Blog Post

AT&T Moves Up Its LTE Rollout, Admits To Network Issues

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

fewer_bars2 Nothing quite works like the threat of the possibility of losing a money-making asset. With rumors that Apple (s AAPL) is flirting with Verizon over a future partnership, AT&T (s T) has abruptly changed its future wireless broadband plans to include a sudden acceleration of its LTE deployment. LTE is an acronym for Long Term Evolution, the 4G wireless technology that is being favored by most carriers on a global level. Today, AT&T issued a press release touting even faster 3G mobile broadband speeds. Buried in the press release was this little nugget:”AT&T plans to begin LTE trials in 2010, with deployment beginning in 2011.”

Wow! Ma Bell has been insistent that its 3G network has a lot of headroom and it doesn’t need LTE right away. It had hemmed and hawed, saying it wouldn’t begin testing until 2010 or 2011, with full deployment coming after that. What has changed is that, as we pointed out last month, LTE might have been the real reason why Apple and Verizon were getting cozy. As part of today’s announcement, AT&T said:

  • It will boost 3G speeds to HSPA 7.2, and the network upgrades will end by 2011.
  • It plans to begin LTE trials in 2010, with deployment beginning in 2011.
  • The upgraded network platform could allow for theoretical peak speeds of 7.2Mbps, though the speeds you are going to get are likely to be much lower.
  • It will introduce multiple HSPA 7.2-compatible laptop cards and smartphones beginning later this year. You can count on one of them being Apple’s new iPhone.

Having been a harsh critic of AT&T, I liked that the company is finally addressing its network problems. Even CEO Randall Stephenson admitted onstage at the D Conference that there were problems and the company wasn’t quite ready. Of course, at the time, company executives said otherwise. In fact, most of its 3G-related advertising is misleading.

According to the press release:

In addition to the planned speed upgrade, AT&T is enhancing its mobile broadband coverage by nearly doubling the wireless spectrum dedicated to 3G in most metropolitan areas to deliver stronger in-building reception and more overall network capacity. Also, AT&T is adding thousands of new cell site backhaul connections to support the higher mobile broadband speeds enabled by HSPA 7.2 and LTE.

The company has so far been in complete denial about its network coverage. The limitations of its network were exposed during SXSW earlier this year. AT&T has refused to discuss what it was doing in order to fix the problem, instead putting its head in the sand. Today’s press release is the first step in admitting that it has had a problem. Here are some of the things AT&T is doing:

  • Almost doubling the radio frequency capacity. It will be deploying more of its 3G network on the 850 MHz spectrum.
  • More bandwidth to cell sites including adding fiber-optic connectivity and additional capacity to thousands of cell sites across the country this year.
  • More cell sites. Deployment of about 2,100 new cell sites across the country.
  • Many AT&T smartphones will be able to switch seamlessly between 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • MicroCells. Customer trials leading toward general availability of AT&T 3G MicroCell offerings, which utilize femtocells to enhance in-building wireless coverage.
  • AT&T plans to spend between $17 billion and $18 billion on its network in 2009.

Of course, we wonder what happens to some of those older phones that, like iPhone 1.0, work with the older EDGE network. We wanted to ask Ma Bell about the dropped call problems, but the executives are too busy with meetings or talking to reporters who don’t ask tough questions.

There is an error in the slide. HSPA+ should read 20+ Mbps. It currently reads 20+ kbps. The error is regretted.

58 Responses to “AT&T Moves Up Its LTE Rollout, Admits To Network Issues”

  1. well people never stop to think that maybe the reason there iphone has no signal has absolutely nothing to do with att service…the phone just sucks. there are several other att phones that would pick up just fine in the same area on att network that the iphone doesnt

  2. Verizon sucks in Texas. Also people up north shut the hell up go to verizon with their crappy basic phones. Why verizon have buy one get one free blackberry. Hmmm they are not that good.

  3. Adrian

    I am driving a truck all over the country, using a laptop with GPS software and Google Maps to find my way around; Verizon’s Broadband Access (rev-A) is consistent with their coverage map (download speeds up to 1.2Mb/s, web browsing feels the same as with my cable internet connection). I’ve had AT&T and it was pretty much useless except around a few metropolitan areas where it did work as advertised. Outside the Broadband Rev-A coverage area Verizon is as bad as AT&T, slower than Dial-up, cannot be called internet access, I am talking about 100b/s down or worse.

