Wired on the iPhone network meltdown (Updated)

Wired on the iPhone network meltdown (Updated)

Summary: Wired magazine has an article on the iPhone network meltdown. Not surprisingly, AT&T blames the iPhone's insatiable appetite for bandwidth, but to hear AT&T tell it, it's just as much Apple's fault.

TOPICS: Networking, AT&T

The August 2010 issue of Wired magazine has an article called #ATTFAIL Inside the iPhone Network Meltdown and it's a fantastic read. Unfortunately it's not online (yet) so you'll have to venture outdoors and purchase some good old fashioned atoms to read it.

The article is filled with insights on how AT&T failed so spectacularly after the launch of the iPhone. Not surprisingly, it was largely due to the unfettered Internet access granted to millions of iPhone users who consumed bandwidth with reckless abandon. But to hear AT&T tell it, it's just as much Apple's fault.

Wired compared it to a loveless celebrity marriage, but it's more of a tragic love story. Apple and AT&T fell in love and quickly got hitched. Then after the honeymoon was over they started noticing each other's faults. Apple was staunch and unwilling to restrict the iPhone's Internet access, AT&T couldn't build its network out fast enough to accomodate them. Then came the finger pointing. But the two couldn't divorce, for the the sake of the kids. So they ended up tolerating each other, for the time being.

It's filled with fun anecdotes too, like early on when an AT&T representative suggested to one of Jobs' deputies that the Apple CEO wear a suit to meet with the AT&T board, he was told "We're Apple. We don't wear suits. We don't even own suits."

One of the iPhone's problems was that Apple had chosen to source the radio from Infineon, whose hardware was used widely in Europe but rarely in the US, where cell towers are placed farther apart and reception was therefore less forgiving. AT&T would say "Let's resolve these issues together" and Apple would say "No, you resolve them. They're not our problem. They're your problem."

One Apple source told Wired that Jobs has discussed dropping AT&T at least a half a dozen times. Despite the problems, the iPhone's meteoric rise to stardom has helped both companies. It represents over $13B in annual revenue for Apple, the company's profit has doubled since 2007 and its stock price has nearly tripled since the end of 2006. Since early 2007 AT&T's wireless revenue is up 43 percent, profit is up roughly 200 percent and subscribers have grown 40 percent.

On the two-year tethering impasse: Apple wanted it included in the data plan, AT&T wanted to charge extra.

Apple also heavily considered switching to Verizon numerous times. Around the end of 2007, at Jobs' behest, Apple engineers (including Scott Forstall) visited the headquarters of Qualcomm - the primary supplier of the chips in Verizon's phones. It concluded that switching to Verizon would be too complicated and expensive because the chips were different sizes and would necessitate rebuilding the iPhone from scratch. Apple also wasn't convinced that Verizon's network would fare much better and let's not forget the nasty lawsuit that voiding its exclusive pact with AT&T would invite.

But there's hope yet. According to the article Qualcomm began working with Apple on a chip that could allow the iPhone to work on both the AT&T and Verizon networks. WSJ has reported that a Verizon iPhone could debut in the fall, while Bloomberg says that it'll happen in January 2011. For many a Verizon iPhone can't come soon enough.

Why can't Apple release the iPhone to all mobile carriers? Wouldn't that help it achieve the global dominance it desires?

When iPhone eventually jumps carriers, will you switch from AT&T? Will the Verizon network fare any better?

Photo: jjhelp

Updated: Wired has posted the article online.

Topics: Networking, AT&T

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  • RE: Wired on the iPhone network meltdown

    They should have branched out before they launched the 4.

    [i]just thinking....[/i]
  • No reason for me to switch

    I've been pretty happy with AT&T since buying the original iPhone at launch, then upgrading to a 3G. Coverage for me has been good. The only problem I have with dropped calls is from the balcony of my 7th floor apartment where I'm apparently connecting to towers far-far away, then switching between non-adjacent cells repeatedly.

    I think Verizon's data network would be hurt just as bad by iPhone as AT&T's network. I'd like to see statistics on how much 3G data each of them moves right now on a daily basis in major markets.
  • They signted the deal...

    So AT&T signs the deal for exclusive access, the iPhone is a big hit, and now they want to blame everyone but their own inability to provide the services they promised.<br><br>Their answer? Take away the service they promised but cannot deliver.<br><br>I will never, ever be an AT&T customer. It's time Apple learned that from some folks because they will never sell me an iPhone as long as it's locked to such a problematic network and company.
    • I'm OK; AT&T is OK

      @BitTwiddler I've been an AT&T subscriber since the release of the iPhone 3G. I get good 3G service both here in northern California and at my very rural property on the Big Island (Hawaii.)

      Prior to the iPhone, I used Verizon whose service wasn't as good as AT&T's in Hawaii.

      I understand that AT&T's service in NYC is problematical, but I wonder about its quality of service in other regions.

      Of course, NYC, being the center of the universe, naturally expects its concerns to negate my satisfaction with both AT&T and Apple's iPhone.

      What puzzles me, though, and what must be incomprehensible to New Yorkers is how the iPhone can be so successful sans NYC. But I agree: once Apple makes it there, it can make it anywhere.
  • RE: Wired on the iPhone network meltdown

    I've had better service with ATT than I did with Verizon, both in the city (mostly Wash, DC) and in rural areas. Plus, I ilke the ability to do both voice and data simultaneously, something you can not do with Verizon's CDMA network.

