you can't currently do that as the 2 technologies are totally incompatible.

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post #8 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by macxpress View Post

Did I read the article right when it said Verizon would be switching to a technology similar to AT&T? Would that mean you could "hack" the iPhone and make it run on Verizon's network if so? I know you can't currently do that as the 2 technologies are totally incompatible.

Yes, Verizon is committed to using LTE for its 4G network, just like AT&T and most of the rest of the world. Verizon aims to do LTE trials later in 2009 and launch in a city or two by the end of 2009. AT&T said they would be doing trials in 2010 and aim to launch either later in 2010 or in 2011.

My guess is that the LTE iPhone will no longer be an AT&T exclusive. This would likely be the 5th gen in mid-2011, altho Apple could surprise and put it into its 4th gen in mid-2010. A mid-2010 LTE iPhone for Verizon would also have to support EVDO and CDMA for those areas not yet covered by LTE. That would explain the iPhone for Verizon rumor, where Apple is said to be looking for EVDO/CDMA engineers.
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post #9 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

(Cue the anti-AT&T comments)

The article speaks for itself- AT&T presently sucks in NY.
post #10 of 53
Does this increase in data speeds and other AT&T improvements talked about in this article also have to deal with AT&T voice improvements.

Or, if I am in a "dead zone" surrounded by cell towers that just don't provide coverage unless I go outside in my yard, clear the trees, stay away from the power lines and find a clearing in the middle of a field someplace in my neighborhood, will I only then be able to receive a dial tone, maybe, and if I do, its only a bar to bar and a half signal strength at that?

Of, if I am in a dead zone now, will I still be in a dead zone after all these improvements?

I know I can forward calls to a "land line" but I got tired of paying two phone bills and got rid of it and just rely on the cell phone and carrier that allows somewhat signal reception in my house now.

If AT&T improves itself in my area and come June/July new, lower iPhone pricing plans are announced, I may be iPhoneless no more... maybe... if I am still employed... and if I don't take a further cut in pay (commission sales)... and if...

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post #11 of 53
I know that coverage is very community-specific, but I would be happy if I could just drive the main roads in Savannah, GA without dropping three or four calls a DAY. I love my iPhone, but I never had problems like that on Verizon.

Faster 3G connections would just be a bonus.
post #12 of 53
I just wish they would get 3G down where I live. I pay AT&T $10 more now that I have the 3G Phone (my decision, so I am not complaining - too much), but never use 3G since we dont have it here. We are 2 hours from Houston and 2 hours from Tyler the nearest 3G areas.

The AT&T stores keep saying "spring" but they have said that for 2 years now...
post #13 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

Really I can't complain, I moved from Verizon to AT&T in the Rochester NY area and have been very happy with the coverage. The coverage, in the block house of a building I work in, is spotty but Verizon had zip there. On vacation iPhone works great in Vegas.

As to places outside of the US, yeah they better do something about the cost. It is basically highway robbery. The big problem here is that AT&T, Apple and it's other carriers need to remove their collective heads from their butts. Fortunately I don't travel much for work anymore, but if I did the iPhone would have to be left at home. Way to expensive using data or not. In many cases simply buying a phone locally will save you huge dollars. Frankly unlocking the iPhone for the use of other sim chips is the way to go. Even if they charge a fee it would likely pay to go that route for any non trivial travel.


Dave

My experience with AT&T has been exceptional. I vowed never to go back to Cingular but did for the iPhone. Either Cingular/AT&T changed their ways or, I feel more likely, it was the handset that annoyed me. I never went into Cingar or called until I had a problem with the device. The only non-device issue I had was a temporary double-billing by their bank, Wells Fargo, that put my account into the red.


Quote:
Originally Posted by teckstud View Post

The article speaks for itself- AT&T presently sucks in NY.

Yes, it was very spotty the last time I was in the city, but NY state was pretty good overall. It is odd that NYC seems so neglected. However, I can atest that AT&T's coverage has been growing like crazy since the iPhone announcement, that most of the cities seem well covered and that I get considerably more than 2x in most places, even while moving between cities. That said, there is plenty of room for improvement all around.
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post #14 of 53
I am ready for 4G! L.T.E FTW!!!

