AT&T NYC Plans

Posted: September 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: iPhone | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

Because of AT&T failures to provide adequate iPhone service in NYC, I can’t continue to recommend the iPhone for most users until the network issues are addressed. This unfortunate state is solely AT&T fault and they are acutely aware of this.

One could say AT&T is guilty of Fraud, Misrepresentation, Interference with Business Relations, Deception and Unjust Enrichment, just to name a few causes of action. I believe that AT&T should issue a credit to iPhone users, such as a free month of service to compensate for their failures.

9 out of every 10 calls I make or receive are dropped. Despite having “5 bars” there are times my iPhone will not ring. Callers sometimes do not even get my voice mail and instead are told that I have refused to accept their call, or that I have not enabled my voice mail. There are times when voice mail is not delivered for hours or even days.

Today, my phone shows 5 Bars and no 3G and I can not make or receive calls.

I called AT&T Customer Service to complain and after a few “passing the buck” phone transfers I was very surprised to find myself speaking to a high level AT&T executive on the issue of the iPhone in NYC. We spoke for about 30 minutes.

While he did not mention that any of the information shared with me was confidential, I do not wish to identify this person at this time (just in case). Let’s just say that its a name I’ve heard before.

Here is some interesting information that was disclosed to me during the call.

AT&T is acutely aware of the network issues they are having, in particular with iPhone users.

Some of the problems are not the cell towers themselves but the backend end. The switches, routers and fiber infrastructure is operating at (and sometimes) over capacity. This explains why one can have 5 bars of service and get “Called Failed” messages.

AT&T is (finally) installing “picocells” in NYC and other cities. Picocells are used extensively in Europe and Asia and are tiny little cell transmitters (often about a square foot in size and flat) attached to the side of a building or a lamp post rather then the much larger cell antennas that are on the roof tops of buildings. Picocells handle fewer calls but put one on every block and coverage increases exponentially. Another benefit is that picocells reduce the power needed by a cell phone radio since the signal is much closer to the phone.

US Carriers have often resisted the use of picocells since they increase number of units requiring maintenance and service but are known to install picocells inside corporate office buildings.

I had an employer once who used Sprint for the 300 or so corporate cell phones and Blackberry’s. We had virtually no Sprint service in the office building and Sprint installed a couple of picocells on the floor. Suddenly everyone had great cell service, even in the stairwells.

Picocells are similar to the home based “Microcell” product that AT&T is rolling out for home users (which plugs into your internet connection).

AT&T is also converting and/or adding cell sites to operate at 850 Mhz rather then 1900 Mhz. Why is this good? Lower frequency signals travel through buildings much better then high frequency signals. This means that more phones will be “line of sight” with a cell tower despite having a building blocking the visual line of sight. It also means that people in office buildings will have better signal strength inside the building and penetration underground (e.g. subway stations) will also improve.

During the call, I pointed out that the network is often overloaded when special events take place, such as Fashion Week or the UN General Assembly. These events concentrate thousands of users in a small area completely overpowering any existing infrastructure. Anyone at Fashion Week in NYC last week knows how difficult it was to make or receive any calls in the vicinity of Bryant Park.

My suggestion was simple. Keep track of the events taking place in this cities and bring out mobile cell trucks to handle the overload.

This was proven at this summer’s SXSW conference in Austin, TX, when thousands of iPhone users showed up and could not use their phones. The following day AT&T rolled out some portable cell towers and alleviated the congestion.

They can mitigate many complaints and improve the service at the same time.

I also suggested they provide an application such as “Signals” (iTunes Link) and allow the users to report back signal strength. They can benefit from the crowd sourcing of data collection to improve the service. The iPhone 3GS with its built in GPS can provide pretty accurate location data which combined with signal strength can really go a long way to improving the quality of service.

So AT&T – hurry up with the improvements and consider what you can do for those iPhone users who have suffered for your lack of preparation and planning with your network.