Cell Phone Service and Brooklyn Heights: Not a Love Story

iphoneMaking a cell phone call from my apartment on Pierrepont Street goes like this:

1: Look at phone to see how many bars I have

2: If three or more bars are present, dial phone

3: If not, wait for the “No Service” indicator to vanish, then dial

4: Wait for person on other end to answer

5: Warn this person that the call could be disconnected with very little notice at any given moment

6: Talk for 7-8 minutes. Call drops out

7: Move to another room in my apartment.

8: Redial. Almost immediately, call drops again

9: Redial. Call stays active long enough for friend/parent/relative to threaten termination of our relationship due to faulty cell phone service

10: Call drops again

11: Send text message to friend/parent/relative begging for forgiveness, hope the relationship will be restored when AT&T steps it up, or when I finally cave and get a landline

Sound familiar?

After nine months living in Brooklyn Heights, I’ve just about reached my breaking point with the awful cell phone service in a neighborhood that I adore in almost every other way. My husband and I are both AT&T customers, and have difficulty on a daily basis making calls not just from our apartment, but on the Promenade, inside the CVS on Henry Street, and from many other locations in the area. This would not be so frustrating if our monthly cell phone bill was not $145.00. But it is.

Back in December, I approached an innocent salesman with my rage at the AT&T store on Montague Street, and was met with a sigh. The bad service, he claimed, was the result of Brooklyn Heights being a designated historic district. As such, cell phone towers can’t be placed in close proximity, lest they de-historicalize the area. Or something. The bottom line is that he really had no explanation and didn’t care much for my plight, but suggested I call customer service.

A few days later, a nice but disinterested voice on the other end of the line told me AT&T was sorry for my woes, and offered me a $25 rebate for the month, which was a nice gesture, I guess, but it didn’t improve my cell phone service. It did pay for a meal at Siggy’s.

Over the last few months, I’ve watched Verizon users make and receive calls with ease from my couch, a common action that has become, for me, a source of great envy. After returning home from a recent trip to Peru, where my cell phone worked better at the top of Machu Picchu than it does in my own home, I decided it was time to call AT&T again and try to get some answers. Provided I had a signal.

The friendly public relations representative e-mailed me a very positive press release that focused on the “extra spectrum” AT&T has added throughout the city to enhance coverage, “usually resulting in better in-building experience.” The emphasis there would be on the word “usually.”

The press release, which went out at the end of June, also boasted of new layers of frequency known as “carriers” that have been added throughout Manhattan and “as needed” throughout the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn to “more efficiently manage available spectrum and increase 3G capacity.”

AT&T’s rep was reluctant to go on the record about anything until further investigating what might be hampering service at my particular address. One potential solution to the problem could be a MicroCell, a device that “acts like a mini cellular tower,” according to AT&T’s website, to extend the wireless network into locations with poor coverage.

While I sit and wait and pray for my phone to actually ring when AT&T calls back, I thought I’d throw this one out to the masses: What’s your nightmarish Brooklyn Heights cell phone experience? Have you done anything to fix it? Is AT&T the worst?

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  • kah

    I’m actually somewhat relieved to hear others have problems with AT&T reception in Brooklyn Heights. I moved to the neighborhood a few months and have basically lost all verbal contact with friends, family and restaurants that bring me food. I’ve tried making calls while strolling on the promenade, down hicks, pierrepont etc. but no luck, at least not for more than 3 minutes at a time.

    I recently signed up for skype and have been testing it out. It seems to be ok as an alternative and is only 2.99/month. I only use the audio portion, not interested in seeing or being seen during calls. You can call other cell phones and land lines pretty well. The down side is that you’re talking to your computer like a crazy person or wearing silly headphones plugged into your computer. No more wireless. However in a pinch its fine.

    Now if AT&T would create a text message only plan so I could recoup some of the costs of the phone plan and finally ditch the 5000 roll over minutes I can’t use, then I’d be in business.

  • DrewB

    This is the main reason I don’t have an iPhone. I suffered through ATT for two years in the pre iPhone days. Verizpn service in the hood, and throughout NYC, is great. I almost never lose calls.

  • Danya

    I don’t have firsthand experience, but it does seem that AT & T is the worst. When you wrote “sound familiar?” I said to myself, “actually it doesn’t…because I have Verizon.”

  • http://www.johnmdavis.com JohnD

    Talk to AT&T about getting a Microcell for your home. It routes the call through the internet, so you need a broadband connection, and the unit has to sit in a window so that the GPS can be active. I bought one the day they became available, then I got an offer from AT&T for a free one, so I got my money refunded. It completely fixed my reception problems.

