A report from the New York Times this weekend suggests that the perception that AT&T has an inferior wireless network may be more than greatly exaggerated--they might be flat wrong. Not only that, but it may be the Apple iPhone that is the root of the problems that are sullying AT&T's reputation.
AT&T has been saddled with issues and complaints about its service. Some users took it so far as to file lawsuits against both AT&T and Apple claiming spotty service, dropped calls, weak signals, and slower-than-advertised data speeds. However, recent network surveys suggest that the problem might lie with the iPhone hardware rather than the AT&T wireless network.
According to Paul Carter, president of Global Wireless Solutions, the results of its extensive, nationwide testing of the different wireless networks show that AT&T's network, contrary to user claims, is vastly superior to competing networks. "AT&T's data throughput is 40 to 50 percent higher than the competition, including Verizon."
Root Wireless reached a similar conclusion as a result of its testing of wireless data networks. Ron Dicklin, chief technology officer of Root Wireless, explained that its testing application won't work on an iPhone, so it relies on other smartphone handsets to conduct its network surveys.
The implication is that the AT&T network is phenomenal...unless you use an iPhone. Roger Entner, senior vice president of telecommunications research at Nielsen, claims that the iPhone has engineering flaws with the chipset connecting to the AT&T wireless towers, resulting in inferior voice and data reliability.
Neither Global Wireless Solutions, nor Root Wireless share much in the way of details of their testing methodologies, though, and AT&T is actually a customer of Global Wireless Solutions. That fact was disclosed, and does not in and of itself make the test results questionable. However, some question the sheer volume of test calls alleged and imply that, perhaps, the results should be viewed with at least cautious skepticism.
Assuming the reports and surveys are at least somewhat accurate, though, it would seem that iPhone exclusivity may not be quite the jackpot its been hailed as for AT&T. Apple pulls in record profits and receives acclaim for the iPhone, while AT&T is dragged through the mud.
Apple has a Teflon reputation, and legions of rabidly loyal followers who believe that the iPhone floats on water--to paraphrase. The AT&T network may have weak signals, slow data, and frequent dropped calls, but the Apple faithful are willing to look past those issues for the chance to continue using the iPhone. They're just counting the days until Apple ends AT&T's exclusivity so they can switch wireless carriers.
To those users, suggestion that the flaws may be with the iPhone and not the AT&T network is paramount to blasphemy and sacrilege. If the reports are true, I suppose these users will learn the hard way when they abandon AT&T and find that the grass isn't any greener because the issues are in the device and not the network.
The reality is that AT&T has more advanced smartphone handset users than other wireless carriers, and it saw a 4000 percent jump in network data usage once Apple released the iPhone 3G. Considering the massive demand for network bandwidth from AT&T users, the fact that the network isn't constantly brought to its knees seems admirable.
As with most stories, though, there are two sides and the truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle. Even if it is true that the iPhone has design flaws that contribute to reported issues, it doesn't change any of the recent events which have further soiled AT&T's reputation.
AT&T still has to own the fact that its 3G coverage map is so sparse. It may have the fastest 3G network, but Verizon has five times the 3G coverage. AT&T's attempts to litigate that fact away simply drew more attention to it and made AT&T look whiny.
That strategic blunder was followed with suggestions that users are actually to blame for the network issues, and threats that AT&T may do away with unlimited wireless data plans in favor of tiered pricing with data caps.
If its true that the iPhone is to blame for many of the perceived issues, AT&T's other actions and statements are certainly not fostering goodwill with customers or doing anything to stabilize its reputation.