But really, I use at&t and dont have any big problems with it. Yes the 3G coverage could be a little better, and the cost per text message should be a little less; but, other than that, I really can't complain.
post #15 of 53
The thing to remember is that all cell phone coverage is local. If Verizon or AT&T work where you need them to, then to you they're the greatest. If they don't, then for you they suck!

In northeast Indiana where I live Verizon has excellent coverage and after many satisfactory years of service I was hesitant to give them up for AT&T and an iPhone, especially as the latter only had Edge here. But a few months later they launched 3G and the results are very good. Traveling in many areas of this country and in Europe I've had excellent service. Which is not to say that the service may not be awful where you are.

In the AI article de la Vega is quote as saying "We just put in a new plan for the iPhone that lowers some of the international costs for iPhone users, and so we are gonna continue to work to drive those costs down, you can rest assured of that."

I'm not seeing anything new on the AT&T web site. Anyone?
post #16 of 53
I curse AT&T literally every day here in San Francisco. I was a Verizon customer before and rarely had dropped calls here in the city. And their customer service, both technical and account-wise, was INCREDIBLE.

I switched to AT&T with a heavy heart to (surprise!) get an iPhone. Since then, my few encounters with customer support have been a royal pain and my dropped calls have gone up exponentially. It is a true testament to how much I love the iPhone that I have not switched back.

I can only hope that this de la Vega dude is not blowing the same old smoke and that we will see meaningful improvement in coverage in a place that is, after all, a stone's throw from tech-mecca (i.e. Silicon Valley). I'll believe it when I see it.
post #17 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by iluomo View Post

I curse AT&T literally every day here in San Francisco. I was a Verizon customer before and rarely had dropped calls here in the city. And their customer service, both technical and account-wise, was INCREDIBLE.

I live in San Francisco and my (1g) iPhone operates perfectly here. I've been a Cigular->AT&T customer for 10+ years. I've never had a coverage problem. Only issue is when I travel to Europe but that isn't too often and when I do, I usually upgrade to a temporary international plan for $20.00 and cancel that piece when I get back. Case closed.

Every provider will havs a long list of unsatisfied customers and an equally long list of happy customers too. There is no one true savior among the telcos.

If you're having such horrible problems with your phone coverage, either something is wrong internally with your phone, or you are placing yourself in a location where it's going to be a problem. Might I suggest you stop expecting your phone to work in an elevator?
post #18 of 53
Did everybody actually forget about the main man's birthday?
Happy birthday, Steve! Hang in there, man.
post #19 of 53
[QUOTE}Might I suggest you stop expecting your phone to work in an elevator?[/QUOTE]

I suggest you drop the smug attitude and stop assuming things. I am an IT consultant and deal with unreasonable expectation all day long. I do not have unreasonable expectations.

I have no idea what you do, but I travel for my work every day in and around the city and speak with clients between appointment. My cell phone is to a very large extent how I work.

Examples of guaranteed drop locations I travel through regularly:

On Gough between Geary and Eddy.
On Potrero Hill anywhere on the west side between Rhode Island & Wisconsin and 20th to 23rd.
On 17th anywhere in Cole Valley.
In Presidio Heights anywhere North of Washington between Arguello and Presidio Ave.
Anywhere over the Golden Gate 1/4 mile short of the Waldo Tunnel and East to the water and North well into Sausalito.

These are but a few examples of well traveled places in and around SF, not elevators. I did not deal with this with Verizon, so I have something to compare it to. And I am not the only person I know who has problems. In my work I deal with clients who have iPhones all day long and regularly hear about dropped calls. Glad you have good luck. The fact that I and others don't does not mean we are just complainers.
post #20 of 53
I've been to NYC, Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Lubbock and San Francisco.

