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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:5, Interesting)

    by n1ckml007 ( 683046 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:02AM (#29297731)
    That's a good point. I have noticed this... Pandora streams fine on the '1G' network in the morning, come early evening and it will not steam smoothly at all. Very annoying, and there isn't even 3G where I live!
  • About time! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wmelnick ( 411371 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:07AM (#29297763)
    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. But we are seriously lagging now. AT&T wanted the iPhone but thought they would be able to grab it without infrastructure upgrades Be careful AT&T - no good deed goes unpunished!
  • by GaryOlson ( 737642 ) <[slashdot] [at] [garyolson.org]> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:10AM (#29297783) Journal
    This should be a useful exercise just for the sheer entertainment:
    1) create SETI-On-iPhone app which constantly fetches/uploads data
    2) convince large quantities of people to continually run app
    3) crash AT&T network
    4) ?????
    5) Profit

    Corollary: send a mirror copy of all data to fbi.gov. See if we can cause two incidents at the same time.
  • Re:About time! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:30AM (#29297977) Homepage

    Germany and Poland also doesn't have very remote locations either.

    Both countries have been heavily settled for thousands of years.

    Some of their cities are celebrating 1000 year birthdays.

  • Compression? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:36AM (#29298051) Journal

    I'm happy to hear that AT&T is looking at upgrades. Personally, I have run into almost no issues, but my area is a pretty recent recipient of 3G. Internet browsing got pretty slow midsummer, but AT&T managed through the bulk of tourist season with decent service. Now that most of our state's guests are headed home as the weather starts to cool and school gets back in session, I'm sure the load on the network will decrease.

    I'm curious, though. I know very little about Apple's infrastructure on the iPhone, but I know that most of my Internet access on the Blackberry goes through a central server (BES for companies or BIS for individuals) and that data gets compressed en route. The primary reason, of course, is so pages can load more quickly, but it also has a side effect of requiring less data be transferred, therefore less load on the network.

    Opera's mobile browser operates on the same basic idea - the "preview" you get of each web page is loaded as a very small and low-res image, then when you click on a section for details you zoom in on that area and it loads more detail. But the entire web page is not loaded to your phone up front - Opera's server serves up the parts you are looking at right now.

    Does Safari do this, or does it load the entire page in full detail up front so you can zoom in on the little bit you want to see? If it loads the whole page, Apple and AT&T might want to discuss some form of "preview load" and only load more detail as it is asked for. It'd probably cut data usage considerably and if the preview loads quickly it would even improve the user experience.

  • by idiotnot ( 302133 ) <sean@757.org> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:39AM (#29298081) Homepage Journal

    ....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.

  • Same old same old (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:01AM (#29298305)

    This is they typical telco story. Be it transatlantic phone calls way back in the satellite era "All outside lines are busy now, please try your call again later, beep!", be it "broadband", or cellular phone service. The telco business model is:

    1. Establish a technology
    2. Charge an arm and a leg for said technology
    3. Oversubscribe said networks until they are practically useless, then blame the customer.

    You know, for a company pulling in 12 BILLION dollars a year, AFTER tax, there really is no excuse. It's not like they're going to spend the 18 billion to "upgrade" all at once. And you can BET that the "new" network will allow them to sell even more subscribers and/or charge even more for some new "must have" technology.

    Communications is a racket. Is it any wonder that Ma Bell was broken up, and yet her children have mostly eaten each other and are each as big or bigger than she was, in under 30 years? Yet this is the industry that cries poverty and "we can't afford it" when the idea of upgrading to a REAL (I mean Japanese or S Korean style) broadband network is put on the table. Of course not. They don't give a shit about providing service, they just care about their balance sheet and whatever other company they can swallow.

    But I for one feel no pity or sorrow for AT&T, and the suckers who sign exclusive multi-year contracts with them.

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

    by yamamushi ( 903955 ) <yamamushi@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:10AM (#29298391) Homepage
    I was in San Francisco this past weekend, and my network services were severed sharply compared to the connection I get here in Austin TX. I was unable to get emails or use the internet and every other time I tried to make a phone call, I kept getting "Call Failed". The problem was so bad that when I was in SFO, I tweeted something to the tune of "My POS iPhone never works when I need it to", to which an ATT Rep (apparently ATT has people scouring Twitter for angry ATT customers) responded with http://twitter.com/ATTJason/status/3676354487 [twitter.com] . When ATT loses its contract with Apple, I'm dropping their POS network for a more reliable carrier with a better network and more helpful customer support. (Ever had an ATT rep call you a horses ass on the phone? They did to me back in June, to which they ended up giving me 2 months of free service to apologize)
  • by Ecks ( 52930 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:14AM (#29298435)

    Does anyone have details on the backhaul? What you are saying certainly explains my "more bars in more places" and still dropped calls experience.