    • Getting 500kbps-700kbps during peak hours. And 1.4-2.0Mbps during off peak hours using Att/apple iPhone 3GS in the Dallas/FW area of the states. Life is good. But the greed in me craves for better. I feel like the 7.2 Mbps HSDPA radio in this device getting dusty, achy, unstimulated brain. Give me more speed. I wanna go fast, I wanna go fast!!!

  4. I get great AT&T 3G coverage in the DC metro and points south. I’m even surprised how good the coverage is in Richmond, VA in areas that aren’t suppose to be part of the 3G coverage area.

  5. Scarhawk

    So how does this compare to Clearwire’s rollout and is that a factor here? Is WiMax vs. LTE a real fight, or is Clearwire going for the WiMax-enabled notebook market first and maybe offering only a few Android WiMax phones or something until they get a broader footprint?

  6. dougk911

    I watch over a fleet of black-and-white sedans that rely on AT&T’s network for connectivity on a 24 x 7 basis on the SF Peninsula. Have been a customer since the CDPD days. It’s almost a dependable cycle – Market forces require AT&T to upgrade their network, it doesn’t work well, there are coverage holes and configuration problems, I get buggy firmware from the modem manufacturer, and have very unhappy users, and it takes us a year to work everything out. Then, we’re stable and happy for, oh, a year or so, and then start the process all over again. As of this month, we’re complaining to them about performance degradation in our area. They hem and haw back and forth between stories: It’s the device. No, it’s the particular site(s) in our neck of the woods. No, it’s a capacity/congestion issue. No, it’s something else entirely. WEAK. Time to consider VZW or Sprint, perhaps….

  7. You are Steve Jobs. You are on the way from Stanford Med, off life support, to Infinite Loop Drive to put some fear of god into the troops as The General is returning and will have to clean up all sorts of horrible shit that B player fucktards have done in the absence of adult supervision.

    You are driving along De Anza trying to read some article from The Journal, getting into The Zone for a meeting with those assholes from Georgia. How unfortunate that said group of fuckups were the only real viable choice for the US iPhone, but in retrospect perhaps it was a mistake not wanting to put a goddamn CDMA radio in the phone. If only you had known that one of the biggest carriers in the world simply did not give a shit about whether or not their service worked. Fuck! It was just so much cleaner not to have the CDMA bullshit in there, cleaner BOM, fewer part numbers, it was more simple, more elegant…more Apple.

    Then you lose signal. Dropped, no bars, no data, nada. Time’s a wasting at a long long light. You are busy, there is fear to be sown, the King Returns yet 200 goddamn meters from the fucking headquarters you, Steve Jobs of Apple, have no data connection on your fucking iPhone because your worthless crappy partners, to whom you threw the biggest pile of pure cash they will ever see in their lifetimes, well, they not only insulted you, they did the equivalent of taking a soft, runny shit on your living room carpet.

    What now? Hmmm….hello, New Jersey, I have had an epiphany, it IS the network. Can you hear me now?

  8. James

    Wow. ‘Sounds like at&t service really sucks in Ca.
    I can tell you that my iPhone 3G gets GREAT 3G service here in Birmingham, Al.
    I would even say (almost) excellent coverage!
    *Same on a recent trip to ft. Myers Beach, Fl. – I left my MacBook at home for a week and had FULL 3G coverage everywhere in the Ft. Myers area… even out on the water!
    But honestly, when I lived in the NYC area, I had Verizon, Sprint & att at one time or another and I would not exactly “rave” about any of them… as anyone who’s from bergen county, Nj can attest, horrible service there – probably because many of the towns don’t want the “blight” of actually seeing the towers from their expensive homes… yet bitch about bad cell service. ;-)

  9. frink

    Not to play devil’s advocate here too greatly, but some of “the phone companies” are working very hard trying to get LTE rolled out as fast as possible. One of the major stumbling blocks is their reliance on vendor equipment and associated software. They don’t make this stuff themselves. Things like IPv6 vfully integrated in major network components are a pre-requisite to rolling out LTE. If vendors aren’t prepared, or are delayed in upgrading their code to support this requirement, and believe me many data component vendors are surprisingly far from it, it’s not entirely the phone company’s fault for delay.

    • Jesse Kopelman

      No, not entirely the phone companies’ fault at all. Still, it is the phone companies and not the vendors (in this case, at least) making unrealistic pronouncements about when the technology will be in the customers hands.