  • paul

    we have at&t and it is horrible, and has gotten noticeably worse over the years. we use original model iphones, not the 3Gs, and I had hoped that part of the problem was the edge network, but I guess not. I recently left my first gen iphone in a cab, and have been using a cheap att phone while I decide whether or not I want to bail and get verizon, and the service is no better.

    only problem is I like the iphone better in every way to the droid, my wife still has her iphone and likes it, and we don’t actually make all that many phone calls @ home. my phone gets far more use texting and listening to music.

  • Monty

    AT&T is lying to you as well. My office is near Times Sq and the 90% of my co-workers that have iPhones struggle mightily with reception. Their network sucks because they inundated with iphone users who will buy their product regardless of their quality of service. My Verizon phone gets good reception everywhere including elevators and shallow subway stations. My wife has a work-issued T-Mobile phone that works just fine everywhere as well.

  • bklynbee

    I just got the iPhone 4 and switched to AT&T from Sprint. I live on the border of brooklyn heights and cobble hill (or, as I am starting to call it, “BOBHACH”) and have not noticed a difference in service between those 2 carriers. Granted, I have not yet tried using the phone extensively in various Heights locations.

  • AEB

    Declasse, I know, but I have this beat up LG phone that’s steam-powered, and the carrier is Verizon.

    Never no problem in BH or anywhere else for that matter. Never.

  • aw

    I installed a cellular booster at my apt on Cranberry and it works great! If the free AT&T option doesn’t work go with something like this…http://www.amazon.com/Wireless-Extenders-YX500-Cel-Booster-Coverage/dp/B000E14G7S

  • http://twitter.com/jarbro Jared

    iPhone people will never learn will you. Sure the phone is great but the network is the worst in the NYC metro area. You want rock solid coverage in NYC, Verizon, T-Mobile, even Sprint will serve you well. I was a Verizon guy for more than 10 yrs but left VZW for AT&T to get a BlackBerry and they were awful, 6 months later T-Mobile entered my life and I have never been happier. All of their phones have UMA on it which in the event of low signal, if there is wi-fi available all voice and data traffic is routed over the wi-fi connection.

    Fact is, the AT&T network is miserable as quantified by the following independent study. http://jarb.ro/3H

    Got a tech question in the Heights, drop a note, I am your man. ps, make sure to follow me on twitter @jarbro

  • HNGG

    I couldn’t get any service from Sprint at all in the ‘hood so I got an iPhone – AT&T is a HUGE improvement

  • Heights

    I tried T-Mobile and got no service in my apartment unless I practically stuck my head out the window. Switched to Verizon and have had no problems.

  • Ari

    I have a work Blackberry and its on AT&T. I have to say it’s absolutely horrible.

    AT&T is notoriously terrible service especially near bodies of water in NYC. I can never actually have a call that completes properly anywhere near the promenade, on any bridges and basically anywhere in the neighborhood.

    If I was an actual paying customer, I really would pursue legal action in them not living up to their contract to their customers. I know that would never work, but its is beyond frustrating and totally unacceptable.

    But alas, my company pays for it. And I must have a corporate blackberry for work. So I’m stuck with it.

    Sucks that I work from home (and I live right by the water). I had to get a land line from TWC because I simply could not have a single complete call in over year on my AT&T blackberry.


  • Publius


    I’ll need to humbly disagree with you. I was a Sprint customer for 6 years (free through work), but when I switched to AT&T, I noticed a huge increase in call quality, and many less dropped calls. IMHO, Sprint’s the worst.

    In the cell phone business, it’s who sucks least.

  • harumph

    I’m also on Pierrepont – gotta say that through the many years I’ve been here, many of my calls are dropped or I have no bars, especially anywhere near the corner of Pierrepont and Willow. I’ve used Spring, Verizon and am currently a happy iphone user – course, still can’t use my phone in my apartment….sigh.

  • http://twitter.com/jarbro Jared

    I guess it depends where in the Heights you are then. I am on Clark and Henry and have excellent coverage throughout.

  • ABC

    I have excellent coverage with my iPhone! I only drop calls on Pierrepont btw Hicks and water. And sometimes on promenade. Never in my apartment, never in CVS, never in my cars when I have to wait for alt side of the street parking and talk for at least a half hour on various blocks. But Pierrepont btw the promenade and Willow, esp, is the worst.

  • Yann

    It’s an AT&T problem for sure… I’m on T-mobile, using an unlocked iPhone 3G and I’m yet to get a dropped call. It uses edge, not 3G, but for $40/m and unlimited text, visual mailbox WITH text transcript (both courtesy of google voice), and unlimited data… I’m not about to upgrade anytime soon!

