8 Comments

Summary:

A new RootMetrics report finds that AT&T’s industry-leading LTE speeds take a big dip in Chicago. The report highlights a problem AT&T has with several of its markets: it doesn’t enough spectrum to offer the big fat pipe it has in the rest of the country.

Chicago skyline

AT&T’s new LTE network is blazing fast, with recent nationwide studies showing Ma Bell Mobile is beating out archrival Verizon when it comes to bandwidth punch. But independent network tester RootMetrics just released a new Chicago report finding that AT&T’s typical 17 Mbps-plus speeds are more than halved in the Windy City. The report highlights a problem AT&T has with several of its markets: it doesn’t have the spectrum in place to offer the big fat pipe it offers in the rest of the country.

Root’s study, which uses a combination of drive and indoor testing as well as crowdsourced data, clocked average downlink speeds on AT&T’s Chicago network at 7.6 Mbps and upload speeds at 4 Mbps. In a recent analysis of 15 major markets Root conducted for GigaOM, the firm found that AT&T was delivering the an average of 17.4 Mbps downstream and 8 Mbps upstream.

That severe drop-off in Chicago is explained by the fact that AT&T has only 10 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum in Chicago while it has 20 MHz in most markets, allowing it to match Verizon hertz for hertz. T-Mobile’s dual-carrier HSPA+ network was almost able to match AT&T’s LTE download performance, though AT&T still won out easily when it came to sending packets the other direction.

Chicago isn’t the only market where AT&T is capacity constrained. Root found an even bigger drop off in speeds in Los Angeles earlier this year. GigaOM contributor and spectrum policy wonk Andrew Shepherd looked at AT&T’s spectrum holdings in its 2012 launch markets, finding that AT&T also is limited to 10 MHz in Oklahoma City; Athens, Ga.; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.; San Juan, Puerto Rico, and in a handful of smaller markets in Texas and Indiana.

What does it all mean? While AT&T may lose its “fastest network” bragging rights in the spectrum-constrained cities, it’s still capable of delivering a stellar mobile broadband experience. In my own — admittedly unscientific – speed tests in Chicago’s north side and northwest suburbs, I experienced pretty consistent speeds in the city of nearly 6 Mbps down and nearly 4 Mbps up. When I got onto the freeway and out into the burbs those numbers improved considerably. Those links are fast enough to handle with ease anything you could do on a smartphone.

The bigger concern for AT&T is congestion. Its lesser spectrum holdings not only limit the connection to the device, but the overall capacity of its network. If Apple releases an LTE version of the iPhone this year, AT&T will fill up its networks in Chicago with LA with the new smartphones far more quickly than Verizon. Still, AT&T has plenty of recourse when it comes to capacity. It still hasn’t tapped into its Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum, which allows it to layer on much more bandwidth to its 4G networks. Also, AT&T is being more aggressive than most in pursuing new capacity-boosting technologies such as small cells and self-optimizing networks.

Chicago image courtesy of Flickr user Bert Kaufmann

  1. Doesn’t AT&T have 12 MHZ that they picked up from Aloha partners, as well as 6 MHz that was a result of purchasing Qualcomm’s MediaFlo? Just curious to see what the answer is.

    Share
    1. Kevin Fitchard Monday, May 14, 2012

      Hi JCB,

      They do have 12 MHz but they have to deploy it as 5×5 MHz carrier. Verizon’s in the same boat. It has 22 MHz in the upper C-block, but uses its as 10×10. As for the Qualcomm spectrum, AT&T has to wait until carrier aggregation is on the LTE menu before it can start adding that capacity to its network.

      Share
  2. I can’t say that I’m surprised! I remember demoing apps to a record label near downtown, and being unable to check my email. Sad.

    Share
  3. Congestion relief is what micro-cells are for.

    Share
  4. i wonder how much this may be related to AT&T’s ability to acquire backhaul from the incumbent LEC (which appears to be Verizon) in many of these markets (as opposed to spectrum limitations and lots of LTE devices on the network)

    Share
    1. Kevin Fitchard Tuesday, May 15, 2012

      Hey Bob, that could be a factor in the future in some eastern markets, but it can’t be the reason in Chicago. AT&T is the incumbent there.

      Share
      1. i thought Chicago was one of the trade-off’s benefiting VZ when Cing bought T last decade. My mistake.

        Share
  5. UnhappyAtt Customer Tuesday, June 26, 2012

    To Whom It May Concern,

    I have been using an iPhone 4 with Att Wireless for the last 22 month. Nothing but trouble, from day one. Att Wireless has been dropping 50% of my calls, or maybe even more. Imagine the constant worry and aggravation of so many dropped calls! Over the course of the contract I have attempted to have the issue resolved with both Apple and Att Wireless. Apple has replaced my device with a brand new one and Att’s solution was to change my sim card. Neither solution worked; in fact the problem has gotten worst over time. My local Apple store where I purchased the phone refuses to replace it saying the problem lies with the service. Att refuses to accept the problem saying it’s a hardware issue and sending me back to Apple. See I am a customer a human being stuck in a contract between this two conglomerates whose faulty
    product cost Americans billions of dollars per year.  Last two years I have had to leave my office and walk outside in order to talk on the Att Wireless phone. Sounds like I live in at the edge of the universe well, No! I live in Center City Philadelphia just 2 blocks from City Hall. If Att Wireless doesn’t have good coverage here where does it cover? Att Wireless was charging $138 per month on the unlimited everything plan which over the 24 month contract is well over $3000. Transferred to Tmobile on a prepaid unlimited everything plan for just $60 per month. Now I am surfing at 4g instead of 3g, I speed tested the Tmobile phone at 4-5 Mbps which is much faster than speeds the Iphone 4 3g offers. Best of all I can now talk on the phone without having to walk outside my office and without the constant worry of dropped calls. Still thinking about Att wireless? Save yourself a lot of money and a lot of aggravation and stay away from the horrible service of Att Wireless.

    Professionally I am an Internet Marketing expert so I have created this webpage which I am advertising with the Facebook Ad Network in order to promote my horrible experience with Att Wireless. Facebook has targeting options and have set mine to target both Facebook users who are current Att customers as well as anyone who has ‘Liked’ Att Wireless on the Facebook network. I have also moved one of my Filipino outsourced worker from her current task to doing nothing but copying and pasting my story to every review site on the web. We are up to 42 reviews and this is after only one day. I will continue to have my agent review Att Wireless until a resolution is reached. My Facebook ads have displayed 700 hundred times, with 9 clicks to the website. The Facebook ad is attached.

    My requested resolution is to receive every penny I had ever paid to Att Wirless over the last 22 Month as well as a sincere apology from a senior manager for my troubles. I can be reached at disgruntledattclient@yahoo.com.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post