No network sucks like Austin, TX's 3G network...
post #21 of 53
Will Rogers used to say that the US's national pastime was not really baseball, but hating the government. That was then. This is now. The new national pastime is hating one's cell phone carrier. It's who we are. It's what we do. Doesn't matter which one we have, really. They're all loathsome at any given time and place.
post #22 of 53
AT&T doesn't have a problem with coverage in NYC. The coverage is fine. The problem is the with the number of people using the network at the same time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Yes, it was very spotty the last time I was in the city, but NY state was pretty good overall. It is odd that NYC seems so neglected. However, I can atest that AT&T's coverage has been growing like crazy since the iPhone announcement, that most of the cities seem well covered and that I get considerably more than 2x in most places, even while moving between cities. That said, there is plenty of room for improvement all around.
post #23 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by TenoBell View Post

AT&T doesn't have a problem with coverage in NYC. The coverage is fine. The problem is the with the number of people using the network at the same time.

Er, which would tell me that they don't have the bandwidth for their paying customers. Which to *me* is a network problem.
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post #24 of 53
I wanted the iPhone so bad but put it off because I didn't want to switch from T-Mobile to AT&T. I finally bit the bullet when the 3G came out and am so glad because AT&T has been great. I haven't had to call them and the service has been solid. I'll take the upgrade to 3Mbps! Is the limitation hardware or firmware based?
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post #25 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by cameronj View Post

Just be patient. Your Edge iPhone will soon be getting 1 MBps. Also, ATT will be upgrading your car to get 200 MPG with no modifications.

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post #26 of 53
It is shameful here.

Lower SOMA is a dead zone, too. The Mission has 2 bars of edge period. If you go into most buildings you get one bar. Txt msg'ing fails often. Even outside, there are dead zones... you can move one block and then have full 3G. Dropped calls are pretty common. IF you are in a crowd of people in SF, furgheaboutit. most people have iphones here and it quickly overtaxes any nearby towers.

I know it's not the phone because when i go to other places it tends to work fine.

SF is a small city- it shouldn't be too hard to cover it properly. especially, given they have a huge customer base here.
post #27 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by iluomo View Post

I curse AT&T literally every day here in San Francisco. I was a Verizon customer before and rarely had dropped calls here in the city. And their customer service, both technical and account-wise, was INCREDIBLE.

I switched to AT&T with a heavy heart to (surprise!) get an iPhone. Since then, my few encounters with customer support have been a royal pain and my dropped calls have gone up exponentially. It is a true testament to how much I love the iPhone that I have not switched back.

I can only hope that this de la Vega dude is not blowing the same old smoke and that we will see meaningful improvement in coverage in a place that is, after all, a stone's throw from tech-mecca (i.e. Silicon Valley). I'll believe it when I see it.

For voice calls - turn off 3G. When you need the web, turn 3G back on. I know you shouldn't have to do that - but in the meantime...
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post #28 of 53
Oh yes it is a network problem. No other network has a phone that uses nearly as much data as the iPhone. We cannot really compare if other networks could handle the load any better. For AT&T its somewhat of a good and bad problem at the same time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kickaha View Post

Er, which would tell me that they don't have the bandwidth for their paying customers. Which to *me* is a network problem.
post #29 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by TenoBell View Post

Oh yes it is a network problem. No other network has a phone that uses nearly as much data as the iPhone. We cannot really compare if other networks could handle the load any better. For AT&T its somewhat of a good and bad problem at the same time.

I understand what you are saying and while that is undoubtedly true and I agree with you that the network itself isn't bad for the iPhone, AT&T should have anticipated this with the original iPhone release frenzy AND should have stopped selling if they reached their NYC network threshold. Since these things don't seem to have been dealt with properly AT&T does have a network problem in some major cities. While I hate the car analogies, sometime they are quite apropos: If a city doesn't build enough and big enough highways to deal with the influx of new drivers after making housing very affordable and jobs abundant they can't very well blame the drivers for causing traffic jams. Okay, that was pretty weak, but I think you see mine and Kickaha's POV.
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post #30 of 53
I'm not blaming the users for AT&T's problems. Its definitely AT&T's fault. I'm simply explaining the reason for the problem.
post #31 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by TenoBell View Post

I'm not blaming the users for AT&T's problems. Its definitely AT&T's fault. I'm simply explaining the reason for the problem.

Gotcha. I'm glad we are all on the same page.

