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Cellphones Wireless (Apple) Communications Technology

iPhone Straining AT&T Network 551

dangle writes "More than 20 million other smartphone users are on the AT&T network, but other phones do not drain the network the way the nine million iPhone users do. Because the average iPhone owner can use 10 times the network capacity used by the average smartphone user, dropped calls, spotty service, delayed text and voice messages and glacial download speeds are the result as AT&T's cellular network strains to meet the demand. AT&T says that the majority of the nearly $18 billion it will spend this year on its networks will be diverted into upgrades and expansions to meet the surging demands on the 3G network."
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iPhone Straining AT&T Network

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  • Re:And I thought... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:19AM (#29297847)
    Worse [virginmobile.com.au] than [optus.com.au] these? [telstra.com.au]
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:20AM (#29297859)

    check the price of the BB Tour on Verizon. it's more than the iphone per month

  • Re:About time! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spad ( 470073 ) <slashdot AT spad DOT co DOT uk> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:21AM (#29297873) Homepage

    I don't get this whole "Dropped Calls" thing - apart from when the network is totally overwhelmed, such as New Year, I've never had a call disconnect for any reason other than lack of signal (Usually moving into an elevator or a tunnel) in the UK.

  • Re:About time! (Score:3, Informative)

    by A. B3ttik ( 1344591 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:21AM (#29297875)
    I've not really had any problems with AT&T. Can't remember my last dropped call. And I live in a busy area.
  • Re:And I thought... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:25AM (#29297919)
    Heh, i made the mistake of taking my iPhone on roaming mode through Europe. I knew it was going to cost me SOME... but I got an $875 bill for four weeks - and that was making about 10 calls. The rest.... internet usage.

    Suggestion to anyone who is travelling overseas with a phone on roaming mode. Turn off ALL internet access. It will save you hundreds!
  • Re:About time! (Score:4, Informative)

    by A. B3ttik ( 1344591 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:27AM (#29297951)
    That's because Germany and Poland only need about one Cell-Phone-Tower each to provide coverage to the entire country.

    Seriously, Germany is smaller than Montana and has almost 100x the population.
  • Re:And I thought... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:30AM (#29297973) Homepage Journal

    Suggestion to anyone who is travelling overseas with a phone on roaming mode. Turn off ALL internet access. It will save you hundreds!

    Just limit yourself to wi-fi access. There have been enough horror stories about huge data roaming bills, but it sounds like the message still hasn't been passed on to everyone.

  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:36AM (#29298057) Homepage

    45/month? That's 1080 Euros in the same time period, which is 1,546.91 USD (according to XE.com today). So, actually, we're not paying that much less than the US. Admittedly that's "high-end" but the US is a helluva lot bigger than any particular EU country and we'd end up paying roaming on top of that if we change countries. Also, some of that $2000 is likely to be things like roaming charges etc. anyway.

    So, ern... not that big a shock, really. Though why *anyone* would ever want to pay that amount of money for a damn phone, I have no idea.

  • Re:About time! (Score:5, Informative)

    by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:41AM (#29298093) Journal

    I'm an AT&T customer in the US, and I don't get it either. I live in a rural area, so I do get the occasional dropped call if I'm driving on a rural road and get out of range of a tower. But that has nothing to do with network load, it means I'd like to see AT&T put in more towers.

    I've had a couple of calls fail to complete (I dial the number, the phone pauses trying to get a free line, and I get a "your call cannot be completed" or "call failed" message). I'd say that's happened to me twice in the 9 months I've had my phone. That's probably an indication that my local tower is overwhelmed. But I've never lost a call in progress except drops that can easily be explained by lack of signal coverage.

  • Re:And I thought... (Score:5, Informative)

    by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:42AM (#29298111) Journal

    You're still quite accurate. Anyone locked with ATT is about to get their chance to jump out, almost any month as long as you realize that clause and take advantage of it.

  • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:45AM (#29298135) Journal

    As another poster mentioned, it's mainly the price of the handset that you're paying, not the bandwidth.

    You can get "unlimited" (subject to all kinds of crap, but as good as you'll get from anyone else) data and messaging for £15/month - only comes with 75 minutes of voice, but you can always use Skype. That'll even get you a reasonably capable Nokia smartphone bundled in.

    It's only if you want an expensive Android or Apple handset that it pushes the price up into the £30+ range; you still get the same pseudo-unlimited bandwidth that you would in the £15 contract.

  • by Fex303 ( 557896 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:47AM (#29298151)

    Ever notice the 3G networks around the other parts of the world haven't needed to bitch and moan about data usage of smartphones?

