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Innovation

iPhone users strangling the AT&T network

Seems like AT&T drew the short straw when Apple gave it exclusive rights to carry the iPhone. Nine million iPhone users in the US are hammering the network, resulting in poor service for all.

Follow-up post: AT&T customers speak out over poor service

Seems like AT&T drew the short straw when Apple gave it exclusive rights to carry the iPhone. Nine million iPhone users in the US are hammering the network, resulting in poor service for all.

Those nine million iPhoners really know how to suck on the 3G teat too, using between them ten times the network capacity compared to the other 20 million smartphone users hooked up to the carrier. Put that another way, iPhone users consume 20 times the network capacity compared to other smartphone users.

Now, given that each iPhone user pays AT&T a whopping $2,000 over the period of the two-year contract (around twice what the average smartphone user pays), you'd think that fixing the problem is just a matter of throwing money at the problem. Well it is, and AT&T will be spending the majority of the $18 billion earmarked for the network on upgrades and expansion. But it's a slow process, and getting permission to erect cell towers is painfully bureaucratic. In the meantime though, others on the AT&T network suffer from dropped calls, patchy coverage, delayed text and voice messages and slow download speeds.

What's interesting about the situation that AT&T finds itself in is that while smartphones have been around for years, people really didn't use them like they use the iPhone. Up until the iPhone, smartphones were cellphones with a browser clumsily attached. The iPhone is basically a pipe to the internet with a phone attached. On top of that, a huge number of apps aimed at the iPhone connect to the internet in one way of another, making it an even bigger network hog.

Oh, and tethering and MMS will just make things worse ...

Personally, I don't blame the iPhone or users of the iPhone. The easy target for blame is AT&T for not having invested enough cash in its infrastructure to handle the iPhone, but that's a dodge too. The real culprit here is Apple. By tying the iPhone to the AT&T network it meant that customers had no choice as to which carrier to choose, and the chosen carrier is in a position where it doesn't really have to work that hard to please customers because they're stuck anyway. Opening out the iPhone to other carriers (which seems increasingly likely over the next 12 months anyway) would have introduced the element of competition into the mix. I'm pretty sure that AT&T wanted the deal to be exclusive too, but it seems clear now that the company didn't really know what it was getting into (or didn't plan for it at any rate).

But then again Apple doesn't like competition because it drives down prices, which in turn shrinks revenue ...

What's your AT&T/iPhone experience been like? Do you experience dropped calls and slow data rates of are you happy with the service being provided?

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