      • Agreed, in part. A bit of chicken and egg here…vendors quite often state their products do more than they actually can, or do what you need, but leave out the very specific conditions of this operation. When you get this bleeding edge technology in house, it is only after extensive testing are the unique intricacies of your network operating with their equipment uncovered.

  10. Om, I am not sure where you got the slide because it is not the correct representation of their overall network data rates. Laptops are most of the time ‘stationary’ whereas mobile/cell phone data is non-stationary in most cases. There’s about 40% difference in data rates in stationary vs moving client devices. So these numbers should be atleast have a 40% offset to them.

  11. Charlie

    I get great AT&T 3G coverage in the DC metro and points south. I’m even surprised how good the coverage is in Richmond, VA in areas that aren’t suppose to be part of the 3G coverage area (4 bars). AT&T has done well for me and never had problems in my frequent travels all over the US.

  12. Jeremy

    Horrible. I live in San Francisco and can get full bars of 3G standing outside of my house. I walk in my house and I can get about 1 bar of Edge. At my in-laws house, just up the street, same thing and this is at the top of one of the biggest hills in SF.

    So basically we can’t use our phones at home. Sure I could buy a $250 3G repeater, but I should not have to.

  13. HD Boy

    Early in 2009, Wired reported that AT&T’s 3G network “…covers more than 45,000 cell sites, 17,000 cities and towns and 40,000 miles of highway…”

    If those numbers are accurate, adding just 2,100 new cell sites doesn’t sound like much of an expansion to me. In addition, I’ve read that the spacing between cell sites could prove to be an issue for LTE. If the original cell site locations were selected to optimize the 1900 MHz frequency, could AT&T ideally need many, many more sites (placed more closely together) to smoothly hand-off calls for an 850 MHz network? Can anyone speak to this?

  14. loydb

    I used to work at Deanza and Stephens Creek, and got a decent signal. My hotel is at Middlefield and Castro/Moffett, and might as well be in a black hole for all it works.

  15. I thought AT&T 3G coverage was bad in NYC, where I am lucky to see speeds of 50kb/s on a good day. Then I had a trip to LA a few weeks ago and I could not even get Edge coverage, much less 3G, just outside of downtown. They have a long, long way to go here.

  16. Jesse Kopelman

    RE: 2010 LTE testing and 2011 rollout

    I think this is more playing along with Verizon’s BS than anything. I don’t think either company will have much of anything (that is really LTE) deployed before 2012. Just remember that Verizon is the company that claimed they had deployed 3G back when they first went 1XRTT, in all its 60kbps glory. At this point it is just easier to play along and claim that your vaporware will be ready just as soon as the next guys.

    • Zing…. that is a good point of view to take. I have to be honest…. that whole 3G fiasco totally slipped my mind. It has been so long… and frankly phone companies are well, phone companies :-D

    • Jesse,

      I agree. Any of these carriers can claim an “LTE rollout” even if it’s just one signal tower in Mudbutt, North Dakota.

      Given how long EDGE has hung on in the face of 3G I think any practical 4G coverage is years off. This is why I’m much more interested in the HSPA rollout, which is a software update and something we should get in a more realistic timeframe.

  17. well the signal strength is improving… i cannot get a signal on my 3g iphone at the crossing of deanza and homestead, about 200 meters from apple hq….however was very pleasantly surprised to find excellent indoor coverage in some critical places like hospitals…

  18. loydb

    The fact that I can’t get a signal — Edge *OR* 3G — standing in freaking Mountain View, CA, tells you everything you need to know about AT&T’s awful network. They should have enough signal blanketing silicon valley to sterilize a frog. If only my precious, precious iPhone could use another network.

    Oh wait, soon…

  19. will be interesting to see how this LTE race evolves, and if AT&T can make enough material progress in the next 12 months to prevent Apple from jumping ship. What they don’t talk about is anything over 7.2Mbps – so they are boosting 3G but also working on LTE? Lets see what really happens.

    • A

      I think they have started moving to HSPA but you are right about the upgrades. I wish they would be more clear about their upgrades. I will follow up.

      PS: thanks for catching the error.

  20. Om, I think you are actually *helping* AT&T by talking about this 500 lb gorilla. I really feel like AT&T should have been more serious about coverage a year ago. With AT&T, I *expect* dropped calls and repeating sentences from my iPhone-using friends right here in AT&T’s backyard, San Francisco. It’s awful at times.

    I just hope that AT&T’s words are followed by actions, and quickly, for their sake!