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AT&T Admits Network Can't Handle iPhone, iPad Traffic 298

Posted by Soulskill
from the sky-is-blue dept.
RedEaredSlider writes "AT&T has admitted that the rise of tablets and smartphones like the iPad and iPhone has taken a major toll on its network. In its public filing to the Federal Communications Commission yesterday, the company admitted that its network has been under increasing strain as more and more high-bandwidth devices have been connected. This not only includes smartphones like the iPhone, but tablets like the iPad as well. AT&T says that in many cases tablets put a greater stress on their network (PDF) than smartphones do."
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AT&T Admits Network Can't Handle iPhone, iPad Traffic

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  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:28PM (#35909076)

    You sign the customers first, work out the details later. Customers are committed for 2 years, will likely be on for 4 or 6. They'll be stuck with you.

  • Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geek (5680) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:29PM (#35909084) Homepage

    So it's the fault of the devices and not the retarded telcom that refuses to build out it's network, besides the fact that there is an obvious demand. Fuck them.

    • by vijayiyer (728590)

      Building out the network is easier said than done due to NIMBY syndrome:

      http://www.mercurynews.com/peninsula/ci_17878746?nclick_check=1 [mercurynews.com]
      http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/03/exposing_brugmanns_cell_phone.php [sfweekly.com]

      • Re:Stupid (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:46PM (#35909284)

        That's why they bought T-Mobile. Much cheaper and faster to buy existing infrastructure.

        • by StikyPad (445176)

          No. The problem with AT&T's network isn't the number of towers (though that's a limiting factor when it comes to customer growth and advertiseable coverage area) but rather the shoddy backhaul. And it's *extremely* unlikely that T-Mobile's backhual is any better. In fact, upgrading their wireless signaling to LTE "4G" is almost insulting considering they haven't reached anything close to 50% of the capacity of 3G. It's strictly a marketing move so they can advertise the "4G" status of their network.

        • Re:Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:26PM (#35910206)
          I thought that was because they didn't care for a competitor having superior service at a lower price. All I know is I am not the slightest bit please to see my carrier gobbled by those bastards. If the FTC doesn't block the sale I'll likely be switching after it finalizes.
      • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday April 22, 2011 @04:32PM (#35909708)

        With wired networks "Just build more," is basically always an option. Connection too slow? Upgrade the equipment to faster signaling. At the max signaling? Upgrade to fiber, or to better fiber. Have the most out of one connection you can? Lay more fiber and run it in parallel.

        That isn't the case with wireless. Providers have a defined set of frequencies they can use. They can't just use more because it is licensed. Transmission power is also regulated and of course noise is out of their control. So that means bandwidth and SNR are fixed, which means the throughput you'll get is fixed (as per Shanon's Law).

        Also, since it is wireless, everyone on a given cell shares what you have. If the technology and conditions allow for, say, 5mbps you get 5mbps to split among everyone. If there's 1 guy, he gets 5mbps to himself. If there's 100 people they split it and get much less each.

        Only solution is to build out the cell towers, make them more frequent so each cell is smaller. Well and good but cost aside, people whine, they don't want to see them, they don't want them near their houses. That makes for a problem.

        There is no magic solution for this. Better technology and new frequency licenses (LTE and WiMax and all that) will help a lot (of course it costs a lot to roll out since all radios have to be augmented with new ones) but you run in to physical limits.

    • Now that there is no regulation that requires it, *all* the carriers were shorting the expansion of the networks to accommodate future need and pocketing the cash.

    • by poetmatt (793785)

      Even moreso, saying you cannot handle the traffic should clearly be the definitive factor to tell them that they should, in fact, upgrade their capacity. Yet they aren't?

      ATT sure has some blinders on.

    • by PinchDuck (199974)

      Amen to that, brother.

  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:29PM (#35909088)
    Luckily, you can call their excellent and friendly customer service, and they will be more than happy to help you in any way they can.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Which is not at all, since those CSRs can't improve the network in your area. You might as well just complain to a wall, would save everyone time and money since you would not have to wait on hold and they would not need to provide a CSR.

      If anything being told politely they aren't going to fix it just pisses me off more.

    • I've called Qwest before, and they put me on hold w/o music until I disconnect (the IVR, not the reps). I've heard AT&T's business support is great though, but I've never experienced it (or Qwest for that matter, when I've called for small businesses I used to do support for, they always skimped and managed to get residential service to their business :(... ).
      • by Joe Tie. (567096)

        Qwest is horrible. They had some problem, and it left myself and a fair amount of people around me without service for almost half a month. They always replied to inquiries with shrugs when asked how much longer it'd be. And all but laughed when I tried to see if I could get out of paying for the duration of service that they weren't actually providing me service.

  • by straponego (521991) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:33PM (#35909138)
    $3.4 billion in profit last quarter. And yet their network is garbage. I have an idea, but it's an engineer idea, not a suit idea, so... never mind.
    • by geekmux (1040042)

      $3.4 billion in profit last quarter. And yet their network is garbage. I have an idea, but it's an engineer idea, not a suit idea, so... never mind.