    Hate to tell you this, but that's because many parts of the world charge their users per megabyte they download. Changes the way people approach usage when they're going be charged an extra 25c/Mb (at a minimum) [telstra.com.au] if they go over a certain (minuscule) amount.

  • Re:Upgrade budget (Score:4, Informative)

    by guruevi ( 827432 ) <`moc.stiucricve' `ta' `ive'> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:51AM (#29298183) Homepage

    The thing is we gave the carriers $200B a long time ago for cheap broadband services decades ago so 18B sounds like a drop in the bucket (10% of the money they collectively stole) especially since there aren't that many major carriers anymore - we got 4 now - so they should at least invest $50B not counting the interest on that amount and the overcharging of the promised monthly fees by 3 or 4 times.

  • Re:slow data (Score:3, Informative)

    by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:56AM (#29298233) Homepage Journal
    I'm curious, what in what parts of the country are ATT customers experiencing dropped calls, slow internet times, etc?

    I've just recently switched to ATT to get the iPhone 3gs.

    I'd been with Sprint since I ever had my first phone ever back in about 1999-2000 or so). Post Katrina, my Sprint phone just was having all kinds of signal problems, etc. I live in New Orleans, and attributed that maybe to still having some tower problems. I had a friend with an iPhone let me see it, and test to make sure I had signal at my house (which was iffy at best with Sprint), and it was great.

    I don't have a land line, and depend on my cell phone. I gotta say, I was a bit hesitant due to all the badmouthing of ATT here and on other forums, but, I must say, in my short time as a customer of theirs, I've satisfied. I've yet to run into a situation where I had low signal when I wanted to make a call. I've not had a dropped call that I can recall, and so far, the internet connectivity is been very satisfactory.

    So, how about a poll...if you have ATT problems like the article mentioned, tell what part of the country you are in, and what you problem is. Is this more of a regional thing? Is it bad in the NE of the US? The west?

    Can you hear me now?


  • Re:slow data (Score:3, Informative)

    by cabjf ( 710106 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:01AM (#29298299)
    Upstate NY is horrible for AT&T. I know many people who have switched from AT&T to Verizon (whose coverage is much better here). It all depends on where you are though: city coverage vs rural coverage, which region of the country you are in, even which city. Every provider has areas where they are stronger and weaker than the competition.
  • Re:Text messages (Score:5, Informative)

    by T-Bone-T ( 1048702 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:02AM (#29298319)

    SMS uses space in the signal that was otherwise unused. It is a free bonus that the carriers charge for because they can. Not text messaging is the same as text messaging.

  • Re:And I thought... (Score:3, Informative)

    by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:02AM (#29298321)

    You mean you're British? Then write in British English; stick up for your nation you lily-livered miscreant.

    From Wikipedia: "The English (from Old English: Englisc) are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English."

  • Re:Compression? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Haffner ( 1349071 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:08AM (#29298363)
    Actually, Safari loads the page element by element, in its entirety. It will go through the HTML and load each section in order, i.e. It creates the background, then the text, then the pretty images, then the sidebars, then the ads. Generally you can stop it around 75% of the load and still get the full webpage.
  • Re:And I thought... (Score:5, Informative)

    by JerkBoB ( 7130 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:10AM (#29298385)

    AT&T Roaming Info [att.com]:

    "Data usage pay-per-use rate is $.0195/KB , except in Canada where rate is $.015/KB."

    2 cents/KB. That's $20 a MB!! Emails a few times and google maps here and there adds up to a few MB quickly.

    As others have noted, there have been plenty of data-roaming horror stories, but I guess it still hasn't occurred to everyone to look this stuff up before traveling. My wife and I went to Scandanavia earlier this year, and we made sure to turn off data roaming and only used wifi when it was available. We also used occasional text messages to communicate with one another, rather than calls. $0.50/text, but still cheaper than calling.

  • Re:About time! (Score:3, Informative)

    by nelsonal ( 549144 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:20AM (#29298539) Journal
    Europeans use their phones about 1/3 as much as Americans (in terms of airtime it's about 250 minutes/month vs about 750 minutes/month). So it takes far fewer network resources to meet peak capacities in Europe so more of a European telco's investment goes to improving speed/coverage.
  • Re:slow data (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:27AM (#29298631) Journal

    Verizon owns Upstate NY, unfortunately. Even in the areas where AT&T works they seem to have capacity and quality issues -- which is strange because they usually have as much (more in some markets) spectrum as Verizon does.

