By Greg Mills
I submitted my original slogan "No bars in more places" to AT&T some time ago and they never got back to me. If anyone notices them using my slogan without compensating me, I plan to sue ...
An article posted at "CNN" titled "AT&T is just bad for the wrong people in the wrong places" glosses over connection issues the rest of us have. Dan Frommer of "Business Insider" presents a scenario the folks at AT&T wish was the truth. Frommer thinks the network problems are mostly limited to shrilled "tech- and media-types limited to New York and San Francisco. While I dispute that rationalization, he does make a valid point that downtown metropolitan areas with tall buildings are a cell system nightmare. See the verbal flowery fluff painting AT&T nice at: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/mobile/08/13/att.wireless.network/index.html?hpt=Sbin .
If the problem with the AT&T network was just in big cities due to skyscrapers and other radio propagation issues it would be one thing, but that is just not the case. There are two distinct issues that play here, not just radio waves. There is a backbone network that interconnects all the towers, the internet and the phone network. The bandwidth we use via radio for the last few blocks or miles is only the connection between our phones and that network. While radio connection issues are often at fault when a call is dropped, the network is the problem when you have five bars and still drop the call. The bars are related to the radio connection, not the bandwidth available to you.
The problem with local regulatory agencies in adding new cell sites is certainly a problem that adds to the delays in getting more towers on line. The bureaucracy in towns and cities around the country each have their own spin on the "ugly cell tower" problem. Everyone wants good cell service but that does not seem to translate to a willingness to see the skyline cluttered with towers. Some innovation in that regard has been made in both reducing the clutter effect by mounting antennas on existing structures and making towers look like street lights, etc. A statement attributed to Steve Jobs says it all: "No one wants a cell tower in their back yard, but everyone wants perfect reception." While this is true, cell phones are sold with the promise and maps to back it up, that they work almost everywhere. I think the artists who draw up those maps use a wide tipped magic marker rather than a fine ball point pen to draw coverage maps.
Frommer then tries to use the churn rate, or lost customer rate, to make it seem AT&T customers are happily bitching out their innocent cell company while continuing to stay with them out of satisfaction with service. Well, while I will admit customer service at AT&T has been pretty good compared to Sprint, I want to be clear. It is the iPhone that keeps me locked into AT&T not the cellular service I am getting. I find myself explaining to people I talk with that "if the call drops, I didn't hang up on you, I am on AT&T." They understand and agree to expect sudden interruptions in our conversation. The low churn rate AT&T is experiencing with iPhone users is directly related to the exclusive with Apple and not satisfaction with service.
When you drop an important call or miss a call completely, as when the phone never rang but a message pops up, no matter where you are, it is aggravating. The other day my brother called me and the phone rang once, I saw his face on the screen of my iPhone, and, as I answered it, the call dropped. I called back and got his voice mail. I called again and got his voice mail. He called me again and got my voice mail. A total of eight connection attempts were made in three minutes before I got him on the line. His comment: "Hey Greg, my darn AT&T phone doesn't work worth a hoot out here. I am on a hill top right now, so I finally got through." So many times when a call drops it is hard to know who's phone company to blame. When it is AT&T on both ends, it is crystal clear who to blame.
I will have to admit AT&T finally got their Wi-Fi network to recognize iPhones when they see them and connect without a password exercise for each time. Fine. I generally don't bother to use free internet Wi-Fi if I have to fool around with it. It might reduce some cell tower traffic and give greater access in hard to reach areas if AT&T had a Wi-Fi voice over Internet automatic alternative. If you can make voice over Internet calls using an iPod touch, you could certainly make iPhones make calls over Wi-Fi if AT&T and Apple set that up. When there is just a cellular radio wave blocking building in the area, there is also likely Wi-Fi around. Any port in a storm ...
Finally, a comment about the AT&T micro-cell device. I saw one at my local AT&T store the other day with discounts up to $150 for hooking up to the Internet, TV and home phone with AT&T. If you don't want to do all that, you pay another $150 to fix AT&T's problem, that according to their coverage maps you are not suppose to even have. We have two iPhones, one prepaid AT&T phone and an iPad on the AT&T network. I think that is about all the AT&T I can stand, thank you.
(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at http://www.gregmills.info . He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org )