      Watch $3.4 billion turn into $1.4 billion, and AT&T Engineers will play the Verizon card in front of AT&T suits as their bonuses evaporate. Hey suit, can you hear me NOW?

  • If you did what I did and traded back your alpha iPad3 (great idea, 3D, but it sucks juice and the eyestrain gets to these old eyes) for a wireless iPad2, then you're ahead of the game, since you don't need to rely on the AT&T network or even Verizon.

    Wireless-N service works perfectly fine, and everywhere I go there's free wireless N including my home (you can buy a wireless N router for around $50).

    And you can even run Skype on it, so you don't need a cell either.

  • Crazy idea here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:33PM (#35909156)
    Uh, if all of these new devices are causing a strain on your network, how about upgrading your network infrastructure? I know, this sounds crazy. Spending money like that will just eat away at profits. Maybe if you're lucky you can wait long enough to where phones'll barely work on your network and you can get the government to subsidize the improved network.
    • by cdrguru (88047)

      There is a fundamental problem with "upgrading the network" - there is a limit to the density of cell towers. There is the pure physics of it that you can have just so many competing radios per square mile and there is also the problem of locating these cell sites.

      Just putting up towers is somewhat of a problem because most businesses do not want the hassle. Having a cell tower attached to your building means that you will get at least one complaint a day from someone that believes all they read on the In

  • Great Example (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Palmsie (1550787) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:35PM (#35909176)

    For why we need larger quantities and higher quality carriers and ISPs. It's not like this is the first time hardware advances have put pressure on specific sectors to improve their services. Most providers are already giving the US some of the worst bandwidth you can get in the modern world. And now non-tech users (read: smartphone and tablet users) are becoming complacent with data plans and shabby speeds that it's becoming this pathetic norm. The one recent ray of hope is Google's Kansas City project where they're getting some of the best stuff in the country while someone in LA is sitting there twittling their thumbs with 3mpbs Internet speed. Oh boy...

  • by cpotoso (606303) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:35PM (#35909182) Journal
    Luckily you can just take your cell phone or pad and use it on another network. Oh, wait! In the retarded US we can't because each company has its own system mutually incompatible with all others (except ATT and T-M, but that fortunately will end soon). Way to go! You are locked in for sure, unless you want to shell another several hundred $$ on a new (and incompatible with anybody else) device. !#@$!@#$
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:36PM (#35909188)

    If AT&T is selling these phones, then they are the ones who should be responsible for supporting them, which IMO includes providing adequate bandwidth and network capacity to deal with the demands of the devices that they sell. I purchase a phone and data package. I should be able to get the capacity that I have paid for. If that is an unlimited data package (mine is), then this is NOT my problem. It is AT&T's problem in promising more than they can deliver, which in any terms is fraud.

  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:36PM (#35909190)
    Is to justify their purchase of T-Mobile to the FCC. After the purchase is approved, exactly NOTHING will happen to improve their network.
    • by atari2600 (545988)

      Well, in their eyes, the T-Mobile purchase IS ACTUALLY improving their network. They are spending close to 40 billion to improve their network. F AT&T.

    • T-Mobiles network wont do anything for AT&T, it's tiny in comparison to AT&T... Although I agree that they have no desire to improve their network. Telcos hate investing in infrastructure. What costs $50k today will be replaced by something 10x as fast and half the cost in a year... so they hold off for as long as possible (which is usually until the entire area fails in some catastrophic way and local government gets involved)

      Profit in telecom comes in 2 forms:
      1. The Government
      2. Overselling networ
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This is exactly the reason the FCC should block this purchase. Without T-Mobile you remove one of the few remaining players that are in place to compete with AT&T such that if AT&T as a company wants to survive and retain its customers (without breaking trade laws) their only alternative is to improve their product. Allowing them to buy up their competition will certainly help AT&T, but it will hurt the consumer because they've gained nothing material and actually lost market pressure for AT
  • by Ambiguous Coward (205751) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:37PM (#35909196) Homepage

    Of course, the solution here is obvious:

    Charge everyone more for data plans in order to encourage less use of limited resources!

  • They made $3.5B last quarter (net profit). If they only invested half of that, maybe their network wouldn't be under so much strain and the economy would prosper. How much people can YOU employ for $2B? I would say at least 40,000 people that would then be able to reinvest their money in you know, $500 cell phones and $120/mo data services.

  • by headhot (137860) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:37PM (#35909204) Homepage

    Maybe their capital expenditures on their network should have gone up the last few years instead of down. They have been squeezing their customers for profits at the cost of their network. Now they want the FCC and the T-Mob acquisition to bail them out of mba bonus engineering.

  • Small wonder... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dazedNconfuzed (154242) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:38PM (#35909206)

    Small wonder they dropped the "unlimited flat rate 3G" plan a month after the iPad 3G was introduced.