    AT&T has also pulled some crap that leaves existing customers high and dry. TDMA customers would go to bed one night with four bars of signal and wake up the next morning in a dead zone without warning. They are even pulling the same crap with their GSM network -- in many markets they've moved GSM services from 850mhz to 1900mhz to free up spectrum for data services. This is fine and dandy in a dense urban environment -- but in a rural environment the longer range/increased penetration of 850mhz matters a lot more. Because of this you might go to bed having a working cell phone in your house and wake up with a paperweight that only works if you go outdoors. Think they'll let you out of your contract when this happens? Fat chance.

    I loathe Verizon's customer service and arrogance but they've never pulled anything like this.

  • Re:About time! (Score:2, Informative)

    by knarf ( 34928 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:34AM (#29298725) Homepage

    Have a look at Telia's [telia.com] coverage map for Sweden [telia.se]. Notice all that green? That is where your phone will work. Population density in the north is lower than 2 humans per square kilometer. Are there maps like these for the US?

  • Re:About time! (Score:3, Informative)

    by stupid_is ( 716292 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:36AM (#29298741) Homepage
    err - believe it, here's Norway [gsm.org]. Sweden [gsm.org] is not so hot, but still good. Finland [gsm.org] is very good, too.
  • Re:And I thought... (Score:3, Informative)

    by bonhomme_de_neige ( 711691 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:37AM (#29298755) Homepage

    http://www.whatsoniphone.com/reviews/wifinder [whatsoniphone.com]

    That's very handy for such situations.. just leave it going, walk around, and when you notice it make a noise/vibrate take your phone out and you have a wifi connection!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:40AM (#29298805)


    21% of the US population by most estimates live in a rural area. Around 67 million people. Something like 16% of the US population are under 18yo, so take that in to account to those who won't buy, and you're down to 56 million.

    Add in the average household is probably 4 people, and you're saying the US internet lines cannot handle 14 million new lines.

    I can tell you that WiMax is going to bring in far more than that number alone.

    Aside: 67 million is roughly the number estimated to be uninsured in the current US health care debate. It's interesting that you think it's impossible to run simple lines, but having people "enter" the unprepped and regulated system is or isn't acceptable depending on your viewpoint. iow, you and mods have some odd unified viewpoint on US internet lines.

  • Re:And I thought... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:15AM (#29299295) Homepage

    You need a Wifi Dish... I carry a OpenWRT 54GL router and a couple of these....

    http://www.freeantennas.com/ [freeantennas.com]

    it's a paper printable parabolic that you can make out of paper and tinfoil or conductive foil tape. work incredibly and in a hotel window I can pick up Open Access points from a good distance. I usually stay in a Motel 6 and borrow the wifi From the Holiday Inn next door.

    buddy of mine that is traveling Europe said his is working great in Germany and Italy. Get's him internet access in many hostels that have none.

  • Re:Text messages (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:39AM (#29299599) Journal
    Please can we stop moderating this up. That was true with GSM, but with more modern networks SMS uses the same data channels as other kinds of data. That has nothing to do with the grandparent's point, which was that if SMS were cheaper then people would use it instead of voice (not sure I agree; people seem more happy to send a text than make a one-minute call, even when they cost the same). Even this is wrong, because voice traffic works out at about 5MB/hour. A couple of accesses to Slashdot uses as much data as an hour of talking on the phone, so you'd need to eliminate a lot of voice calls to free up enough space for Internet use. A single YouTube video is often bigger than my total data usage from phone calls in a typical month.
  • Re:slow data (Score:3, Informative)

    by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:48AM (#29299741) Homepage

    The crippled phones are part of the things I don't like about them. Couple that with things like their VZW navigator not working wherever there's coverage...

    I like the fact that I generally have better voice and smartphone service than most of my AT&T and T-Mobile subscribing friends have. I don't like the fact that they have this disturbing tendency to fudge a bit on representations of their services and the obnoxious control fetish they seem to have about their phones. Crippled in varying ways. No good modern choices for smartphones- considering that the bulk of the really cool devices are iPhone, Palm Pre, and Android based devices (there's more showing up than just the G1...)- none of which you can have right now.

  • Re:slow data (Score:3, Informative)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:52AM (#29299817) Journal

    Couple that with things like their VZW navigator not working wherever there's coverage...

    VZ Navigator sucks for a lot of reasons, the biggest one being that it's utterly useless unless you have a car charger -- it drains your battery in no time. I think the not working with no coverage bit though is a technological limitation. aGPS relies on the network to get a precise fix on your location -- no network, no location fix. Your phone also lacks the memory to download maps of the whole country and gets them in real time as you travel.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @11:02AM (#29299961)

    ....especially Verizon, whose big brother in the UK (Vodaphone) is making them tear up the CDMA network for GSM. In some respects, AT&T is better-positioned today, and the continuing revenue stream from iPhones (something ungodly percentage of their new customers are iPhone customers) will allow them to invest in upgrades.

