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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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  • And I thought... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:00AM (#29297723)
    All this time, I thought the iPhone was just an overhyped, overpriced smartphone that explodes. Now I see that, incredibly, it is doing some good: a major cell phone company is actually upgrading its network, after all these years of the US falling behind other parts of the world!
  • Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:02AM (#29297729)

    The iPhone users pay an ungodly sum for the privilege. The least AT&T can do is make the network adequate for the purpose.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:05AM (#29297751)

    We get so accustomed to bad customer service and lousy throughput and high prices that it doesn't even dawn on us that the problem isn't the usage patterns of iPhone users but rather the consistently half-assed network implementations by American MOs.

    As more and more technology floats up into the Cloud, we are going to need more bandwidth to access it from anywhere. If the MOs can't keep up and implement a network that will support the kind of massive usage that is currently envisioned, there will be a massive breakdown akin to what AT&T is experiencing now.

    Don't blame the vehicles for bad roads. Blame it on the DOT.

  • by sadness203 ( 1539377 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:05AM (#29297753)
    they'll pass the invoice to the costumer, don't worry with that.

    Yes, they'll have a good network, but the price will be twice what you could expect in other country for a contract, with the 3 years signup, and all the bullshit they can include to milk their customers.
  • Re:About time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ash-Fox ( 726320 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:11AM (#29297787) Journal

    It's about time AT&T put some money into the network. The coverage and the dropped calls suck. I can't wait for the 2 year contract to be up. Seriously, it was only a few years ago that the US had the best networks around and was on the cutting edge with cell phones.

    I honestly can't remember a time when the USA came even close to Poland's or Germany's mobile networks. I don't think the USA even came to close to a 90% coverage like many other countries either.

  • Not all the iPhone (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:11AM (#29297789)

    If it's all the iPhone's fault why was service with AT&T crap before the iPhone came out? It's easy to point a finger but the truth is the service had needed upgrades for many years. One of the biggest things holding back iPhones IS that AT&T carrier. It's the primary reason I never got an iPhone.

  • by MancunianMaskMan ( 701642 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:13AM (#29297801)
    wouldn't it be nice if network operators charged a fair price for Used bandwidth rather than taking $$$ for Jesus-phone "all-inclusive" deals. In suppose all the want is, err, as mucg of our money as they can get, and that's the way they get it. But if their price model would encourage thrifty bandwidth use by iUsers and iAppcoders, that would make it interesting for me, maybe getting a smartphone (more probably G than i) for less than a £35 contract here in the UK.
  • by MeanMF ( 631837 ) * on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:18AM (#29297841) Homepage
    It is 100% Apple's fault for putting AT&T in a position where they don't have to compete with other carriers for iPhone business. If you were able to switch to Verizon or another carrier, you can bet AT&T would have upgraded their network a long time ago. AT&T is doing exactly as much as they have to.
  • by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:20AM (#29297857)
    Let them. All current customers can quite fairly state "Change in contract terms, AT&T? That's great! No, I don't accept, and it's good that there's this lovely clause about early termination without penalty. Thanks for giving me this lovely iPhone. I'll be sure to get it jailbroken and on a network which isn't a complete pig."

    Thanks to all those who sacrificed their hard-earned for this to be made possible, though!

    Disclaimer: I'm English. Written from the perspective of a USian, apologies if I've mis(correctly)spelled some words.
  • by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:20AM (#29297863) Journal
    Who wants to bet they'll get the system back to normal, stop there, and still advertise their network is "even better" as opposed to "merely adequate after mismanagement". Reliable service should be restored, but I won't expect improved service.
  • Text messages (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:22AM (#29297885)

    Maybe if they stopped pricing text at thousands of dollars per megabyte it would free up enough voice traffic that this wouldn't be a problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:22AM (#29297887)

    Yeah, every one of the 20 million iPhone users on the planet are just idiots. If only they had consulted you before making the boneheaded move of purchasing the device they wanted... Then they would've been much better off than they are now, with their overhyped, overpriced iPhone that does nothing but explode.

    It's so easy always being right.

  • Upgrade budget (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YourExperiment ( 1081089 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:23AM (#29297903)

    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

    Oh no! They're being forced to spend most of their network upgrade budget on upgrading their network! How will they possibly cope?

