AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

Summary: For all the hubbub about AT&T acquiring T-Mobile, people have ignored that the two have been working hand-in-glove on their technologies for years.

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The news that AT&T was going to buy T-Mobile for a cool $39 billion surprised, and even shocked, a lot of people. I don't know why. AT&T and T-Mobile have been working together technically and operationally for years.

As Glenn Fleishman, wireless networking expert, points out in his latest blog, "One of the dirtiest barely secrets of the modern mobile cell world is that AT&T doesn't really have national 2G coverage, much less 3G. AT&T leans on T-Mobile for a large number of areas it never spent to cover. This stems from an agreement years ago when AT&T Wireless consolidated on GSM service, and T-Mobile was building out its initial GSM service. In 2004, the companies dissolved a cooperative agreement (when Cingular bought what was then AT&T Wireless), but roaming never disappeared."

Fleishman continued, "This lack of coverage is why AT&T didn't offer feature phone or smartphone service in large parts of the country outside urban areas. … AT&T also gets the depth of T-Mobile's spectrum portfolio in dense markets where AT&T clearly lacks the ability to deliver service to the level needed, such as New York City's boroughs and San Francisco. It won't be trivial to integrate the networks, but many carriers co-locate equipment with tower and building owners. And if they maintain the current deal and roaming is no longer a for-fee arrangement, AT&T can instantly get the benefit."

The two have also long been working together on their Wi-Fi offering. Odds are that if you were using T-Mobile Wi-Fi, your signal was actually being picked up by AT&T access points (AP)s and being routed over AT&T's share of the Internet.

Besides already working closely together operationally, both AT&T and T-Mobile are also the only two U.S. mobile phone companies that use Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) for telephony. Both companies also use High Speed Packet Access (HSPA)for 3G data networking.

The pair has also been using HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access Plus) aka HSPA Evolution and Evolved HSPA for "4G" data networking.

I put 4G in quotes because there's more than a little debate about whether any current wireless data technology is actually 4G. And, even though future iterations of Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) and Long Term Evolution (LTE) have been approved as 4G, no one has given HSPA+ this blessing. Mind you, it won't stop AT&T from advertising their "4G" network.

Eventually, AT&T and T-Mobile, which is already being called T-Mo, will move to LTE, but I don't see this happening anytime soon. In the meantime, speed-happy mobile users will remain stuck in the LTE+ lane. Of course, at this point, there's more hype than there is speed in everyone's 4G claims.

The current joke going around runs: "AT&T is getting married to T-Mobile. There will be no reception afterwards" It's funny, but technically speaking it won't be true. As ABI Research senior analyst Mark Beccue says, "It is most likely a good thing for current AT&T mobile customers as network coverage and quality should improve with the addition of T-Mobile's cell sites." Technically and as far as infrastructure goes, the two should do well together. After all, they already are. If the deal goes through Sprint should be very worried.

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

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20 comments
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  • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

    Those who are upset tend to be T-mobile customers that have run away from AT&T already for their poor customer support and business practices. I'd be willing to wager that the vast majority of T-mobile customers fall into this category, so AT&T has a lot of convincing to do if it is planning to keep us. For many years I had an AT&T line as well as a T-mobile line, but last year when AT&T automatically added a data plan to my second line (as a "convenience" even though I don't use data) I moved everything to T-mobile and have been perfectly happy with their superior levels of service.
    hotwirez@...
    • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

      @hotwirez@... Not to mention T-Mobile is cheaper than AT&T generally speaking. I know lots of T-Mobile customers who plan on fleeing for fear of higher bills. I can't say that I blame them.

      Steven
      sjvn
      • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

        @sjvn@... Yep, this is going to be bad for AT&T..they think they are going to gain the entire T-Mobile base...they are wrong.
        bizarrosteveballmer
    • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

      @hotwirez@...
      I'm upset, and I'm an AT&T user who was getting ready to jump over to T-mobile. That said, I've never had a problem with AT&T wireless service. I'm happy with the wireless service, but I'm tired of the pricing. After comparison shopping I figured out that I could save about $30 a month at T-mobile and have everything I have now plus a little. So, this news is a bit discouraging! I think T-mobile treated their customers better and that is what I was looking for.
      mgrubb@...
    • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