    T-Mobile still doesn't have 3G nearly anywhere, and even the EDGE capability is spotty in places.

    Sprint's got a friend-of-Barack, which has allowed them to push forward with their WiMax network faster than Verizon's planned 4G data (VHF analog TV spectrum), but they, too, are going to switch to GSM from CDMA for the Sprint portions of the network. Whatever was Nextel is unchanged.

    But none of those providers have any single thing that's generating new customers like AT&T, and some are still bleeding subscribers despite nifty stuff (looking at you, Sprint).

    In my experience, AT&T has been at least as reliable for voice. The data hasn't been as reliable as my last provider; but I'd rather have fast data 90% of the time, than unusably slow data 98% of the time.

    Uh...Sprint isn't going GSM anytime soon and I say this as a longtime reporter covering the wireless industry, especially since the carrier merged its 2.4GHz BRS spectrum acquired from the Nextel purchase with Clearwire to begin commercial WiMax services last year and this year. All of the focus right now for the carriers without the iPhone is the burgeoning growth of Android and the beginnings of the monthly prepaid flat-rate price war.

    There's also no proof that Vodafone is forcing Verizon to switch to GSM (no contractors confirming equipment orders, no field reports and no internal chatter), but they did agree to converge on LTE to facilitate roaming on each others' network and reinforce the joint venture on a public level in 2008. In fact most of the development going on with LTE in the US is focused on developing handoff capability between CDMA to LTE for a commercial launch in 2010 instead of investing in GSM/W-CDMA equipment just to ease the transition to LTE.

    On the other hand Canada's Bell and Telus are transitioning to GSM/W-CDMA in order to transition to LTE, but their timeline starts this year for the GSM/W-CDMA transition and won't end until 2014-15 with the rollout of LTE.

    It should also be noted that LTE is still in the testing stages without any finalized specifications for hardware or even a voice protocol, whereas WiMax is becoming widely available in the US commercially via Clear and has been for years prior as a backhaul solution for internal corporate networks and other applications. LTE is not the panacea that will suddenly give us 100Mbps over a wireless connection when the issue is bandwidth availability, not transmission standards.

  • Hmm... I agree with you on your first two points, but not so much on the rest.

    T-Mobile is at fault for having useless coverage outside of major metro areas.

    Um... that's their business model. They are a smaller company in the USA than Verizon, AT&T, and so forth, and so rather than try to compete toe to toe with the big guys, they target city-based youth with lower-priced plans and features like Android. Don't get angry at them just because they don't make the products you want... if you aren't their target market, you don't buy their products, plain and simple. However, plenty of people do want what they have to offer, which is why they are still around in the United States.

    Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, etc. are at fault for continuing to push CDMA2000 shit rather than using the world standard of GSM, thus limiting themselves to the ghetto of the phone universe, just so they can fuck around with firmware to lock out features the phone would otherwise have.

    MHz for MHz, CDMA (used in CDMA2000) is superior to TDMA (used in GSM and such) from the provider's perspective. CDMA supports more individual connections per cell tower, increasing network capacity. Also, for early adopters, CDMA had the advantage of having a wider evolutionary path than GSM. Even previous GSM networks are moving to the WCDMA (wideband-CDMA) standard for UMTS, meaning that CDMA's early adopters dodged a bullet of costly upgrades down the line.

    The FCC is at fault for not working to align our mobile phone frequencies with the rest of the world and allowing T-Mobile to deploy their 3G on a different band than even AT&T, meaning that most "world" 3G phones are still not compatible, locking any of those users to AT&T only in the US.

    Given what I just talked about above, I'm kind of glad that the FCC didn't see fit to stick their noses in and force companies to adopt an inferior technology, or one that conflicted with their business models.

    If you want a phone that hasn't been fucked with by a carrier AND decent rural coverage, AT&T is the only game in the country here.

    Having recently purchased two phones from Verizon, I know that most of their models, both high-end and low-end, have multiple radios in the phone so that you can use CDMA here in the 'States, or switch to GSM/UMTS for roaming abroad if you choose. Roaming sucks, but it does under pretty much any carrier these days. The phone is still there, though, if you need to make the call.

    I hate giving any arm of AT&T my money, but I don't have a choice for now.

    Look around. Options abound.

  • Re:And I thought... (Score:3, Informative)

    by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:41PM (#29301845)

    If AT&T made it more clear that international data was not covered by the standard iPhone plan, I think there would be far fewer complaints about horribly large cell phone bills.