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:24AM (#29297911) Homepage Journal

    I am not sure we can only blame AT&T on this one. I think the U.S. in general is going to be in for a general bandwidth shortage fairly soon. There is so much of the rural U.S. that doesn't even have high-speed Internet available yet. If we bring those people online that in itself will destroy our capacity. It's really sad the lack of work that has gone into our digital networks in the U.S., especially when compared to what has happened in Asia.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:32AM (#29297993)

    on our side of the pond we have cities with more cell towers than your entire country and we want coverage in every little corner in the US even if no one lives for miles around

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

    by bdenton42 ( 1313735 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:33AM (#29298003)
    In a busy area you have several cell towers to choose from. In a sparsely populated area you're just hosed if your one available tower gets overloaded.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:38AM (#29298077)

    Oh, but it's much worse! Customers are PAYING them to do it. Via exclusive, multi-year contracts, no less. Next customers will be expecting the kind of service that goes with the money they are paying for it. It's complete insanity! When will it end??

    Do the math: if an iPhone service plan is about $60/month (is that right?), that's about $720 a year * 9 million iPhone users clogging AT&T's network = ONLY $6.48 billion dollars a year of revenue, and that revenue is only locked in for 2 years. Compared to AT&T's $18 billion investment this year, that's peanuts! Obviously, the numbers look pretty grim for AT&T. I guess they're hoping people might exceed their data plans, that a few other phones might use the same network, that cell phone use might increase, or that they'll get money from other companies using their network -- it's all a risky investment, for sure.

    When will they bring back the days when the poor old phone companies could just sit peacefully on their in-place infrastructure and do the bare minimum of maintenance necessary to keep it going while they milked their customers for whatever price a monopoly would sustain? They ought to make a law against this sort of madness, but you know our politicians -- always trying to make things more difficult by withholding taxpayer dollars from corporations struggling to make an honest buck. It's not like AT&T is running a charity or something.

  • by bleh-of-the-huns ( 17740 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:42AM (#29298105)

    For ages now, but they keep adding towers to extend their coverage. The problem however is the backhaul, they have not been upgrading those, and while sure everyone will now have perfect tower signal, they still have crappy connections since the traffic is congested on the backhaul.

  • by acidfast7 ( 551610 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:44AM (#29298123)

    on our side of the pond we have cities with more cell towers than your entire country and we want coverage in every little corner in the US even if no one lives for miles around

    That's funny because here in Sweden we are in the process of upgrading to the mobile network to 150Mb/s service in the metro areas and 80Mb/s everywhere else across the country. That's in a country the size of California with a population of 9 million people. What's your excuse?

  • by N1AK ( 864906 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:46AM (#29298145) Homepage
    Bollocks. If a network operator agrees to terms with Apple offering them a deal they believe they can't beat by distrobuting the iPhone through multiple networks then Apple made the right call. I don't have or want an iPhone and Apple get away with murder without being called on it, but this isn't their fault.

    Besides which how are you going to 'switch' networks? Pay off the remaining x months to AT&T and then get a new contract elsewhere?
  • by WalletBoy ( 555942 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:12AM (#29298409)

    Corollary: send a mirror copy of all data to See if we can cause two incidents at the same time.

    That won't be necessary since if you're using AT&T a copy is automatically sent to the Feds.

  • by redfood ( 471234 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:13AM (#29298427)

    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.

    If they had 18 billion ear marked to spend on their networks what else would they be spending it on besides upgrades and expansions?

  • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:17AM (#29298493) Homepage

    I see three possibilities. First, AT&T hasn't invested in their network enough. That's a given. Second, iPhone users are just network hogs, I don't think so.

    So that leaves us with possibility three: the iPhone is the first phone that isn't an incredible pain to use.

    I think that all other smart phones are artificially low in bandwidth usage because they're hard to use. The IE5 based browser on Windows Mobile (I know they recently improved it) in my experience was a total joke and almost unusable. The browser on BlackBerries, in fact the UI as a whole, is not designed to ease of use at all, it's "here's an empty button we can use". That only really leaves non smart phones, and even IF you had a data plan, I'm sure we all know how easy browsing with those things was.

    Basically the iPhone is the first device it's possible to easily surf the web without wanting to throw the phone into a wall.

    When you give your customers something that actually works and is usable... they use it.

