AT&T's "problem" customers get the blame

AT&T's "problem" customers get the blame

Summary: Fortune Magazine swallows the AT&T pitch hook, line and sinker in a story titled "Bandwidth hogs — iPhones and other smartphones." Writer Jon Fortt dishes up a steaming dish of bull shoveled straight out of AT&T PR:Now the wireless providers hawking those Internet-enabled mobile devices are experiencing the digital equivalent of being proprietors of an all-you-can-eat buffet: It seems like the perfect business until the sumo wrestlers show up.


Fortune Magazine swallows the AT&T pitch hook, line and sinker in a story titled "Bandwidth hogs — iPhones and other smartphones." Writer Jon Fortt dishes up a steaming dish of bull shoveled straight out of AT&T PR:

Now the wireless providers hawking those Internet-enabled mobile devices are experiencing the digital equivalent of being proprietors of an all-you-can-eat buffet: It seems like the perfect business until the sumo wrestlers show up.

Well, forgive us, AT&T, for buying your dog food. And, yes, I do hold telecom carriers to the promises they make. I only seem to pick on AT&T because I am a customer who has covered the company through years of over-promising and frequent under-delivery. AT&T has been selling its 3G services for years and only now is claiming it can't make an adequate profit (because, get set for the PR spin: AT&T is positioning to raise prices in this Fortune article).

Unfortunately, the reporter didn't think to check into AT&T's claims by, for example, comparing AT&T's assertions that users are overtaxing its 3G network to the Federal Communications Commission's definition of 3G networks, the spectrum for which the agency freed up to serve data-intensive applications for mobile handsets: "Key features of 3G systems are a high degree of commonality of design worldwide, compatibility of services, use of small pocket terminals with worldwide roaming capability, Internet and other multimedia applications, and a wide range of services and terminals."

Specifically, the carriers asked for the bandwidth in exchange for: Fixed and variable rate bit traffic; Bandwidth on demand; Asymmetric data rates in the forward and reverse links; Multimedia mail store and forward; Broadband access up to 2 Megabits/second (my iPhone 3G typically delivers about 700 Kbps throughput, not 2 Mbps). Customers haven't even got MMS on the iPhone, but AT&T is angling to justify higher prices well before it delivers improved network service.

AT&T's CTO, John Donovan, is quoted saying "3G networks were not designed effectively for this kind of usage." Not much of a CTO, if you ask me, unless CTO is an acronym for "Liar." Mr. Donovan, please read the FCC's definitions of 3G technology, review AT&T's own promotional materials, and answer one question: Why does AT&T promise all these '3G' features and services if its network cannot deliver them? If your network cannot provide 3G services, don't charge as though they do. I get a bill for 3G services every month.

The next section of the article, which labels the top five percent of data plan users as "problems," according to a remark attributed to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, sets the stage for price increases for 3G, because "4G systems won't be available for years." That AT&T would describe its most active users as "problems" is ludicrous, but the complete lack of any alternative perspective on the question in the article is outrageous.

The problem lies with AT&T, not its customers.

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

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  • Just AT&T?

    "3G networks were not designed effectively for
    this kind of usage."

    The reason for this is that global corporate
    management (not just at AT&T) so cripple their
    clever engineers with the need to deliver
    shareholder value ... that they have precious
    little time to design customer value.
    • AT&T as the poster boy

      1) iPhone hype - AT&T's profile is raised considerably on this issue with their exclusive iPhone contract. Once Apple wises up (or decides to make more money, however you want to look at it), the other carriers that get the "honor" of hosting the iPhone will potentially experience similar problems.

      2) poor customer service - AT&T's lackluster customer service tends to magnify their other shortcomings and help draw criticism.

      If Verizon Wireless had won the iPhone contract, then they'd be the subject here rather than AT&T. Fortunately for them they had the Storm, which insulated them from such problems, but brought its own (like, "what the heck do we do with all these unsold Storms?").
  • RE: AT&T's Balderdash

    This sounds to me to be good fodder for an FTC investigation.

  • RE: AT&T

    I think the point that the fortune article was trying
    to make is this is an industry issue.... clearly you
    don't like at&t and your anger rages deep within.
    but do you think any carrier in the industry can
    handle the data growth taking place because of
    the iPhone...I have my doubts. I must say I have an
    iPhone too and the service has improved
    drastically in the last month. Please don't charge
    me more though... that would suck.
    • With all due respect, I am not filled with rage

      AT&T is the subject of the Fortune article, I merely comment upon it. Any
      carrier that had engineered its 3G network to the expectations created by
      their marketing department would be able to support iPhone usage. It's
      not an industry issue, because the industry doesn't depend on charging
      more for services it promised 10 years ago but hasn't yet delivered.
      Having used AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile 3G services, none lives up to
      promised performance, but AT&T is the only carrier among those that
      constantly blames customers for using their "unlimited" services how
      they want, rather than the way AT&T wants them to behave.
      Mitch Ratcliffe
      • You may not be filled with rage but...

