AT&T's 3G Service Crisis: Will iPad Make it Even worse?

AT&T's 3G Service Crisis: Will iPad Make it Even worse?

Summary: I've been living with a Droid handset for a couple of months courtesy of Verizon Wireless and have been comparing it to my iPhone 3Gs. I'm wondering (dreading) what is going to happen to AT&T's US wireless service when the 3G iPads hit the market: service in major metropolitan areas is pretty appalling and now there is going to be another wave of 3G devices relying on an inadequate network.


I've been living with a Droid handset for a couple of months courtesy of Verizon Wireless and have been comparing it to my iPhone 3Gs. I'm wondering (dreading) what is going to happen to AT&T's US wireless service when the 3G iPads hit the market: service in major metropolitan areas is pretty appalling and now there is going to be another wave of 3G devices relying on an inadequate network.

The Droid is a solid little handset but for me suffers from a split personality between its touch screen and the slide out keyboard and controls. While I have enjoyed using and testing a wide range of applications on it - Facebook, email, train schedules, youtube, maps etc - the iPhone user experience on the iPhone is far more intuitive and easier to live with and control in my opinion.

The Droid's keyboard is just too small for me to be able to write effectively on it and I was making a lot of mistakes while trying to log into applications for the first time on it.  I have pretty thin fingers but found I was having to fingernail type.

Here's the thing though: it works as a phone and a 3G device. Verizon's service was rock solid the whole time I used it and I never had any problems with voice or data service.

Given that I didn't give out the Droid phone number to many people I didn't receive many calls on it. The Droid came to the rescue twice when I tried to dial into conference call numbers with my voip landline only to get the 'all lines busy' signal that denotes a refusal in San Francisco. (See my previous post 'Why 'Free Conference Calls' are like Russian Roulette')

Dialing in on the Droid was the easy solution and voice service was excellent. My first generation iPhone and now my iPhone 3Gs are useless in my home office, and it's basically a crap shoot when and where they will work.

Given the already poor service in iPhone heavy use areas like San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the thought of yet more users trying to use the obviously overloaded system when the iPad 3G launches doesn't bear thinking about.

After my last post commenting on the deteriorating quality of AT&T service with my Edge powered first gen iPhone I finally found a local AT&T business office that showed me an online map that put my home in an 'excellent' 3G area. Given I had a $500+ dollar balance on my 'goPhone' pay as you go account because I wasn't making any voice calls because the phone part of my phone didn't work(!) I put that money towards the 3Gs handset you see above.

The slide below is from the AT&T January earnings call and shows 3G Voice Composite Quality in  San Francisco and New York City were below the company's 'performance objective' but supposedly improving if you're to believe the graphs.

These two business oriented cities, where networking and business communication and collaboration are paramount, should be a showcase for AT&T's voice service...but regardless of how many little signal strength bars you see on your phone service in both cities is either exceedingly patchy or non existent.

Once Apple roll out the 3G iPad - which shows every sign of being as ground breaking as the iPhone was - business users locked into two year contracts may well see another huge hit on service quality despite AT&T investing in new infrastructure.

I'm going to 'jailbreak' my first gen iphone this week and put the sim from my old Verizon Motorola Razr V3 in it to compare voice signal quality and make sure it's AT&T and not the iPhone that is the problem. The sad part of this is I'll be carrying the fastest iphone - the 3Gs - in my pocket with 19 months left on a two year contract, and an old Verizon handset or jail broken first gen iphone to actually make and receive calls.

Right now I'm wishing I'd got a ipod touch instead of the 3Gs, and ironically the iPad appears to be the super sized version of that. What a wasted opportunity by Apple and AT&T!

For companies at the apex of the global technology industry this is an extraordinary way to do business. It's fortunate that no one has matched the iPhone user experience and ease of use yet but it's only a matter of time...

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


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • You can't put a SIM card into a Verizon phone.

    They operate on different RF technologies. Verizon's CDMA phones, even the Razrs, are not compatible with SIM cards found in GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile) phones.
  • RE: AT&T's 3G Service Crisis: Will iPad Make it Even worse?

    The basic problem is lack of bandwidth. They can no longer get by with DS1's. New York sites are eaten up by insufficient height with tree growth. Not to mention that management does not want to spend the money to acquire better sites with more height.
  • "What a wasted opportunity by Apple and AT&T!"