      @hotwirez@... I was but T-Mobile has been bumpy as of late too. I have been in a dispute with them and Nokia since August of 2010 about abuse of automatic updating that can make devices inoperative; whether intended or not if they send the signal and it causes a malfunction then they should restore the device and any lost service but they have denied responsibility and have not provided any compensation. It was around the time that all their plans changed and, whether by coincidence or not, they had been encouraging me to "upgrade" what was a perfectly fine device as my contract was nearing the term.<br>That was similar to a reason that I left AT&T after being a legacy customer that experienced a bait-and-switch scheme on an upgrade invitation along with many other issues of privacy, security, deception, and service especially with the tech support. I was dissatisfied with the device and upon returning it they refused to restore the prior one with some kind of line about changing all the "blue users to orange users" and even stated that my device wouldn't work anymore even though nothing, other than the addition of their next generation multimedia streaming signal, was different from less than 21 days prior. I'm sure that they were referring to that but they even denied that GSM wouldn't work! Since I had a device with the correct signaling protocol and with Wi-Fi capability, they obviously weren't going to oblige but they weren't going to admit it. Either they are ignorant or hypocrites. The worse came when they did exactly what I was told and was ensured by the contract wasn't going to happen as I found that they took the opportunity to reduce my services, drop the benefits that I had been entitled and were transferred while I was a shareholder to have so long as I remained a user, and charge me for using complimentary or trial services but those were just among many other problems that appeared on the very outrageous billing statement. They did make adjustments but not enough. What was an initially promising and pleasing experience with T-Mobile had become suspect, especially after the update debacle. Everybody had been wanting me to go Verizon anyway but I'm probably staying Skype or something like that while enjoying mobile Wi-Fi, Wi-Max, and such. Screw the carriers.
      donnydo77@...
  • This Is Bad News For AT&T

    If you look at the Endgadget article on the merger that was posted the other day they are approaching 4,000 comments, and the overwhelming majority (I'd say 80% or so) are negative, T-Mobile customers are already talking about paying the ETF fee and moving to Sprint or Verizon.

    Wired had a great article about 4G coverage, AT&T ranks dead LAST and T-Mobile isn't much better....Verizon was number 1. I'm surprised the AT&T can get away with saying they have 4G coverage when the speeds aren't even near what Verizon has.

    Verizon's iPhone 5 rollout is going to be a smash success as those who have the 3GS are ending their contracts, and if Verizon can pitch a good sale I will pay my ETF fee and ditch the iPhone 4 in mid-contract from AT&T and jump to them.
    bizarrosteveballmer
  • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

    If higher bills meant better customer service, I could handle it. The problem is AT&T costs more and has worse customer service, so we will be among those that are leaving T-Mobile for greener pastures. Customer service is king.
    cmwade1977
  • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

    I have T-Mobile now and I plan to ditch when my contract expires in three months.
    williamkazak@...
  • Damn!

    I was happy to buy my G1 from T-mobile.
    I wonder who I'll upgrade to.
    I like Android but I don't trust AT&T.
    epcraig
  • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

    Looks like AT&T is slowly reverting back to it's old roots.... so if this merger is allowed to go through will Verizon then pick up Sprint since they both use CDMA? When Verizon moves to LTE along with AT&T will they just merge into one big company again? What's the point of having regulators if a deal like this is approved? Anyone remember when your choice of home phone was only one of a desktop dialing phone, clamshell button phone and a Mickey Mouse phone? And remember the rates that were charged? Then there would be all the managers, engineers, programmers, sales people, marketers, handset manufacturers, base station manufacturers...etc that would have to dump employees and add to the already high unemployment. Some of the short term cost savings in the initial merger would be offset by the cost of equipment as less infrastructure would be purchased..... and then there would be the stagnation of innovation again.
    krustykanuck
    • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

      @krustykanuck <br>The long term issue is GSM, which is a 100% global standardm v's CDMA which outside North America, Brazil and limited parts of the far east has patchy penetration.<br><br>GSM phones can be used globally, either roaming or popping a local SIM in<br>CDMA Phones are dead.<br><br>Why did it take Apple so long to deliver a CDMA iPhone...............