  • It's far wider than that.

    AT&T is at fault for not making sure their network was actually ready for this.
    Apple is at fault for getting in to a carrier exclusivity deal.
    T-Mobile is at fault for having useless coverage outside of major metro areas.
    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.
    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.

    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.

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

    Fortunately three of the big four have now committed to using LTE as their 4G standard, so in a few years it will be technically possible to have choice in networks when using properly open phones. We shall see how the carriers try to fuck that up.

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

    by txoof ( 553270 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:25AM (#29298593) Homepage

    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?

    I'm in New Orleans and the service is terrible. About 20% of my calls either fail as I pick them up or as I dial. All over the state, the coverage is spotty at best and in some places data usage is totally out of the question, unless you've got some serious time to waste waiting for a page to load. It is also apparent that AT&T has not counted on the sheer number of phones that can jam into a city. In the French Quarter on a Saturday night, my phone is almost worthless. I can place calls with about a 20-30% failure rate, but frequently incoming calls don't ring and I don't get the voice mail until after I've left the crowded areas. This would appear to me to be a network capacity issue.

    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 don't think the network is at fault, but rather the capacity once again. The service is marginally acceptable in most places, but there obviously isn't capacity for large numbers of phones in one place.

    For the $80+ per month AT&T charges, I would expect much better service than what I'm getting. If you can hold off buying an iphone until other carriers get into the game, I would wait. I have yet to be impressed with the coverage, speed or reliability that AT&T currently offers in the South East or really any where else I've traveled. The coverage in Boston was acceptable, but hardly anything to get excited about when I was there last summer.

  • by clf8 ( 93379 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:37AM (#29298763)

    Said it once, and I'll say it again. CDMA is a dead end, the world is moving to LTE. Why would anyone waste their resources on a technology with such a limited lifespan. Globally there are significantly more GSM networks than CDMA, and GSM is a natural transition to LTE. Until Verizon supports LTE (which won't be all that long), you won't see the iPhone there. Period.

    Sure, they could have opened up to more carriers in the US, like T-Mobile. But look, I'm sure AT&T offered them gobs of money to be exclusive. And yeah, AT&T's network has been, well, terrible, but did that stop everyone from upgrading to the iPhone 3G when it came out?

    I've been thinking about this article since I read it yesterday, and I think AT&T just screwed up their pricing model. Maybe their estimates were completely off on what they thought people would use for data. Maybe it is partially Apple's fault because they dictated some pricing terms (I do not have any idea). But if you look at simple economics, AT&T vastly misjudged the demand for data on their network versus the supply. It is understandable, previous smartphones couldn't do as much as easily or eloquently. AT&T should have charged more for an unlimited plan, and tiered pricing for capped services. As it is, they're leaving money on the table that could have been used to truly upgrade their networks. Is AT&T's cell plan cheap, not really, but would that have stopped people? Sure, there's an upper bound, but I believe AT&T's pricing is well below that.

  • by microcars ( 708223 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:49AM (#29298907) Homepage
    You can't use Verizon because Apple originally approached Verizon and they wanted nothing to do with it on Apple's terms.
    AT&T was the only carrier that was willing to agree to Apple's terms and to upgrade it's system to handle Visual Voicemail.
    In exchange for being the ONLY carrier investing in what -at the time- was an unknown and possible flop, AT&T got an exclusive multi-year distribution deal.
    AT&T acted as though the iPhone would just be a blip on the mobile phone market. Surprise!

    There was a TV commercial a few years ago that showed some company "launching" their website in real time.
    There was a "countdown" and then...they were LIVE! And then...they got an order! Hurrah!
    and then they got a few more orders! Hurrah!
    And while they were breaking out the champagne, someone noticed there was a problem.. The order counter was increasing at an very very rapid rate.
    Everyone got quiet. They now had a lot of customers, but how were they going to fill all these incoming orders?
    (I couldn't find the commercial for reference, sorry)
  • Re:Compression? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:05AM (#29299145) Homepage Journal

    Apple and AT&T might want to discuss some form of "preview load" and only load more detail as it is asked for.