    Go figure.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:18AM (#29298501)
    They'll probably go running to Congress asking for them to subsidize it. And, knowing Congress, they'll probably give it to them too.
  • by Aqualung812 ( 959532 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:28AM (#29298639)
    We have tons of dark fiber in the US. We just need large ISPs to pay to light it up. Remember the work done by Qwest (before they bought US West)?
  • by rho ( 6063 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:31AM (#29298691) Homepage Journal

    Remember waaaay back, in 2006 Bi (Before iPhone)? People thought Apple was mad to make a mobile headset. Then they released it at the ridiculous price of $800,000,000, with a 2-year contract and 1 soul. Everybody said "Craziness!"

    Apple had to give somebody exclusivity in order to shoehorn into the market as a complete newbie. Especially since they were going to require the carrier to make extensive changes to their infrastructure to accommodate iPhone-only features like visual voicemail. It was a gamble for both companies, if only a modest gamble.

  • by intheshelter ( 906917 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:36AM (#29298745)

    Way to not understand the issue. They didn't pick AT&T because they were the best network. They didn't do an exclusive deal because they wanted to exclude other carriers. They could have sold on any network and then the iPhone would have been restricted like all other phones on Verizon/AT&T. Phone features disabled, horrid application stores with overpriced apps that actually expire over time, etc.

    In order to give the customers the full features of the iPhone they had to find a carrier willing to depart from their usual crappy business practices and to do that they had to cut an exclusive deal. Blame the carriers. I'm sure Apple would just as soon the iPhone be used on any network by anyone.

  • Re:About time! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:00AM (#29299085)

    Ok, so how about Sweden and Finland then? The population density in the part of Sweden I live in (JÃmtland [] is about 3.3 per km with most people living in a few cities/towns, and despite this I have perfectly good GSM/GPRS coverage practically everywhere (3G tends to drop off if you're out in the woods somewhere).


  • Re:slow data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:11AM (#29299227) Homepage Journal

    AT&T needs to spend that 18 billion on the "last mile". That 3G network is fine and dandy, but they are neglecting to serve millions of Americans who don't have anything better than dialup.

    Yeah, I have DSL now - but my sister in law just a couple miles down the highway still can't get it.

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

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:17AM (#29299317) Journal

    1900mhz has rain fade? For real or does that have more to do with their cheap deployments? I've deployed outdoor wireless networks at 2400mhz that don't have any issues with rain fade. The only time I've seen issues with rain fade is when you can't get a clear LOS and have to deal with foliage or other obstructions.

    I don't understand why they can't leave a few channels on 850mhz for voice services. I understand the desire to use some of it for data but you'd think they'd have enough to go around, particularly since they were allowed to shut down the old AMPS network. 850 is a life saver for people in rural areas or structures that block out 1900.

    do something stupid like leave the old hardline on the tower and use that instead of running new waveguide for the 1900 install.

    That's pretty pathetic. They really do that? I knew they were cheap but not that cheap. Ugh, Verizon looks better and better all the time. Say what you will about them but they do seem to invest a lot of money into their network and I've never had issues with it. The crippled phones and crappy customer service are another issue entirely of course....

    You know who I really miss? T-Mobile. They don't have the same footprint as AT&T or Verizon but when they decide to build out in an area they do it right. In the areas that they have service their network is competitive with Verizon and way better than AT&T. It's even more impressive when you consider the fact that their whole network is 1900mhz and they usually manage to have the same indoor coverage (in my experience anyway, YMMV) as Verizon or AT&T.

  • by mckinleyn ( 1288586 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:22AM (#29299381)
    Uh, this is /.
    From any ISP's perspective, most of us ARE criminals. I think we'd be hard pressed to find a single person here who HASN'T violated at least some part of copyright law.
  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:52AM (#29299819) Journal

    Cell towers are like big access points. There is a cable or fiber going back to the Central Office (CO) called a "backhaul". The CO has a bunch of ATM and ESS switches that switch calls from tower to tower (handoff) and route calls to other phones, including other networks.

    The backhaul size going back to the CO is one factor in determining the number of simultaneous calls that tower can process. For example, older towers used to use T-1 circuits, which allow for approximately 24 simultaneous calls. They're 1.54 Mbps for data rate. Towers in high traffic areas will sometimes have DS-3 coax (~45 Mbps) or even (rarely) OC-3 optical connections (~155.52 Mbps). There is about 4% overhead taken on those numbers, so actual payload thruput is less.

