My top story for 2009: AT&T blunders by defending its wireless coverage

My top story for 2009: AT&T blunders by defending its wireless coverage

Summary: AT&T's poor service for the iPhone was one of the biggest topics I covered in 2009 - and until the company gets it right, it will likely be a topic for 2010, too.


I covered a lot of topics for the Between the Lines blog in 2009 - the debates over cloud computing, Steve Jobs' medical condition, Yahoo's new strategies and the long-awaited release of Windows 7, among others. But the one story that stuck with me most, largely because it continues to take twists and turns, was the public relations beating that I've been giving to AT&T over its wireless service.

It was early January when I actually bought an iPhone and signed up for the AT&T service - only to return the device and cancel the service two weeks later. The reason: dropped calls and shoddy data service that was more the norm than the exception.

Since then, I've written a number of posts about AT&T's service, hoping that maybe - just maybe - posts across the blogosphere about the poor service might just shame AT&T into making some substantial improvements. But, now in December, the service doesn't seem to be much better, nor does AT&T seem to be ashamed of what it's offering its customers in exchange for their $100-plus bill every month.

Consider some of the developments of just the past few months:

  • AT&T took Verizon Wireless to court over an advertising campaign that used 3G coverage maps of the two companies to highlight how much better Verizon's service was over AT&T's. What was crazy was that AT&T argued that the ads were misleading, but not inaccurate, which gave Verizon the chance to tell AT&T that "the truth hurts." AT&T drove more publicity to its shoddy service by bringing the lawsuit. When it lost the suit, it made headlines - and, of course, prompted Verizon to launch even more commercials around these coverage maps.
  • Just as the holiday season was getting ready to kick off, Consumer Reports ranked AT&T dead last with an overall ranking of “poor” for service but it also noted that “if you’re readying to buy Apple’s iPhone, prepare for possible disappointment with its service" even though you'll love the phone.
  • In November, AT&T issued a press release to say it was wrapping up a $65 million investment in 3G upgrades for the San Francisco Bay Area - and noted that it had finished the upgrade in the Silicon Valley area earlier in the year. So the problems should be history, right? Hardly. About three weeks later, Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, said that AT&T had bolstered its coverage but still had two markets "performing at levels below our standards and that is Manhattan and San Francisco." It's funny that de la Vega would speak of "bringing those two markets up to the standards" even though the company said weeks earlier that it was wrapping up the upgrade. (Don't even get me started on how de la Vega is trying to blame data hogs for its network problems and is considering curbing their usage.)

Since buying and returning that iPhone 11 months ago, I've been trying to shake my iPhone envy. Testing a Google Droid has been such a good experience that my feelings of envy have started to wane. Still, if the iPhone found itself on the Verizon Wireless network today, I'd be the first in line to get one. I'm definitely still interested.

Maybe that's one of the reasons I'm determined to hold AT&T to a higher standard, to point out the network's shortcomings and, yes, even embarrass an executive if that's what it takes to make the company accountable. As a long-time newspaper journalist, I was taught to hold companies accountable, to ask the tough questions and that it's OK to write something that a company might not like.

This is why I'm sticking by the AT&T story. In all honesty, I hope that AT&T gets its act together in 2010 to a point that I won't have to write any more of these posts.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Networking, Smartphones, AT&T, Wi-Fi

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  • Not interested

    I don't want a 'smartphone,' and if I did want one, it would not be an iPhone. I have T-Mobile service. They have excellent coverage in NYC, and they have a fairly good selection of cheap phones. I'm not looking for any changes at this time.
  • eventually WiMAX will take over

    When the entire country becomes linked under a giant bunch of interconnected WiMAX umbrellas, cell phone services will be obsolete. WiMAX coverage extends much farther than 3G, and there are even talks of making it free. This probably won't happen due to the fallout that would occur with cell companies, but I guess the point is that there is no excuse for shoddy coverage. If there are data hogs, spend the money to update your network. Don't have the money, quit spending it all on those "we're the fastest 3G network" commercials.
  • RE: My top story for 2009: AT&T blunders by defending its wireless coverage

    iPhone service in the great North Shore area of Minnesota sucks. I have a couple of friends who, on our vacation to the North Shore of Superior could not make or receive a call, but my wife and I could make service all over the area, even into the woods north of Grand Marais. Verizon is Superior to AT&T by large margin...
  • RE: My top story for 2009: AT&T blunders by defending its wireless coverage

    I have a Palm Pre (an often overlooked competitor of the
    iPhone.) I changed from the 1st gen iPhone.
    I loved the apps, I loved the integration with iTunes. I
    loved how well it worked with my car stereo's bluetooth
    I hated the AT&T network issues. When you get a good
    signal, it's clear, but they do have lots of dropped calls,
    and lots of places where you can't get a signal.
    I'm not at all sorry over leaving AT&T.
    I wonder sometimes if I should have waited for Palm to get
    the Pre over to Verizon. (The rest of my family is on them)
    I will say that Sprint's calling/data plans will save me
    significant money over what I was paying for AT&T's family
    plan. Also, I love how AT&T keeps harping on Rollover
    minutes. Which, is a FANTASTIC feature if you can build up
    enough minutes before you bring on the call hogs. People
    who really need the rollover minutes, probably don't
    generate enough from month to month to make it
    worthwhile. (I've got over 3k rollover minutes remaining
    on my family plan that will be cancelled shortly as my
    contract obligations end, and I port to Sprint)
    My brother has the Droid. It looks really great, until I see
    the keyboard. Motorola missed the boat on that one.
    • verizons good but stay with sprint

      my buddy just switched because verizon is rediculous when it comes to pricing for a 3g phone. sprint is apparently a lot better for more access, plus they're working on 4G. I think they put a ton of money into WiMAX tech
      • You do know that

        Verizon is launching LTE in early 2010 and that it is superior to WiMax right? Better distance, lower latency, faster speeds and better building penetration...
  • Hope

    Hope in one hand and $4|7 in the other. We both know which will fill first. AT&T, as a service company, would have to improve greatly just to reach the level of "sucks".
    Dr. John
  • RE: My top story for 2009: AT&T blunders by defending its wireless coverage

    vdxlok,good post!