Editorial: What’s Going on With AT&T 3G in Las Vegas?

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There appears to be some kind of signal jamming going on with AT&T’s network in the hotel/casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, NV, I found myself skipping around several hotels. Like any smartphone enthusiast, I ran several speed tests and paid close attention to the general behavior of my device in town, to contrast it with the behavior of AT&T’s network back in Southern California.

Anywhere in or around “The Strip” (Las Vegas Boulevard), the signal strength was great on HSPA, but performance was sub-par. In multiple tests, the best I was able to come out with was 3.2Mbps down, 1.5Mbps up. This would be a very acceptable speed for AT&T’s HSPA network, but it was only my peak. The average speed hovered around 1Mbps/1Mbps. Interestingly the upstream always seemed to be less congested than the downstream, leading me to believe the problem is simply not enough back haul for the amount of users. There were no conferences or other major events occurring during this time frame.

Inside several hotels was a different story. As soon as I set foot inside either the Polo Towers, or MGM Grand, my phone reported full signal strength, but I noticed there was no data connection. I checked the phone’s field test page which revealed that I was parked on “WCDMA Band NULL” with near full signal strength. SMS/MMS, data, and phone calls all refused to work. The phone never attempted to park on another cell, seemingly content to sit on this one with no service.

I attempted to use the phone’s engineering menu to lock onto WCDMA 1900MHz and 850MHz respectively, with the same results. WCDMA Band NULL and no service. It was only until I locked the phone to GSM that I was able to get service – all my text messages, etc. that had been pending while the phone was on WCDMA sent.

What’s going on here? Do the casinos have a Micro-Cell network deployed that isn’t properly connected to a back haul? Is it something more sinister like intentional signal jamming on high speed networks? My sample size was admittedly small – only 3 days, with one device, on one network, but the results were very easily duplicated – inside the hotel/casino, locked to WCDMA Band NULL. Just outside the building – normal HSPA service. I’m not the only one to experience this behavior – check here for a recent experience by another AT&T user in Las Vegas, NV. We also ran into similar problems in Las Vegas for CES 2011 – although that was a large-scale event that draws over 100,000 people to the big city, and this was just an “average weekend”.

The device used for testing is an AT&T Captivate running an i9000 ROM and radio for HSUPA capability. Beyond rooting there are no further modifications (running Froyo 2.2.1 i9000 XXJPX ROM).

Image Credit: Flickr

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GabePeters