AT&T hurries along 3G network upgrade, but NY, SF still hurting; Here's why

AT&T hurries along 3G network upgrade, but NY, SF still hurting; Here's why

Summary: AT&T said it has completed a software upgrade at its 3G cell sites so it can deploy faster technology. However, the New York and San Francisco upgrades are still a work in progress due to everything from outdated technology to zoning issues.

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TOPICS: Networking, AT&T
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Time to play a little compare and contrast. AT&T said Wednesday that it has completed a software upgrade at its 3G cell sites so it can deploy faster technology. However, the New York and San Francisco upgrades are still a work in progress due to everything from outdated technology to zoning issues.

In a nutshell, AT&T is letting folks know that it has made an incremental step in its deployment of High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 technology.

In a statement, AT&T said:

After full testing of HSPA 7.2 software, AT&T decided to expedite deployment of this initial upgrade, which will result in a better overall customer experience by generally improving consistency in accessing data sessions. The software upgrade also prepares the network for faster speeds and increases network efficiency.

Faster 3G speeds will come as AT&T combines the new technology with enhanced cell site backhaul connections over the course of 2010 and 2011. AT&T is in the midst of this second initiative to dramatically increase the number of high-speed backhaul connections to cell sites, primarily with fiber-optic connections, adding capacity from cell sites to the AT&T backbone network.

That passage is good news for areas already getting the backhaul upgrades. AT&T said it is bolstering its network in initial HSPA 7.2 markets such as Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Miami already.

The AT&T statement coincided with John Stankey's talk at the Citigroup entertainment, media and telecom conference on Tuesday. I listened to Stankey's talk and had a different take from AT&T's statement. My interpretation of Stankey's talk went like this:

  • AT&T is upgrading its 3G network (like the statement said);
  • AT&T's network is still hurting in its two highest profile locations---New York and San Francisco;
  • Network improvements vary dramatically by location and moving parts abound for AT&T.

None of those items is news. AT&T has talked about its network upgrade for months. Stankey's talk got to the network quality point quickly and did offer a bit more color. The good news was that AT&T's quality metrics are improving. However, there are exceptions. Let's roll the transcript (my emphasis added):

There are a couple of exceptions, and the most notable of those are one of the markets you are in today here in San Francisco, and New York City. Now I wish I could tell you that there is just one issue to deal with in those markets to correct them.

Unfortunately, with any complex problem it's not normally one issue. There is usually a variety of things that have to be dealt with. The characteristics in each of the markets and the challenges we are working through are a little bit different in each one.

What I will tell you is we feel like that we know what we need to do and we're making the progress we need to make, albeit -- I thought by the time we'd closed 2009 we would be in a better place in New York City than we were. Reason being New York City is a little bit of a different animal and it's a good example of having to scale in this data environment, where not only do we have a lot of capacity issues to deal with but physically there is network equipment and network elements that are needed to be changed out.

They just flat-out have hit their capacity levels and we have to replace them with new ones. And as a result of that, those transitions and that work has taken us a little bit longer and it's been a little dicier than what we had hoped it would be. We feel like we are on a path over the first quarter of this year to get through the majority of that.

We also believe putting that new equipment in place will ungate us from putting an additional carrier and service, that we move to the third carrier in a lot of the metropolitan areas, or metropolitan areas of Manhattan. And that third carrier will give us the kind of radio spectrum we need on the street to deal with the amount of data and capacity that's being generated there.

San Francisco, coming out of the hole a lot quicker than we are in New York. We feel pretty good about that. Our challenges here that remain are largely zoning-oriented. A little bit tougher in places in San Francisco to do adjustments to antennas that we need to do in areas like the Financial District, where we had antenna structures that worked really well in a 2G environment.

They need to be replaced to support 3G services and it's just taking time to get the zoning ordinances square to replace those antennas and clean up small part -- portions of the city that we are dealing with. Getting those ordinances squared away and the permits squared away to unblock on additional capacity for carriers is another area.

That's a long excerpt, but it's best to take in all of what Stankey had to say. Simply put, upgrading San Francisco and New York is a complicated endeavor. So cheer AT&T's 3G network upgrade, but don't expect a lot of applause from the wireless hotbeds.

Also:

AT&T's wireless chief hints at curbing iPhone data hogs

Can a black eye from Consumer Reports harm AT&T, iPhone?

Topics: Networking, AT&T

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22 comments
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  • that's great

    but what about us with AT&T without any 3G at all?
    bjs_z
    • Yeah I don't get it...

      AT&T has to be making boatloads of money off the iPhone and services, yet they still have crappy 3G coverage. You'd think they'd be doing everything in their power to rectify that situation a.s.a.p.
      Badgered
    • Simple solution...

