I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.


Working at Tumblr, I’m the only person in the office without an iPhone.  I own a BlackBerry Curve 8300 and it’s a perfectly fine phone, but its features are incomparable to those of the iPhone.  The only thing keeping me on it is Verizon.  Unlike everyone else here, I get reception at work.  I also get reception everywhere in NYC.  Hell, I get reception virtually everywhere I go.  They don’t, and they probably never will as long as they remain on AT&T (at least in the NYC region).

I was a loyal Verizon customer before moving to the iPhone in late 2007. I frequently travel to the fringes of cellular reception areas, including many areas with zero coverage from any carrier. I’ve found:

  1. AT&T isn’t as bad as many people think.
  2. Verizon isn’t as good as many people think.

Often, I’d be in the car with my iPhone and Tiff’s Verizon phone on a long trip. I found that, in various travels through extremely rural New York and Pennsylvania, neither Verizon nor AT&T had noticeably better coverage. Usually, either both or neither would work. Occasionally, the Verizon phone would work and the AT&T phone wouldn’t, but the opposite was true just as frequently.

New York City’s population density and abundance of huge metal buildings is challenging for any popular cellular network. It’s not a question of adding more towers — the problem is likely to be that there are so many towers to provide the necessary capacity that they overlap too much and interfere with each other. The bands are full. We’re saturated.

AT&T’s data network is definitely slow and congested here. So is Verizon’s voice network. I dropped plenty of voice calls on Verizon, and frequently had trouble placing or receiving calls even with full “bars” — the telltale sign of CDMA tower congestion. Tiff had the same problem, so I know it wasn’t just my phone. I also used two different Verizon phones in New York — one, the E815, known for having amazing reception — before switching to the iPhone. And I’m still a Verizon customer for my EVDO USB stick.

AT&T already expanded capacity onto the 850 MHz band in some big metro areas over the last few months. It helped, I think, but not enough to beat Verizon’s wide-open data speeds. But when Verizon finally gets some smartphones that normal people will actually want to use for mobile web browsing and music streaming, their network will buckle under the same pressure. In that way, it’s actually in Verizon’s customers’ best interests that the Droid doesn’t sell very well.

Due to the congestion, neither carrier is particularly good or reliable for voice. But today, Verizon is much better for data in Manhattan than AT&T.

The fastest and most reliable network in Manhattan for both voice and data is actually Sprint, because it has a very advanced EVDO deployment that’s used by almost nobody, relative to Verizon or AT&T, and therefore suffers none of the congestion problems. But Sprint has its own problems: in addition to mediocre device selection, the coverage isn’t as good as Verizon or AT&T. First-party tower preference kills most of the advantage of being able to roam onto Verizon’s network.

So it comes down to your needs. For me, my phone is a personal computer most of the time, and it’s occasionally used to make or receive phone calls. Most data is downloaded over WiFi, with occasional small transfers over the cellular network. Network flakiness hurts me less than device flakiness. For me, therefore, the device is much more important than the network, because I’m using the device much more than I’m using the network.

If you make a lot of phone calls, use a ton of cellular data, or frequently travel to Vermont, and will accept more shortcomings and limitations in your device to ensure the use of a better data network, you should consider Verizon. But if your phone is more of a pocket computer than a mobile telephone, the iPhone is the only way to go.