HTC EVO 4G LTE signal woes confirmed

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The HTC EVO 4G LTE just launched this past weekend, but customers have been reporting some troubling issues. One of our readers reached out to us and said that both he and his wife have experienced signal-strength issues with their brand-new HTC EVO 4G LTE phones. Even more troubling, he reported that he experienced better signal strength with his previous phone, the original HTC EVO 4G.

Upon further investigation, we discovered that this EVO owner wasn’t alone. New EVO owners in the XDA Forums and Sprint Community reported having uneven signal-strength and reception issues. We reached out to both Sprint and HTC, who both initially said they were unaware of the issue.

Our in-house test

Original HTC EVO signal strength over CDMA only.

We decided to do our own testing comparing the signal strengths of the HTC EVO 4G LTE and the original HTC EVO 4G using the Open Signal Maps Android app in our San Francisco office. We noticed several major discrepancies between the two smartphones. Both had an average signal strength of 65 percent (-85 decibels per milliwatt), however we noticed that the EVO LTE would cycle its signal, going up to 70 percent for a few brief seconds before the signal strength dropped down to around 30 percent. When we switched the phone over to work only on CDMA networks, we still noticed the phone cycling its signal strength, though not as dramatically as when it was on CDMA/LTE. The average signal strength dropped down to 47 percent (-92dBm), but the phone's signal never fell below 40 percent.

After pointing out our own findings as well as the forum complaints, Sprint communications manager Natalie Papaj replied, “We are aware of the issue and are currently investigating it. I will keep you posted as I know more.”

HTC EVO 4G LTE signal strength over CDMA only.

What causes poor reception

The signal issues could be attributed to a number of different reasons. One could be the design of the phone. The EVO 4G LTE's aluminum design seems to affect its reception, and we noticed the signal strength drop 4 percent while holding the phone (something that didn't occur with the original EVO).

Another reason might be due to the fact that Sprint seems to be no longer updating and maintaining its 3G network. In PCWorld’s 3G and 4G Wireless Speed Showdown, our testers found that Sprint was consistently behind in our tests. According to author Mark Sullivan, the carrier seems to have stopped developing its existing 3G and 4G (WiMax) networks while transitioning from its outdated WiMax 4G technology to LTE. While Sprint hasn’t officially confirmed this, our nationwide 3G test showed Sprint’s CDMA network in last place for every city we tested.

In the PCWorld review of the HTC EVO 4G LTE, we criticized the phone’s slow speeds over 3G. In New Orleans, the HTC Evo achieved an average of 1.4 Mbps for download speeds and 0.52 Mbps for upload speeds. In San Francisco, Sprint's 3G network was a bit faster, with an average speed of 1.69 Mbps for downloads and 0.90 Mbps for uploads. Videos started and stalled over YouTube, and Web pages were slow to load. Even T-Mobile's HSPA+ network seems much faster than Sprint's 3G network.

What to do

There is a light at the end of this signal-strength tunnel for HTC EVO 4G LTE owners. First, make sure that your Preferred Roaming List (PRL) is up-to-date. (Settings -> System Updates -> Update PRL). The PRL is a list of the radio frequencies your phone can use in various geographic areas. It should update automatically (you’ll get a message asking if you’d like to update the PRL), but you can also update it manually.

Additionally, make sure you have CDMA-only rather than LTE/CDMA checked off as your preferred network in your network settings. If you'd rather tinker with your phone yourself, you could always try rooting the EVO 4G LTE and see if using a new ROM helps in alleviating your signal issues. You will void your warranty if you do this, so keep that in mind before you decide to mess with your phone's software.

If you’re still having connection issues (and many report that they still do after taking these measures), you might wait to see if Sprint releases a firmware update to fix the issue. As we mentioned previously, Sprint told us that they are now aware of the problem. Hopefully, Sprint will follow through on its Network Vision promise to have faster speeds and more complete coverage between LTE and CDMA as it rolls out its new network. In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated on what we learn from Sprint in regard to the HTC EVO 4G LTE.

This story, "HTC EVO 4G LTE signal woes confirmed" was originally published by TechHive.

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