I realize that I give AT&T a lot of grief over its investment in wireless 3G technology - and I realize I've written at length about it, as well - but I have to hand it to the company: it keeps getting beaten up and yet continues to pick itself up, dust itself off and keep a positive attitude about the things it's doing to improve its network.
I was pretty ticked last year during my brief stint as an iPhone owner/AT&T customer, largely because I live in the technology capital of the world - a region known around the globe as Silicon Valley - and the service was sub-par, at best. So imagine my delight when I came across an AT&T press release that announced it had invested nearly $65 million in and is just about finished with 3G upgrades to the "greater San Francisco Bay Area."
Hallelujah, I rejoiced. For a split second, I imagined myself cruising up and down the 101 Freeway with a full-strength 3G-powered iPhone by my side.
But then I read the fine print. AT&T went out of its way to list the cities that were part of the upgrade. Of course, San Francisco is on that list - it is the "Big City" of the region and it only makes sense that it would be included. But imagine my surprise when only one Silicon Valley city - Palo Alto, home of Stanford University - was on that list. Not even Cupertino, home to Apple headquarters, is on the 3G upgrade list.
(Side note: When I worked at the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley was defined by the newspaper as roughly as Santa Clara County, with the Dumbarton Bridge as its northern border. Again, this was a rough definition.)
Call it sour grapes if you'd like, but I can't believe that AT&T is spending $65 million on upgrading 3G service in the Bay Area and leaves out the technology capital of the world. Maybe the demand in such a region still would have been too much for AT&T's upgraded network. Maybe San Francisco (which, by the way, has a smaller population than San Jose) was a higher priority. Frankly, I don't know what anyone at AT&T is thinking any more.
Oh well, I guess it just gives me another reason to stay locked into my Verizon account.
I heard from the folks at AT&T today about this post and they wanted to offer a few clarifications:
The $65 million investment in the Bay Area, the company said, included upgrades to the entire 7-county region, including San Jose and Santa Clara County. The upgrades in the "South Bay" region were rolled out in late 2008 and early 2009 but those rollouts were never announced - they just happened, the company said.
Those upgrades, for the most part, involved the upgrade of some 850 cell sites with the launch of additional wireless spectrum in the 850 MHz band, which travels further and offers further capacity. There have also been about 40 new cell sites added in the region over the past year or so - with two more new cell sites using the 850 MHZ band scheduled for completion in San Jose before the end of the year.
Personally, I haven't heard of any major improvements to the service in this area, based largely on conversations I have with folks from time to time, including one friend who dumped an iPhone about two months ago for a Sprint Blackberry because of the poor AT&T service.
The company did say that the network connections are in a constant state of refinement, with tweaks here and there. And it's also worth noting that since 2008, AT&T’s network in the region has experienced a 3G data traffic increase of 2000 percent, the company said.