    Wasted opportunity for [i]what[/i]?

    Seems to me that Apple and AT&T are doing alright with the iPhone.

    So, what's your point? The iPad isn't a phone, and most of the problems
    on AT&T's network tend to be with dropped calls. 3G data coverage,
    where it exists, tends to be pretty good, even in SF. [i]That[/i] may be an
    issue with Verizon, since EV-DO means [i]every[/i] call, even voice, is a
    data call.
  • My iPhone 3GS...

    ...gets consistent download speeds over 3G of ~3.5Mbps with peaks
    above 5.

    Speeds you can only dream about on Verizon.

    Even in the best case you will get nowhere near my average.

    btw I'm not with AT&T, I'm in another country with 7.2Mbps HSDPA which
    apparently AT&T is introducing.
    • Canadian, eh?

      And you have Bell.

      It's almost worth putting up with the cold and the snow. :)

      These people need some competition.

      I've been telling them that they will love their iPhones once the AT&T monopoly
      is over for awhile now...
  • AT&T Rocks here.

    On the East Coast. Been with them for 6 years now and had few issues. Better than the NOTwork (Verizon).
    • AT&T Rocks in CT too

      Same here in Hartford area Had iPhone since 8/08 &
      never had a problem Better than the Verizon I had
      before (not much better, but still better)
      Never had a problem anywhere, but maybe I've just
      been lucky
  • RE: The usual Verizon mumbo jumbo BS

    So you are on your DROID phone from Verizon speaking to somebody and you want to google some info you want to share with the person you are talking to...ohhh you have to drop the call so you can get the google info and the call back...perfect Verizon network.
    iPhone or any other phone on at&t network can do both at the same time. data+voice= at&t
    data and voice not possible with Verizon at the same time...huge difference. By the way at&t rock solid in the south...
    iPad will do just great...
    • That doesn't matter

      if you're on an EDGE network, which doesn't support voice and data at the same time. It also doesn't matter if you drop 20% of your phone calls a few minutes in. On my ATT phone, which was a Nokia E71 (great phone), I could do both. But I constantly dropped called, had poor service, and the internet browsing was slower than Verizon's 95% of the time. There is absolutely zero question that Verizon's network is more reliable in Houston and Dallas. To the point that I have business clients who travel overseas that would rather pay the extra for a BB World Edition from Verizon than deal with AT&T.

      And this is real world experience, not what Luke Wilson told me on a stupid commercial.
    • iPhone/EDGE

      Wow, one trick pony strikes again. Can you get 3G outside of a major
      metro? Remember the parable of the rabbit and the hare. If you can't
      remember the last time you had a dropped call, you might be a redneck
      (Verizon customer). When is the last time you needed that one trick
      pony feature? The last iPhones owner that used that line on me had
      never used the capability and couldn't successfully demonstrate it!
  • ipad = Epic Fail

    Why the ipad is an Epic Fail:

    1. 1024x768 = No Widescreen ? Oh real cutting edge... SVGA has been out of date for quite a few years now.

    2. No Multi-tasking. What ? Seriously ? Lame !

    3. No Flash Support. This is the real deal killer. Try going to youtube or COUNTLESS other sites without flash...

    4. No Java Support. Another deal killer. If a site doesn't use flash, you can just about bet it uses java. Haa.

    5. You have to use itunes. It is only the WORST program in the history of programming. There's no way I'd ever put that on my computer.

    6. ATT Network (Need I say more?)

    I hope you like your iCannotSurfPad.
  • What crysis?

    The "service crysis" is in about 1% of AT&T's full coverage area. So: What crysis? You so-called reporters always blow things way out of size for the reality of the situation.
  • RE: AT&T's 3G Service Crisis: Will iPad Make it Even worse?

    The April 2010 edition of PC World did a shoot out with
    Verizon, TMobile and Sprint. Bottom line the AT&T network
    kicked all their butts in the 13 cities tested. Their reliability
    was markedly improved from a year ago. AT&T has been
    upgrading their network. It's consistently the fastest and
    probably will be able to handle iPad no problem.
    • second class customer

      Well we have edge here and it bites. service is up and down, they have even closed the att store. So if I'm going to be treated as a second class customers I'll take my business elsewhere.
  • Oh Boy!!!

    Thirteen places AT&T works! A marked improvement! Congratulations!