    Makes me wonder how far the gap between the wonder and the reality of "cloud computing" is. Sounds great to keep all your data/music/video in the "cloud", but throwing around that much data grinds any capped data plan into the ground.

    (Advantage to the early adopters: some of us still have that glorious "unlimited 3G" plan. Yay! FYI: they're transferrable.)

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      Advantage to the early adopters: some of us still have that glorious "unlimited 3G" plan. Yay! FYI: they're transferrable.

      I have one of them too, but i do expect that to go away at some point in the near future. They CAN change the TOS on a whim or just say "that contract is no longer availble, so you have to renew to a capped plan"

  • The future of ALL computer communicati- oh crap my call dropped again, gotta restart my file upload, again.
  • by Rog7 (182880) on Friday April 22, 2011 @03:55PM (#35909378)

    Here's a thought: AT&T should upgrade their network.

    That may be a costly endeavour but the mobile market is very lucrative and it can only give them a greater edge in the future.

    This whole maximizing-profits by reducing costs thing is making tech companies underperform. It's short-term thinking and exactly how our public corporation system isn't working as well as it should. Can't they start thinking beyond the next financial quarter or two?

    In other words, they're being cheap and short-sighted.

    • Here's a thought: AT&T should upgrade their network.

      Your suggestion won't work (as in will-never-happen) because it's a technical solution to a psychological problem; namely that top officers of large company are sociopaths that not only are indifferent to the sufferings they inflict on others, but in fact thrive on it (and yes, they're getting rich off it too.) They're not going to ask for a new hand when they're holding all the cards.

  • Sell beyond capacity. I've seen that movie. It's called "The Producers." Those guys went to prison for fraud, though.

  • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Friday April 22, 2011 @04:02PM (#35909432)
    If only these poor souls had some cash on hand to build up their own network.
  • I know I'm posting against the prevailing opinion here, but I think AT&T might be doing the right thing. Consider that communication technology gets better and cheaper every year. Upgrading now not only cuts into profits, but it also means buying capacity for more money than the competition who doesn't upgrade for a few years.

    The sign of a well-managed telecom is that its network is just at the point of being so crappy that folks are leaving. Any more capacity and they're wasting their dough. Erring

    • by geek (5680)

      "The sign of a well-managed telecom is that its network is just at the point of being so crappy that folks are leaving."

      Stupidity like that is why we have some of the worst broadband in the world. You sir should run for president.

  • I have 5 bars of signal and get connection errors on both my samsung phone AND my iphone. Things that used to work flawlessly 5 months ago now complain about "slow network" and "server not responding".

  • If only AT&T had had the foresight to charge money for their data plans. Then they'd have had additional revenue streams from all the new subscribers these devices brought to them. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday April 22, 2011 @04:33PM (#35909718) Homepage

    This will unquestionably be bad for all consumers. Not only from the obvious potential for ever-increasing prices, but an almost certainty that service quality will decline. AT&T has a long running history of not building out their infrastructure as they should. Demonstrably, T-Mobile has been able to despite their lower ranking in the market place and their presence has been a a limit on customer abuses by all wireless carriers.

    Letting T-mobile get absorbed will not bring this "great quality" to AT&T. AT&T is an extremely powerful and capable company. If they wanted to improve their infrastructure, they would. They would rather provide less service and abuse customers for cash. This sort of operation should be discouraged and even inhibited given that they are given the "right of way" to use the government (by the people?) licensed air waves in exchange not only for money, but with the promise that they will provide a benefit to the people and the nation. They are consistently failing in much of that and clearly where it comes to keeping their infrastructure in an improving and developing state as they should.

  • OK, I read the article and the related filings...

    This supposedly argues in favor of T-Mobile buy?!?

    Their argument is that it would take them 5 years to build out their infrastructure compared to the purchase of T-Mobile, and how they suddenly have a 30% larger network.

    That works, as long as you assume that that network doesn't come with existing T-Mobile subscribers, and that assumption is wrong. According to the latest figures I could find: http://www.textmessageblog.mobi/2008/06/26/market-share-by-cellul [textmessageblog.mobi]

    • So... They get a 30% larger network, but a 43% larger number of subscribers.

      Gosh, far be it from me to defend AT&T, but they're having a government problem, so I guess I have to.

      It'll take AT&T 5 years to site new towers because the FCC bureaucracy makes it take that long. That's the only reason they need to buy T-Mobile. If it took 2 months to permit a new tower, this wouldn't be an issue. The FCC is directly causing a reduction in the competitiveness of the market which will increase everybody'

  • We have abused our customers by failing to provide them with the services they paid for. We have sold products that we cannot support and continued to misrepresent our data services as superior to those of our competitors. We have demonstrated contempt for the concept of building out our network. We have generated record profits as a result. Therefore we humbly ask the FCC to allow us to buy T-Mobile so we can be the biggest mobile provider and do more of the same.

    Thank you,

    AT&T

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