PS: This talk of G4 LTE from AT&T is a bit silly when they have so much infrastructure they need to build to support current 3G users and the fact that their 3G still hasn't reached HSUPA or HSPA, which is considerably faster than the fastest theoretical HSDPA speeds.
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post #32 of 53
I felt De La Vega was actually playing down the need for AT&T to switch to LTE. He said that AT&T has a lot more room to speed up 3G before they get to 4G. At the same time they cannot loose the bragging war in this realm. They cannot allow Verizon to gain a big lead in marketing of its LTE coverage.

Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

.
PS: This talk of G4 LTE from AT&T is a bit silly when they have so much infrastructure they need to build to support current 3G users and the fact that their 3G still hasn't reached HSUPA or HSPA, which is considerably faster than the fastest theoretical HSDPA speeds.
post #33 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by TenoBell View Post

I felt De La Vega was actually playing down the need for AT&T to switch to LTE. He said that AT&T has a lot more room to speed up 3G before they get to 4G. At the same time they cannot loose the bragging war in this realm. They cannot allow Verizon to gain a big lead in marketing of its LTE coverage.

That is a good point. People don't know or care about what the actually speeds are of such things. Unless you are in the know you make assumptions on marketing term like 3G and 4G.
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post #34 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by MacRR View Post

SF is a small city- it shouldn't be too hard to cover it properly.

You're kidding, right? SF's topology is about as cell unfriendly as it gets, with giant hills blocking radio wave propagation. However the 850Mhz rollout, mentioned in the article as due to be completed this year, should help you quite a bit.
post #35 of 53
I'm sorry to see no mention by Vega of Los Angeles. The network is very poor here with many "dead zones" that result in dropped calls. Please send HELP!!!
post #36 of 53
I get pretty good 3G coverage in the Los Angeles area. There are a few areas where I've had trouble, but they're pretty few and far between (and mostly in places where you'd expect, such as in canyons or inside large metal-framed buildings).

I was amazed by the 3G coverage I had on a recent trip to Kauai. All of the populated portions of the island have a solid 5 bars. Only in the most remote locations did I not have 3G coverage. (Typically only in the places so remote that they have no cell phone coverage at all, such as on a dirt road in the far reaches Kokee state park.)

So AT&T is capable of very good (Kauai) and reasonably good (Los Angeles) coverage ... it's good to know that they're going to finally fix the SF situation (which must be pretty embarrassing)
post #37 of 53
I used to have heaps of problems getting a connection with my 3G iPhone. then i had it replaced (a button broke) and the new handset has never had a problem.
post #38 of 53
The Chicago area is pretty solid, both in 3G data speed and voice reception.
post #39 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by NeilM View Post

You're kidding, right? SF's topology is about as cell unfriendly as it gets, with giant hills blocking radio wave propagation. However the 850Mhz rollout, mentioned in the article as due to be completed this year, should help you quite a bit.

Don't forget the humidity - water (water vapor in the air, greenery, all sorts of wet goodness) attenuates cell signals to a significant degree. Call quality in the Raleigh, NC area drops during summer, and gets better in winter when it's drier. SF is... not dry. (Neither is Seattle, now that I think of it, and similar rolling hill topology... still not an excuse for a flaky network.)
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post #40 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by tim1724 View Post

I get pretty good 3G coverage in the Los Angeles area. There are a few areas where I've had trouble, but they're pretty few and far between (and mostly in places where you'd expect, such as in canyons or inside large metal-framed buildings).

I was amazed by the 3G coverage I had on a recent trip to Kauai. All of the populated portions of the island have a solid 5 bars. Only in the most remote locations did I not have 3G coverage. (Typically only in the places so remote that they have no cell phone coverage at all, such as on a dirt road in the far reaches Kokee state park.)

So AT&T is capable of very good (Kauai) and reasonably good (Los Angeles) coverage ... it's good to know that they're going to finally fix the SF situation (which must be pretty embarrassing)

I live in the West Los Angeles/Beverly Hills and everyone I know makes constant jokes about the poor coverage here. If it wasn't for the iphone everyone would be on Verizon.
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