      Australia junked it's CDMA not so long ago...........
      neilpost
      • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

        @neilpost
        There are very few people who are going be taking their cell phones globally. Yes CDMA is predominant in N. America, followed by Brazil, Korea, Japan, China and India. But you would be stuck with second rate service from AT&T/T-Mobile if you selected GSM in N. America...Then there are what are called World Phones available to those who need it with Multi-format capability. And in fact all Qualcomm chipsets (and I mean ALL) have the ability to perform GSM and CDMA network communication. It is up to the carriers and phone manufacturers to decide to produce them. This issue is not simply a matter of how predominant GSM is in the world (never mind the politics of cell providers in Europe shunning any wireless capability developed in N. America for that matter).
        krustykanuck
      • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

        GSM is great for those who travel internationally....I don't do any international travel but the option to own several phones and just pop my SIM into whichever phone I want to use on a given day is a plus.
        Orlifrog
      • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

        @Orlifrog Like I said..you are in the minority.... and I'm not so certain the experience would be so great if you have to deal with AT&T service either. Even WCDMA was adopted as the radio interface to work with the GSM back network since the CDMA technology has a much better spectral efficiency.
        krustykanuck
  • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

    If the FCC approves this buyout, I will publically call for the director of the FCC to be fired and the new FCC director to re-open the evaluation process or forward it to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Assuming that federal agency is not already controlled by the corporate dollar.

    There is no way that this merger is in the interest of the consumer. And it is likely to actually send more business to Verizon or Google, once people forced to be ATT customers, have the experience that I had with them when they bought out Cellular One.
    ta1
  • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

    The lies shine through already! AT&T already boasted that it would increase efficiency by eliminating redundancy, redundancy which apparently doesn't really exist.
    tkejlboom
  • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

    I think the AT&T/T-Mobile merge is BS !!!!!!!!!! I have AT&T have terrible service was conned into buying a Micro Cell to " IMPROVE '" my signal and was even conned into buying the new Atrix phone to improve everything !!!! BS, I love the Atrix but still lose calls have a terrible signal. I also got sucked into another 2 year extention on my contract....... BS AT&T SPEND YOUR 36 BILLION $$$$ making your current customers happy !!
    tunez1
  • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

    I am one of the Non-AT&T T-mobile customers. Or maybe not. When we had one phone for the whole family it was an SBC one before Cingular, before Sothern Bell became part of the new Bell system...When we were ready to jump to family service, we investigated coverage and pricing T-Mobile beat the others. At that time Verizon wasn't in the picture--they didn't offer service in the OKC area, now that they have bought that other company (I can't remember which it was, it was out of Arkansas) a couple three years ago, they are here now. We have had good service and pricing from TM and are satisfied. Ocaasionally our roaming was covered by AT&T, but now it seem it is all TM, if switching to ATT means service where it isn't now, ok, if not forget it. We just got new phones last fall, and won't be considering dumping TM for someone else for another 18 mo or so. Maybe by then it will be just the two of us, not three. We will have to watch and see. I like what we have now, service plans, and pricing, I don't want to lose services or see my prices jump as a result of the merger.
    dhays
    • RE: AT&T & T-Mobile: Already Married in Technology

      I wonder if acquisition by another company provides a legal basis for terminating your contract without suffering early termination fees? After all, your contract was with the acquired company, not the acquirer.
      mugwump61
  • T-Mobile Definitely Had Been Preparing for This

    I was with T-Mobile but sometime last year the service had been bumpy and suspect. I have been in a dispute with them and Nokia since August of 2010 about abuse of automatic updating that can make devices inoperative; whether intended or not if they send the signal and it causes a malfunction then they should restore the device and any lost service but they have denied responsibility and have not provided any compensation. It was around the time that all their plans changed and, whether by coincidence or not, they had been encouraging me to "upgrade" what was a perfectly fine device as my contract was nearing the term.<br>That was similar to a reason that I left AT&T after being a legacy customer that experienced a bait-and-switch scheme on an upgrade invitation along with many other issues of privacy, security, deception, and service especially with the tech support. I was dissatisfied with the device and upon returning it they refused to restore the prior one with some kind of line about changing all the "blue users to orange users" and even stated that my device wouldn't work anymore even though little, other than the addition of their next generation multimedia streaming signal, was different from less than 21 days prior. I'm sure that they were referring to that but they even said that the frequencies were different and that GSM wouldn't work!<br>Since I had a device with the correct signaling protocol and with Wi-Fi capability, they obviously weren't going to oblige but they weren't going to admit it. Either they are ignorant or hypocrites. The worse came when they did exactly what I was told and was ensured by the contract wasn't going to happen as I found that they took the opportunity to reduce my services, drop the benefits that I had been entitled and were transferred while I was a shareholder to have so long as I remained a user, and charge me for using complimentary or trial services but those were just among many other problems that appeared on the very outrageous billing statement. They did make adjustments but not enough. What was an initially promising and pleasing experience with T-Mobile had become suspect, especially after the update debacle. Everybody had been wanting me to go Verizon anyway but I'm probably staying Skype or something like that while enjoying mobile Wi-Fi, Wi-Max, and such. Screw the carriers.
    donnydo77@...