iPhone 4s and the Case of the 30-Second Signal Drop

I’ve had the iPhone 4s for a few weeks now, and love it. So much faster than the 4, and the photos are phenomenal. Video recording has been hugely improved by the presence of built-in stabilization.

(There’s always a “but”, right?)
Tuesday morning, I started having problems with the phone. Every 30 seconds it would completely drop the cell signal and the display would read “Searching…”

I did some Googling, and discovered I was not alone. One forum member suggested that turning off cellular data fixed the problem, so I tried that. It worked like a charm, except I had no data when I was out of WiFi range. Whatever–at least I could make phone calls until I had time to get to the Apple Store, (I was out of town, with no access to an Apple Store.)
Thursday, I made my Genius Bar appointment at the Washington Square Apple Store, confident that they’d know how to fix it. Knowing that wiping the phone would probably be one of the troubleshooting options, I made sure my phone was backed up before I left. I arrived to find the Apple Store packed, as usual. Checked in, I browsed iPhone accessories until my turn came up. Several, “ooooh, shiny-s” later, a Genius tracked me down and started working on my phone. 

He reset the network settings… No luck.
He swapped out the SIM card… Seemed to work at first, but then dropped the signal.

He finally did a complete wipe and restore of iOS, and that did the trick.
I skipped (not really, I’m too cool to skip,) out of the Apple Store. The Genius had assured me that it wasn’t an app issue, so restoring it from backup would be just fine.

I keep more than 100 apps on my iPhone, (they’re all necessary, I swear!) So restoring from the backup I made earlier in the day took awhile. But the phone worked. I was happy.
Friday morning, the phone started dropping the signal every 30 seconds again.

Bridgeport Village in Tigard has an AT&T store and an Apple Store with a block of each other, so I headed there. The Genius had mentioned that it could be a SIM issue, so I stopped at AT&T first. They swapped the SIM card. 
No luck. 

AT&T instructed me to take it to the Apple Store, because it was most likely a hardware issue. They see this problem quite often.
If you’ve been to an Apple Store for service, you know that it’s always wise to make an appointment. I didn’t have one, but they were able to fit me in within a half hour of my arrival.

Coffee. Sitting on a bench outside the Apple Store so I could hop on their WiFi (remember, cellular data was turned off so I could still use my phone as a… phone.) It was a sunny, chilly day in Portland, so I didn’t mind the wait.
They got me in almost exactly at my appointment time. The new Genius listened as I ran through the past few days and what had been attempted up to that point. He ran some diagnostics and returned with some questions. 

Genius: “After restoring your phone last time, did you apply your latest backup?”
Me: “Yep. That’s what they told me to do.”

“That’s probably the problem. Your backup has a glitch. We’ll go ahead and replace the phone, but set it up as a new phone–don’t restore from that backup.”
“You mean I have to start from scratch on Angry Birds?”

*crickets* (I thought it was funny. Tough room.)
So here I sit, iTunes in one hand, Evernote (for writing this blog entry,) in the other (figuratively speaking,) re-adding apps to my shiny new iPhone 4s. It’s not so bad–kinda like spring cleaning. All my contacts and calendars are on iCloud, so they flowed down to the phone as soon as I logged in with my Apple ID.

I find it semi-interesting that they claim it was a software problem, but replaced the phone anyway. I mean, if it was a software problem, I could have just restored my original 4s and set it up as a new phone instead of restoring the last backup. I’m not complaining though. As long as this one works, I’m a happy camper.

So… If you’re having the same problem–signal dropping every 30 seconds–do the following, in order:
  1. Visit the AT&T store, have them replace the SIM card (just to be sure, and to show Apple that you’ve done your due diligence as far as troubleshooting goes.)
  2. Make an appointment at the Genius Bar. Hopefully they’ll replace your phone.
  3. If you get a new phone, set it up as a new phone–don’t restore from your latest backup.

I’ll report back if the problem persists, but I think I’m good to go.