Every year, towards the end of July, I head up to northern Wisconsin. About an hour north of Green Bay (you may have heard of their football team – the Packers) it’s a pretty rural area, a great escape from the typical suburban life. That doesn’t mean it’s not connected from the world; there’s decent internet, satellite TV, and plenty of electronics to go around. One thing it is lacking, however, is decent cell phone coverage.
We’re in an age where cell phone carriers are all racing to see who can get their 4G networks live in large urban areas first, and it’s sticking to just that as of now: large, urban areas. Verizon has been rolling out its network the fastest, now moving into more suburban areas. The rural areas? 4G has yet to be mentioned for them.
And here’s the big issue: there isn’t even 3G.
I spent the weekend away from 3G, and it didn’t just apply to AT&T. I brought up a Sprint S III, and my friends each had phones on T-Mobile, Verizon, and even US Cellular. None of them got anything more than EDGE or 1X depending on the carrier, so I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t isolated to just one provider. In fact, not only is there a lack of a solid data connection, but none of us could successfully make a call or send a text most of the time.
It came down to the fact that there was barely coverage in the first place, let alone a data connection. This is a time where we’ve come to rely on our phones for many daily tasks, even at times of relaxation. Carriers are only moving forward, onto 4G networks, but are they leaving the areas that still lack 3G behind? What happens when they decide to repurpose the 2G networks rural areas still rely on?
I have been going to the same spot in northern Wisconsin for about 4 years now. Every year, I’m disappointed to find that coverage has only gotten worse. I’m not the only person up there with a cell phone, and even the 2G networks can get strained. Refreshing Twitter, which normally works perfectly fine on AT&T’s EDGE network, is near impossible in this coverage area. Sending a text requires moving my phone around in the air like an idiot, as if I’m stuck in a basement, except I’m outside in the open air. When will the madness end?
Looking ahead to the future, I wonder if carriers even care about these rural areas. Sure, they may not have too many subscribers, but there’s still some business to be had. With such a focus on 4G these days, it’s scary to think of what will become of these 2G coverage zones, and whether or not they’ll ever be upgraded. Carriers need to slow down the 4G upgrade process, and first bring their whole coverage to 3G. I’m not asking for 4G in these rural areas, nor do I expect that to happen anytime soon. But before we can make the complete jump to the next generation of mobile data, carriers need to upgrade their networks to 3G.
Carriers, it’s your call now. Who else thinks we need a solid 3G network before the full jump to 4G?