Reception Problems on the iPhone 4?

Reports keep coming in about Apple’s new iPhone 4 and reception issues. The culprit looks to be the new stainless steel antenna/frame that runs around the outside edge of the phone. I talked about the new technology here yesterday. However, a firmware bug could be another possible reason for the problem, which manifests itself when a person touches the metal antenna/frame with bare hands. While the number of reported incidents—at least so far—has not been large enough to confirm this problem as either an actual design flaw present in all of the new iPhones, information about it has been growing as pre-ordered iPhone 4s start arriving to customers.

Could it all be the stainless steel antenna/frame that runs around the edge? Scientifically maybe, but you would think that this would be something Apple already accounted for during the design and testing phases of the phone’s development. While it is true that part of the signal ends up being absorbed by the body as heat when the skin is in contact with the antenna, if you have ever fiddled around with an old television antenna back in the days of analog signal then you know that sometimes touching the antenna does help the set receive a clearer signal. Sort of. The human body can function as an antenna of sorts itself.

The possible firmware explanation for the problem is fairly simple. Apple has tuned the phone to not necessarily use the strongest signal available, but rather to use whichever network band has the smallest amount of interference or congestion. Touching the antenna could confuse the iPhone’s firmware and thus lead to these issues. If this explanation is true, then a software update fix will most likely come out very shortly.

There is a third explanation however, which could actually be a combination of the two I just described. The iPhone 4 actually has two built-in antennas that appear as one. The stainless steel antenna on the left side of the phone is used by the Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth while the right and  bottom sides of the phone’s antenna are utilized by the actual cellular radio. Since revised reports of reception issues note that this problem only normally happens when both the left side of the phone’s antenna and the bottom or right sides of the phone’s antenna are “connected” by a hand or hands which are in contact with both at the same time, the two signals could be getting crossed or confusing the phone’s new firmware features that look for the “best” signal.

No matter what the exact problem is, one of those cheap rubber phone bumpers will fix it until Apple tells us what is up.

Having a reception problem with your new iPhone 4? Let us know.

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