    Bars show you signal strength, but not how "busy" the tower is at that moment. That is why you can get "bars", but calls don't go thru. You can see the tower clearly, it is just super busy.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @11:12AM (#29300087)

    2 cents/KB. That's $20 a MB!!

    For grins I just saved off the CNN Homepage using firefox "web page, complete". It's 1.2 MB. So, $24 to load the CNN homepage. Wow.

  • Re:Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by exhilaration ( 587191 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @11:15AM (#29300115)

    I'm paying $68/month for my iPhone - unlimited minutes, 500 texts, unlimited 2G data (plenty fast for me), no contract, amazing customer service, generally OK coverage, I'm on the phone for hours at a time without dropping calls.

    What plan am I on, you ask? Why T-Mobile's loyalty plan!

  • Re:slow data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hodet ( 620484 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @11:20AM (#29300203)
    Why invest in infrastructure that will attract $40/month customers when you can build infrastructure that will attract customers willing to pay almost anything monthly for the latest technofashion device.
  • Re:About time! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by casualsax3 ( 875131 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:17PM (#29300855)
    Zoom in a bit and it starts to look not so good.
  • Re:About time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:22PM (#29300905)

    Sorry, but this is bullshit. I've got data for 2005 only, but according to it there were 176000 cell phone towers in the USA back then, and about 95000 in Germany. So USA had not even twice the amount of cell phone towers being 27 times larger and having 3.5 times the population.

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

    by Old97 ( 1341297 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:24PM (#29300933)
    I don't know if more vendors for iPhone will improve things in the short to medium term. I live in Chicago and 3G here is very spotty. If's crappy frankly. I just came back from a trip to Morgantown WV and low and behold from Pittsburgh and throughout the Morgantown area the coverage as excellent. Several collegues here (Chicago) are using Verizon 3G cards with their computers and their reception isn't any better than what the rest of us get from AT&T. (One has an iPhone and has done some direct comparison. He finds them equally spotty.) I think the U.S just has crappy cell coverage resulting from crappy cell infrastructure. As long as we have competing incompatible technologies and local monopolies, I don't see things improving.
  • Re:slow data (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spazdor ( 902907 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:52PM (#29301287)

    Now THAT'S interesting. AT&T's cellphone network competes in a money-per-bandwidth market with a transmitter network which covers the area redundantly with the competitors'. And when they choke on their own soaring sales, they race to upgrade capacity, so they can deliver the bytes faster and bill for them.

    Conversely, when they're selling bandwidth to homes, they're in a divided and conquered market, which pays on the buffet model, so they have an altogether different solution to capacity problems.

  • Boo-hoo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by naasking ( 94116 ) <> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:02PM (#29301391) Homepage

    Translation: "Now we have to actually spend money to satisfy our customers." Cry me a river.

  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:19PM (#29301585)
    Most carriers are moving to software driven radios. For them, moving from GSM to WCDMA will be as simple as changing config options and restarting each cell overnight.
  • by weston ( 16146 ) <> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @04:13PM (#29304005) Homepage

    Why invest in infrastructure that will attract $40/month customers when you can build infrastructure that will attract customers willing to pay almost anything monthly for the latest technofashion device.

    Every iPhone thread. There's always someone who thinks they have to share the oh-so-perceptive insight that the iPhone is largely a fashion accessory.

    Meanwhile, back in reality, the reason AT&T is apparently having these problems? They brought onboard a device with a featureset which (despite apparent inferiority to half a dozen other devices I'm sure you can find slashdotters to tell you about) has essentially resulted in a huge explosion of actual mobile data usage.

    AT&T's problems have nothing to do with the fashionability of the phone. They have everything to do with its features and the typical telco avoidance of actually building out service whenever they can get away with it.

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

    by subreality ( 157447 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @05:23AM (#29308899)

    What would be nice is if the iPhone automatically detected when 3G was oversubscribed / unusable and automagically failover to EDGE without user intervention.

    I got a taste of this at Maker Faire. I wanted the PDF of the schedule, but 3G was completely bombed. Manually failing over to EDGE meant that I could slooooowly download it (it took about 20 minutes).

    If all those iphones had failed over to EDGE, all it would have done is resulted in EDGE being useless, too. With a hole that size in the bucket, another drop isn't going to matter.

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!