      "There's a Map for that."
      SystemVoid
  • So AT&T is upgrading its 3G system...

    ...while verybody else is working on brnging out 4G this year and next. Nice.

    Nothing like staying at the forefront of technology.

    :-(
    IT_Guy_z
  • AT&T 3G = 18% of the country now

    Why increase the speed... when only a small 16% of the country has *ANY* AT&T 3G coverage at all??

    Verizon (at least) covers about 80% of the USA.

    Yes. 5 *TIMES* more.
    nomorespam3333
    • And your proof is?

      Give some hard facts, links, something other than your conjecture. Thanks.
      athynz
      • What rock have you been under?

        The ad Verizon is getting its pants sued off for:
        http://www.engadget.com/2009/10/05/verizon-removes-gloves-begins-theres-a-map-for-that-anti-atand/

        More about the controversy:
        http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/181364/atandt_sues_verizon_over_theres_a_map_for_that_ads.html

        I think that means it's true.
        cgarrett
        • To whom it matters

          Notice that the population is concentrated where the AT&T coverage is. Certainly, the lack of coverage is a matter of concern to those who live or travel to the areas that are white on the map. But side-by-side map coloration does portray a (deliberately) distorted picture. Hey, that's what advertising's all about, right?

          Incidentally, I dropped Verizon over the quality of service, not area supposedly covered.
          IT_User
  • RE: AT&T hurries along 3G network upgrade, but NY, SF still hurting; Here's why

    > You'd think they'd be doing everything in their
    > power to rectify that situation a.s.a.p.

    Why should they?

    They can offer horrible service... and still get millions of new iphone users.

    Why "improve" when you don't have to?

    That will all instantly change when the iphone moves to Verizon.
    nomorespam3333
    • Which means never.

      [i]"That will all instantly change when the iphone moves to Verizon."[/i]

      I seriously doubt that we'll ever see an iPhone on Verizon Wireless, at
      least not while Jobs running the show. Verizon chose to take a swing at
      Apple, and Steve is not one to "forgive and forget" anytime soon. Maybe
      when they get their LTE network fully rolled-out, but certainly not before
      then.
      matthew_maurice
  • The real iphone killer: AT&T

    The real iphone killer: AT&T
    nomorespam3333
  • RE: AT&T hurries along 3G network upgrade, but NY, SF still hurting; Here's why

    just think, AT&T will be all upgraded to 3G and ready to
    go about the same time Verizon has it's 4G network up and
    ready to go.
    endorphine44
    • endorphine44, you couldn't be more WRONG...

      ...AT&T will be MOSTLY upgraded to 3G and ready to
      go about the same time Verizon (and everyone else)
      has it's FIVE-G network up and ready to go.

      Get it right ;)
      SystemVoid
  • NY, SF still hurting? Not a problem...

    for me. Fortunately, I do not live in or near either of those cities. I don't even live in Atlanta or Houston, heaven forbid. I suspect a greater percentage of iPhone users in our metro area (population about 1 million) are satisfied with AT&T than people are in New York or San Francisco.
    bruceg@...
  • The zoning issue: people don't want more cellular antennas (NIMBY)

    To expand capacity (due to lots of new iPhone users), a cellular provider must create new cells. This requires several new cells to replace the geographic area covered by an original cell. This requires new cellular antennas to be installed for each new cell.

    People do not want cellular antennas in their backyard. They are afraid of RF radiation, so they make government zoning departments require all kinds of testing and paperwork and citizen hearings before a new antenna may be installed.

    This is one reason it is so time consuming to increase capacity, and there is a significant lag in capacity increases (years) when too many new cellular customers suddenly appear in an area.
    gmeader
    • Verizon?

      Then why is it that Verizon has so much 3G
      coverage? Were they doing 3 years ago what AT&T is
      just doing now?...
      SystemVoid
      • Verizon purchased Alltel

        Verizon purchased Alltel in 2009, which gave them the largest 3G network. They never built anything from the ground up.
        jasondlnd
    • And it's a silly thing to care about

      Inverse square law and all that says that the cell phone in your pocket, or on your desk, or across the room is hitting you with more radio waves than any tower. And what - something like 80% of our population has their own cell phone, right?
      cgarrett
  • Gotta Use That Money To Pay Luke Wilson

    He has to pay his bills somehow.
    itanalyst2@...
  • This is Unpossible!!

    This is unpossible! Mac Fanboys have been telling us that the problems people are experiencing with their iPhones are just imagined. So how on earth can there even be a story about AT&T upgrading their network??

    Blasphemy...
    Qbt