    Yuck. Apple, Google, et al are pushing for cell phones to be accepted as full-blown, tiny computers. I can't imagine them wanting to pay for the bandwidth and the processing power to let the iPhone depreciate into yet another thin client. AT&T bought the responsibility of providing Internet access to millions of portable hosts - let them bear the costs of it.

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

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:07AM (#29299177) Homepage


    your ONLY solution is a cellphone repeater. you can get them for $350.00 that actually work well, but it's raging BS that I have to buy one of those to get cellphone coverage in my house when the FARKING TOWER is less than 3 blocks away.

    850 works great, but they are switching everything they can to the crappy 1900 that has bad penetration into buildings, and actually suffers from rain fade during a heavy rain storm.

    It's mostly because they cheap out and use lower power transmitters or do something stupid like leave the old hardline on the tower and use that instead of running new waveguide for the 1900 install.

    They should have been upgrading over the past 5 years. cingular sat on their asses after they bought AT&T wireless. Now they realize that most people get crappy service out of them. Even in Chicago they have really crappy service.

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

    by Argilo ( 602972 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:27AM (#29299451)
    Just jailbreak, unlock, and buy a prepaid SIM card in the country you're visiting. I used a couple hundred voice minutes and 2GB of data while in Bulgaria and it only cost me about $60. The jailbreak/unlock process is quite simple these days.
  • Re:slow data (Score:4, Interesting)

    by De Lemming ( 227104 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @11:39AM (#29300479) Homepage

    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.

    FYI, here in Belgium, operators scramble to please the crowd at music festivals. Youth is an important demographic to them, and for all the big festivals one of the main GSM operators is a main sponsor. The extra demand is countered by having mobile cell towers placed somewhere near the festival ground to provide extra capacity.

    Obviously, when thousands of people are texting, there will be delays. But in my experience, even then it would take at most 15 minutes to deliver a SMS message.

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:43PM (#29301161) Homepage

    I may be wrong, but I think it was an IBM commercial.

    But yeah, I think you're even being too generous toward Verizon and AT&T. I'm sure Verizon and AT&T both knew the iPhone was going to be a big hit. The problem was that Verizon has had a history of crippling phones and applying their own software and branding, and those weren't concessions Apple was going to make.

    My guess is that AT&T probably (a) didn't expect quite how much web browsing people would use their iPhones for; and (b) didn't really care because they're content to offer crappy service. What are people going to do, switch to Verizon? The iPhone won't work. Switch to Sprint? Ha ha, snort. I suppose they could switch to T-Mobile, but from my experience things won't get much better there.

  • by Sheepmage ( 1310569 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:01PM (#29301383)
    Recently, I went to Europe for a week with my iPhone and I needed to use the internet frequently while I was there to stay in touch with people back in the States. So after having done a bit of research, I decided to purchase the $60 Global Data Add-on, which gave me 50MB I could use while in Europe. Using that and Wifi, I was able to have internet whenever I needed it during that week, and by the end, I had used just under the limit. Because of that, I really ended up paying only $1.2 / MB, or $60 per week, which I thought was pretty reasonable. Also note that you can monitor how much bandwidth you've used through the phone's statistics (which you can reset when you depart for your trip).

    All in all, it worked out pretty well.
  • A proposal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:38PM (#29301809) Homepage

    How about this: Cell phone companies are no longer permitted to own cell phone towers. Instead, we have

    (1) Stores selling cell phones.
    (2) Service companies offering cell phone contracts.
    (3) Cellular Service Providers (CSPs) that provide cellular service to phones, by billing the service companies (2)

    So I go to Wal-Mart (1) and buy a phone. I activate it with AT&T (2). My phone finds a nearby tower that speaks a compatible protocol, that is owned and operated by a CSP (3). The CSP then tracks my usage and bills my service company (2), who then bills me.

    This basically takes the internet approach, and applies it to the cellular network.

    - No more tying of cell phones (1) to service companies (2)
    - No more long complex service contracts, because it removes barriers of entry into that business, and because it is easy for cellular users to switch.
    - Increased incentive to move toward a single standard. No more CDMA because: who would want to finance a tower that isn't going to work for new phones and customers?
    - No concept of "roaming" charges since cell towers are no longer tied to a specific provider.
    - More efficient coverage since there are no longer redundant towers. Ex: Today, T-Mobile and AT&T may both build a tower in the same place, to service their own respective customers. In this system, one tower would suffice.
    - More incentive to build towers where it is profitable, regardless of whose customers they are. Ex: Verizon builds towers in places where they have customers. But they won't build where they do not have customers.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.