    I get 3 bars in my apt on Willow, and 4 on the promenade btw…

  • Teddy

    It’s a real shame when you can’t use your phone in your apt. or other locations in your neighborhood. I’ve had Verizon Wireless for about 10 years and I can make/receive a call anywhere, even in my windowless bathroom. So far this year I’ve had fewer than 10 dropped calls. A lot of young people who move into the Heights are more dependent on their mobile phones to stay in touch with family/friends and less likely to get a land-line. AT&T’s service here is unacceptable for people like that. A micro-cell might help, but why should it be necessary to have one. A couple of the tenants in my building have iPhones and they have to go down to the sidewalk to make a call. Give me a break!

    I’ve owned a 3rd gen iPod Touch for almost a year, downloading over a 100 apps during that time. I love my apps (Angry Birds is a great time-killer), feel comfortable using iOS and would have liked to replace my ancient (4-year old) LG “dumb phone” with the iPhone 4. However, it has to be Verizon or no deal. I may have to take a closer look at Android phones if the mythical Verizon iPhone doesn’t show up by early next year.

  • Dan

    No problems at all with Verizon anywhere in Brooklyn Heights. I’ve actually gone “all in” with Verizon at this point, using their wireless for both me and my wife, and Fios for Internet, cable and home phone. I definitely have had some iphone envy, but with new Android phones, I’m very happy with Verizon.

  • Kelly

    Although I have Verizon, I can greatly sympathize as my boyfriend has ATT and it causes us both great frustration here in the neighborhood. After reading this post, I am curious as to ATT’s explanation. I know that bk heights is a historic district, but how are Verizon and T-Mobile able to have great service in the neighborhood while ATT is not, if no cell towers are allowed in the area?

  • gsn

    I have AT&T and would consider Verizon, but I believe that Verizon charges more per month. Is that true?

  • Jo

    GSN, I think the prices are relatively similar, maybe a bit more for Verizon. At least with Verizon nearly all of your calls will go through, so the price per completed call will likely be less than AT&T anyway. :)

    I have been with Verizon since the Bell Atlantic mobile days of cell service and no problem pretty much anywhere in the country. My BB also works great overseas since VZ is partially owned by Vodaphone, a major European carrier with many agreements. (Not that this really matters, but is worth mentioning for those who travel)

    Granted Verizon isn’t perfect, but they have been reliable for cell and data service.

  • Jordan

    I am a T-Mobile user with an unlocked iPhone and have had no problems with my service here in Bk Heights, but I am about to switch over to ATT to get the new iPhone. Can anyone using ATT around the Court st./Atlantic ave. area confirm if the reception is either good or bad in this area? I wouldn’t want to have bad service in my own building like alot of you have mentioned.

  • WillowtownCop

    I share a Sprint plan with someone who refuses to switch companies. I’ve had it since 1999 and it has never once worked inside my apartment in Willowtown. Apparently you can buy a contraption called and Airave or something like that to plug into your wifi that acts as a mini cell phone tower if you can’t get service inside. I don’t have one because it’s $100 and there is a $5 monthly charge that I don’t feel I should have to pay. My solution is to enjoy the peace and quiet, but I bet the other companies have similar mini towers if quiet is not your thing.

  • AEB

    gsn, I use Verizon, as I said above, and have had no problems with service anywhere in BH (except of course for for below ground), or anywhere else for that matter.

    Two phones, two numbers, two-year contract, 1400 minutes per month shared, nothing else: no texting, etc.: $124.00/mo. I expect you could get a better deal as a new user.

  • ratNYC

    AT&T is horrendous, not only in BH. My 3Gs cant make phone calls or hold a phone call almost anywhere in the heights (although curiously it does work reasonably well in my apartment -top floor promenade building, with no large buildings blocking reception), or my girlfriend’s apt in Tribeca or my office in Midtown east. I can’t wait to switch to Verizon as soon as they offer IPhone service.

  • ClarkStChica

    To Jordan and Yann, how did you go about getting the unlocked iPhone and getting your T-Mobile account linked? I have T-Mobile and have to get a new phone and data plan for work. Not loving their smartphone options.

    I have occasional signal issues in the neighborhood, but it’s usually in the depths of a store like CVS. My bill is also very reasonable ($70 – 2 lines w/o data). I don’t live and die by my phone for the most part, but I’d recommend it, especially if calls/texting is your priority.

  • Ben

    On Montague Terrace, the garden floor I have no trouble with cell service can you dig it? Often I am on my land line and have calls on my cell phone comming at the same time. I would think being on the first floor of a brownstone I would have no cell service but that is not the case. Go figure?

  • GHB

    Never had a problem with Verizon in the Heights. I get why people wouldn’t get a land line, but after 9/11 and the big blackout, my land line was the only phone access I had. Glad I had it!