    Will be interesting to see what happens when Verizon comes out with its LTE network (SIM card and all!)
  • Verizon covers 5 *TIMES* more of the country in 3G... when compared to AT&T

    Verizon covers 5 *TIMES* more of the country with 3G... when compared to AT&T.

    Gee, I wonder which would provide better coverage.

    • RE: Wired on the iPhone network meltdown

      @CathyCC Each network has plusses and minuses. Perhaps if you look at this from a purely geography perspective, you may be right. However, AT&T covers the population centers in a fashion that stacks up pretty well with Verizon. In addition, it is the acknowledged fastest 3G network currently available. Finally, it has the hands down largest network of free wifi hotspots in the country.
  • Voice and Data

    When Verizon offers voice and data simultaneously on their network, I'll consider switching if they have a better plan. Currently where I live AT&T is better. I have no reason to switch to Verizon right now, but you never know. It just will NEVER happen unless they offer voice and data simultaneously.
  • RE: Wired on the iPhone network meltdown

    The Verizon network works because it is under Verizon's strict
    control. Apple is good at managing the multimedia part of the Iphone equation, but they are reckless in managing the telephone part of it. For example:

    "Apparently, in an effort to lower power consumption, Apple designed the iPhone to stay in touch with the network through heavy bursts of signaling traffic rather than keep a radio channel open constantly (keeping the channel open drains the battery). The iPhone effectively caused signaling congestion problems like dropped calls and poor connection quality. "

    From: (http://www.thestreet.com/story/10688816/1/apples-fault-not-att-for-iphone-ills.html)

    It will not matter if the network is LTE or 3G or what ever, Apple will want some control in order to manage their lockdown device. When that happens, you can kiss Verizon's wirless network efficiency goodbye.

    In fact that is the main reason, I think, why Apple Iphone is on Cingular (aka ATT). It has been willing to take the fall for Apple for many of the problems that exist in their arrangement.
    When Apple comes to Verizon it will be time to start looking somewhere else for wireless service.
  • take the fall...

    take the fall??? ATT has had 40% more customers, and about the same in profits.... because they were smart enough to sign with the iPhone, Verizon had the same opportunity, and LOST customers because they could not see the future... fail and 40% more is not a combination that most people would make.

    it is pretty clear ATT did the smart move, Apple couldn't do anything but a smart move, and Verizon just is getting its lunch eaten with those 40% extra subscribers going to ATT..
  • Simple really.

    The majority of the world uses GSM/UMTS. CDMA is Mobile's Betamax. Why would Apple willingly add an extra level of complexity and cost to their device when the majority of their customers arent going to see any benefit.

    The iPhone isnt just out in the USA you know. There is a "Rest of the world" out there, and most of it doesnt have a CDMA network to choose.
  • RE: Wired on the iPhone network meltdown

    I don't care what Bloomberg says they've been wrong repeatedly and there's no basis for their claims. Apple will not give Verizon the iPhone as long as Verizon is running a CDMA network, period.
    • RE: Wired on the iPhone network meltdown


      Interesting thing is that Australia shut down it's CDMA network by government regulation.

      I was rather shocked when I saw that Verizon is CDMA based, then Apple not supporting them made perfect sense to me. It's not just a contract to sign, it's a whole development of a second stream of phones, with users being effectively locked in by the network technology anyway.

      In Australia you buy an iPhone and you can go to any carrier.

      If you buy through a carrier you may have to pay to unlock the phone. If you buy through the Apple store the phone is unlocked and you are free.

      Gee Thanks Steve Jobs for making life so difficult by controlling me - If I buy through you I am controlled to having to make some sort of choice.

      If I buy through a phone company my life is not controlled by you as I feel no need to have a choice.

      And any phone I buy through a phone company is the same - it is locked to the phone company.

      Evil, evil, controlling Apple / Jobs.

  • RE: Wired on the iPhone network meltdown

    I just got the AT&T 3G MicroCell, so I won't be switching for at least two years. But if a bunch of people leave AT&T for Verizon and possibly other carriers, that would be cool for me. More bandwidth available for my iPhone and my iPad.
  • RE: Wired on the iPhone network meltdown

    And this answers the idiots who blame Apple for the lack of tethering, which has been on the iPhone for quite a while now.

    Apple didn't hold the US users back, they argued for tethering according to this report.

    Apple argues for a working network and more access for the user - which of course they would.

    And the bloggers and journos continued to claim Apple likes the limits and held back the functionality - which is now being revealed to be rubbish.

    Along with the App Store locking argument - still rubbish. And the suggestion that Flash could break the App-Store lockin so Apple blocked it for that, which was also rubbish and a small amount of research would have showed it to be rubbish.

    That research only required looking at the bookmark in Safari on the iPhone which goes to the Web Apps site.

    It is nice to see some actual real info coming out for a change.

    You will probably find that the chipset they used had other features they thought should be there and chose to ask the carrier to do their job right rather than limit the user to suit the carrier. Worth looking into - and hopefully reporting researched facts in a balanced way.
  • Wired article online