Is AT&T Dealing with Its Network Issues?

Carl Weinschenk

AT&T's network has been the source of much concern because it is the sole carrier of the iPhone. It has had chronic problems dealing with the stress added by the ultra-popular phone, particularly in New York City and San Francisco. Though there have been rumblings of that exclusive relationship ending, it continues to endure.


That's the background for a look at how the network will deal with the iPad. At a Morgan Stanley conference this week in San Francisco, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that the connectivity for the coming iPad will be mostly through Wi-Fi and, thus, not add undue new stress to its network.


There is some logic to that position. Cult of Mac explains that the carry-it-in-your-pocket iPhone may be more of a 3G candidate than larger and somewhat less tote-able iPad, which may be better suited to Wi-Fi. Rationale explanations notwithstanding, the sense is that carrier may be cutting corners on its network responsibilities.


Apple Insider also speculates that AT&T is considering adopting a tiered price structure. Again, this makes sense, but if indeed AT&T is moving in this direction, it creates the possibility that the carrier is not building in enough robustness and overall capacity to do the job if the move ultimately is not made. Adding to the worry is that the carrier is moving more slowly to Long Term Evolution, the 4G network that other major carriers are building now.


Though AT&T says that it is investing enough to alleviate the problems, questions of its aggressiveness are legitimate. It also is fair to note that the problem may not be capacity at all. Ars Technica last month reported on another theory on AT&T's troubles. Earlier cell phones keep a connection open to the data network that simply goes into hibernation between bursts. In an effort to extend battery life, however, smartphones sign off whenever the connection is not being used, and sign back on when there is data to exchange.


The problem, which was explained to Ars Technica by an employee of UK network O2, is that large numbers of devices continually signing on and off can overload the signaling system and associated gear, such as the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) servers that provide the devices with IP addresses. The problems created look to users like capacity shortages.


Maybe AT&T is addressing the problems. Overall, though, the statements make AT&T look like a carrier in denial: On one hand, there is a problem or problems. At the same time, the company suggests that the iPad will not significantly add to the challenge. Finally, it says that it will take a relaxed attitude toward a technology that could confront the issue.


Indeed, it all might work out for AT&T. It seems, however, that the carrier is creating the perception that it is not racing to confront and defeat the issues. Hopefully, this is not the reality.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 15, 2010 1:24 PM adam adam  says:

I can't even use my iphone for voice or text in the SF financial dist, with full signal!  capacity issues are causing calls to drop immediately, I can't call back (get call failed message) and text messages take 5 and 6 attempt to send.. this is getting ridiculous!!   everywhere else my phone works fine..


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