        Expecting carriers to live up to their "promised performance" is like expecting your Big Mac to look like the picture...
      • with all due respect, you seem pretty upset...

        Mr.Angry Journalist: I think there will always be a catch up period when
        innovative tech comes out. Sprint, ATT, VZ, Tmobile and everyone else
        will figure it out. I don't think they are sitting around not doing anything
        about it and blaming us for using it. If so, maybe you should write a
        bigger story about that rather than rant about a story you didn't write. I
        have been frustrated by my iphone, but I still wouldn't give it up.
        Remember when we went from dial up to bb? Yeah it wasn't all shits and
        giggles then, but it was better than what we had before. Oh and in the
        end it all worked out and the bells and cable companies got their stuff
        together. Speeds got faster, prices went down. Happy days ahead?
        • No, just tired of people forgetting history

          and painting over all the facts with smiles
          Mitch Ratcliffe
  • RE: AT&T's


    Well said.

    AT&T's coverage in major service areas is sorely lacking.

    Data throughput is not even close to marketing statements made by AT&T.

    Dan K

  • Quit crying

    You people are quite frankly dumb,theses problems where here before ATT had the iphone,you were warned about ATT,now live with it and quit crying.
    • Re: Quit crying

      Uhhh... does it matter if it was around before the iPhone or not? The problem is that AT&T and other Wireless cariers promise tons of things then dont deliver... and in this case turn around and tell you that YOU are the problem for expecting what they promised in the first place.
  • People have short memories

    Cellphone companies specialize in slime, they rank down there with used car sales and ambulance chasers on the slimy scale. The FCC and FTC were handed YEARS of documented fraud and deceit by cellphone providers in the 1990's and early 2000's and did nothing other than a few slaps on the wrist.

    After Southwestern Bell bought AT&T and resumed the mantle of "Ma Bell", somehow people forgot all about how SWB and Cingular were well-known for poor service and deceptive terms and conditions. With the exclusive iPhone deal AT&T is now getting a lot more business from unsuspecting people who vowed never to deal with Cingular again. Surprise!
    terry flores
  • No Problems with Data Here in Sprintland

    (Of course, my Pre can't handle data and voice at the same time, but whatcha gonna do? :))

    Seriously, this was pretty much a foregone conclusion. When people start to anticipate a phone's next version release more than the Second Coming, the bandwidth demands are going to skyrocket accordingly, and you've gotta keep up.

    As long as AT&T is the exclusive carrier, iPhone users are going to have to put up with this. The only reason I think Sprint is running more smoothly (at least, for me it is) is because Sprint needs the business more badly than AT&T does.

    Bottom line: If you're an AT&T customer, you should've known better than to think the network was going to handle that kind of data well. It's not 100% AT&T's fault if you stay.

    Break of your shackles, my AT&T brethren! Freedom!! SWEET FREEDOM!! :)
  • RE: AT&T's

    I work for AT&T mobility , I feel like I'm the only one that doesn't
    believe that whole " AT&T is better" than verizon crap they try to
    feed us. Sometimes I feel like telling customers our network is not
    up to do the job right but I just keep my mouth shut otherwise I'm
    gone :)
  • I pay and don't even get 3G

    In my market, Green Bay, WI we don't even get 3G service. I pay the same fees as any other IPhone user yet get none of the service. My performance is the same as when I used my Verizon cell phone for internet service. No tethering or advancced messaging in the US either.
    I think it's a bunch of crap that they can't afford to provide service due to high demand. I think that if they can't live up to the contract Apple should be able to hook up with other carriers that are not complaining. AT&T has U-Verse, why don't they tak a little of that loser technology and use it to service a segment that has actual customers.
    Wait, what's that smell, bail out booty?
  • Happy Day's ahead...

    ...until traffic shaping and other network imposed limitations of broadband turn an already weak North American network into the 3G network being complained about in this article.

    Wait until the internet gets tiered and the fast lanes require exorbitant amounts of money to get on as a user let alone individual producer. Diversified content from individuals that aren't owned by a large media conglomeration will not exist on the fast lane...AKA, content worth consuming. I can hardly wait until we get to pay more money to be controlled and washed by the big players of the media industry...oh yeah, Happy Day's ahead.

    The 3G rant is 100% valid. Excusing the behavior of networks like AT&T that justify higher prices for services advertised years before by accepting it as the norm is not excusable. Don't step out of the system and the system will continue to use you as it pleases.