Last summer, when Apple introduced its 3G iPhone device, I brought up the issue of AT&T not being ready for the data usage brought on by the data-centric touchscreen phone. Company officials of course denied having such problems, assuring me that they were ready. Ready or […]

ref_iphone3g_pairLast summer, when Apple introduced its 3G iPhone device, I brought up the issue of AT&T not being ready for the data usage brought on by the data-centric touchscreen phone. Company officials of course denied having such problems, assuring me that they were ready.

Ready or not, a lot of people signed up for AT&T’s service, and many were soon disappointed by the lack of backhaul bandwidth. For me personally it got so bad, that I switched away from the iPhone (which I love, by the way) to T-Mobile’s 8900 BlackBerry and a plain old phone from Verizon.

AT&T keeps denying that it has any network bandwidth problems and continued its state of denial in an article in the New York Times this past weekend. Kristin S. Rinne, senior VP of architecture and planning for AT&T, blamed the phones and the chipsets on handsets for some of the problems.

Bad news for them – the article coincided with the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival, which is attended by hordes of iPhone-totting early-adopter techies. AT&T’s network choked and suddenly everyone was up in arms. And then Ma Bell got in touch with Stacey, who reported that AT&T was boosting its network capacity.

How did they do this? By switching on 850 MHz band on eight cell towers to blanket the downtown Austin area. This was in addition to the existing capacity on the 900 1900 MHz band. AT&T is going to make the same arrangements in San Francisco and New York by end of 2009, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega told Engadget.

This move to fix the bandwidth issue is a clear sign that AT&T knows it has network problems. It is time for the company to step up and acknowledge that this is indeed the case, and make a clear and coherent statement on how it is fixing it. By not doing so, it is clearly selling 3G phones (iPhone and BlackBerry Bold) under false pretenses. I think this is where the new FCC should step up to the plate and force their hand!

By Om Malik

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  1. I completely agree with Om on this one. I’ve been hoping/waiting for better coverage since I first switched to AT&T so I could buy/use an iPhone. The 3G coverage in San Francisco is horrible. In New York it’s even worse. 3G is spotty in Manhattan and you can forget about getting a 3G signal at the SoHo Apple Store or Times Square.
    I’m considering picking up a Blackberry on another network…

    1. New York’s network, for me, was great on the iPhone. San Fran’s was not as good, in my opinion, but was far better than the horrendous network in Austin, TX.

      I’ve been to New York, San Francisco, Dallas, San Antonio, Las Vegas Houston and other cities, and have never found a network so lacking in 3G coverage as Austin. I work in downtown, and about 1/4th of the time don’t even have a 3G signal. On my drive home, down Mopac (the major highway in Austin along with I-35) and through South Austin I lose my 3G signal at least 5 times, dropping calls and canceling data connections. It is incredibly frustrating, and I’ve complained to my state representative and the FCC. All I get from the AT&T office of the president is that ‘they cannot guarantee coverage.’

      Give me a break. This isn’t a guaranteed coverage issue, this is a sham of a network that needed to be fixed years ago.

      1. I’m a fellow Austinite and about to pull all my hair out with all the dropped calls I get here. Would you share the phone numbers you called for the state rep and the FCC? I’ll pass it to my other distressed iphoners and we’ll voice our discontent. Much thanks!

      2. Brian Kapprell Monday, October 5, 2009

        Yeah, I agree. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio and it’s that way here too-spotty coverage, dropped calls, static in the line, etc. Their map shows coverage in these areas, but yet it seems to always go out there…. interesting!! Their maps are very inaccurate and their reps are liars.

    2. Me and my wife switched to ATT so I could get the iphone and she has the palm centro. We live in Houston close to downtown. We both have signal fluctuations between 3G and the Edge network, dropped calls and poor call quality (the persons voice seems garbled). So it is not just an Iphone issue. I can sit outside without moving and the signal is all over the place. I payed for 3G and that is what I should get. Recently I received a text from ATT stating: ATT has the largest network in houston. I wish I could have replied, yeah but it sucks.

      1. Sorry that you think that you paid for 3G. You paid for the svc not for 3G. If you get it, great if not then you have to deal with the EDGE network. Move north and see how much you pay for cell svc.

  2. [...] Right after I posted this, I caught Why Won’t AT&T Admit to Its Wireless Network Problems? by another friend, Om Malik. I’d say Om’s piece reinforces my point. AT&T took a [...]

  3. [...] Om of GigaOm reports that AT&T is addressing the problems in Austin by switching on the 850 MHz band in their downtown Austin towers: AT&T’s network choked and suddenly everyone was up in [...]

  4. I’m not an iPhone owner ($80/month is to much) but I do use AT&Ts 3G services. I’ve never had a complaint about spee. But I’ve had the spotty connection issue. Why is it that my home in the suburbs has 3.5G capabilities, but when I’m near downtown (mind you not many tall buildings around) I can only get EDGE? Very frustrating, it has me wondering about getting a Dream HTC instead of an iPhone.

  5. You have to figure the iPhone on the AT&T network is overloading the network. Verizon has no mass traffic from geeks since no hot device.

    If you think for a moment that if the iPhone ran on Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon San Francisco the mecca for geeks would not have trouble…

    I mean the ratio of iPhones at SXSW if great, greater the any other hot smartphone.

  6. But I am not defending AT&T, they willingly agree to carry the iPhone and must deal with the added traffic.

    When the Pre and other hot smartphones come out there will be less iPhones and data usage will be more spread out.

  7. AT&T continues to ignore my service calls that there is very poor coverage near where I live (2 miles south of downtown denver). All they say is “our maps show your area’s coverage as ‘good.'”

    Well it isn’t! They have no interest in solving the problem, if their map says coverage is good, them god-dammit it’s good! ….despite the fact that calls consistently drop all around my neighborhood for me and other AT&T customers.

    this is a nice idea:

    1. File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (I did) to make AT&T take action and responsibility!!!


      -Im from Denver and I know exactly how you feel

    2. AT&T’s service in Denver is atrocious! I have a friend that lives at about 12th and Washington and I’ve not had ANY service at his house in that last year at least. I’ve called AT&T and all they can say is “Weird, that’s in the middle of six towers!?” That doesn’t mean I get any connection to the network though!

  8. AT&T can only use 850mhz and 1900mhz. 900mhz can’t be used in the US, it’s for Europe. Typo?

    It also brings up the question… why wasn’t AT&T using the 850mhz band before?

    1. that was a typo @chris. thanks for bringing it to our attention. we got that fixed. 850 mhz was what they were using for their analog services.

    2. They were supposed to overlay 850mhz by December ’08, but haven’t even turned on one tower until SXSW called them on it. I have no idea why they haven’t. Lubbock, Dallas and San Antonio all have 850mhz. Why not Austin, the capitol of Texas???

      1. Jerry Fleckhiemer Friday, March 20, 2009

        First of all they have to own 850 in that market to turn it on. Second, Austin came secondhand into SBC a while back from a 1900 carrier with CDMA. So, if they got it, they will use it. 850 was picked up during the AT&T Wireless acquisition, so its available and should be using it. Other than asking one of their RF guys, customers will never know the difference. All AT&T phones a quad-band.

  9. There is no 900 band in the US…

  10. PierreBtwork up her Monday, March 16, 2009

    I am Canadian and my iPhone is on the Candian Rogers\Fido here. Been travelling a lit of bit of late to the US and Europe.

    From my perspective, the AT&T network is clearly inferior.


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