    They do make it clear. The iPhone defaults to Data Roaming off. You have to turn it on, and the message where you turn data roaming on says "Turn data roaming off when abroad to avoid substantial roaming charges when using email, web browsing, and other data services."

  • Re:slow data (Score:4, Informative)

    by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:52PM (#29302015)
    You guys do realize that a sim can cause your dropped call issues as well right? If you've ever pulled one out you'd see why. They are pretty much printed on cardboard. When the contacts get corrosion, or the sim warps, it causes the same symptom. Take it to AT&T and make them replace it. It should be free of charge.
  • Re:slow data (Score:5, Informative)

    by adisakp ( 705706 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @02:03PM (#29302169) Journal

    At festivals, where there are thousands of people jammed together (like Jazz-Fest, Satchmo Fest, Shrimp and Petrol Fest, Strawberry Fest, Satsuma Fest, Fest Fest, Mardi Gras (don't even get me started on mardi gras), etc.) My phone might as well be a brick. No incoming, no outgoing, no texts, no service. AT&T obviously ran the numbers and installed EXACTLY the capacity they would need for day-to-day operations and not a single bit/sec more. As soon as people start globbing together, AT&T's network falls to its knees and pleads for mercy.

    I experience this whenever I go to a festival or street fair in the Chicago area. The 3G network gets so borked I can't even send and recieve text messages. However -- The solution is pretty simple. When the iPhone is dead on 3G, just go to the network settings and select "EDGE" and it will work just fine then. You should be able to make calls and get data on 3G. Web Browsing will be slower than normal 3G but it's better than nothing at all.

    What would be nice is if the iPhone automatically detected when 3G was oversubscribed / unusable and automagically failover to EDGE without user intervention. However, as long as it sees a 3G signal, it will stay on 3G even if the 3G network is oversaturated and unuseable.

  • Re:slow data (Score:3, Informative)

    by shacky003 ( 1595307 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:23PM (#29303407)
    "Verizon owns Upstate NY"

    Not exactly true.. Buffalo and Rochester tend to have better tower access via leased sites that at&t uses, vs Verizon..
    Between Buffalo and Niagara Falls for instance, Verizon Wireless (local tower owners dba vzw) have been using most of
    their upgrade budgets to add more Canada facing equipment to help get international roamers..
    (from a current NOC operator that works for the dba in this area)

    Verizon can't even get their act together to get FiOS run to the major towns around Buffalo properly..
    (6-7 more years before fiber is put down to a town 4 miles away from the city is crazy, even by 2000 standards, with the
    tech from back then..) And no, there are no local laws/etc that they need to follow for it - it's just their schedule..

    Speaking as a former network engineer for att/cingular (before the second back-forth name switch back to at&t) I remember
    a few years back when they got pissed off at Alltel because they raised the leasing rates for tower access to att/cingular in the
    FL and AZ markets - two weeks later, att/cingular killed the lease agreement, and all access overnight was terminated to all
    att/cingular customers in the northern FL and all of AZ markets - I was one of the people "hitting the switch" to turn off access - The
    customer service call centers were then told to tell customers "We're sorry, but the carrier in your area that owns the towers has
    disabled access. Should you decide to cancel your service (their phones ALL went to "pay by credit card, or collect" roaming menus)
    you will be charged your early termination fee, as it clearly states in your contract that we do not guarantee service"

    Welcome to the reason why I quit a 90k position a week later. My actual center I worked at was the first floor of a call center in
    Harrisburg, PA (part of first floor was network ops, part of second, all of third was customer care) - The center manager even said
    in one of our ops meetings that there would be lots of pissed off customers, but that would just mean the company was going to
    make a ton of money with early term fees.. (his actual words) - When business is run with no morals, bad things happen...
  • Re:slow data (Score:3, Informative)

    by hazydave ( 96747 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @12:58PM (#29312955)

    Again, there are only two 850MHz slots on that band, and Verizon owns a heap of them. As mergers and acquisitions happen, that can open up one of the slots. For example, in much of the West, Alltel owned the other 850MHz slot. Now, as part of Verizon, these are opened up again. Alltel was the 5th largest carrier, so I'd bet a good portion of AT&T's recent 3G/850MHz expansion came from sucking those slots up, as well as repurposing their existing 850MHz slots from D-AMPS, which they shut down completely in 2008. None of those, of course, had any direct effect on the 2G/EDGE coverage, since that was already 1900MHz in any of those affected areas (eg, any place AT&T just got 850MHz).

Whenever people agree with me, I always think I must be wrong. - Oscar Wilde