How happy are you with the AT&T service on your iPhone? Although the device (iPhone) itself is great, the service on the other hand is  sub-standard. I’ve had the iPhone for a while now and have gotten used to most  problems, but my experience last Saturday in Manhattan (NY) was probably one of the worst (poor service with dropped calls and no data that too at 8am in the morning – not a peak time). While AT&T’s “More bars in more places” slogan is debatable, even in places with “More bars”, you may not experience better service. Even after 3yrs of iPhone on AT&T, there seems to be not much of an incremental improvement in the service.

backhaul_network

With AT&T announcing that it will also use the 850MHz spectrum (in addition to 1900MHz) to boost performance in major cities, there will be even more bars but unless wireless carriers upgrade their backhaul networks quickly, customers will suffer. Why, you ask?

Because that is where the current bottleneck is. The tons of traffic we generate on our 3G smart-phones reach cell towers (base-station), which are then connected to the backhaul  network either directly or through microwave. By setting up more cell sites, wireless carriers can guarantee bars on your phone (better signal), leading to more  sales in 3G phones like iPhone and more data being generated by users. It is estimated that 50% of the data on the AT&T network today is generated by iPhones users (approx 10% of their customer base). Moreover, wirelesss carriers  overbook their capacity by 65% assuming that everyone will not be on the phone at the same time (apparently hotels and airlines overbook by 10% because they don’t expect everyone to show up). So if many people get on the wireless network at the same time, deterioration in service is a no-brainer.

mobile_backhaul_and_smartphone_growth_chart

AT&T was probably never prepared to handle so much traffic on their network or would have seen it coming. Most other carriers are not much better either except perhaps Verizon (which I believe is the only operator to have wired backhaul  (T1) to all their cell sites). Wireless operators are upgrading their networks slowly though (Infonetics estimates that close to $11 Billion will be spent by 2013 on backhaul networks globally). Tremendous growth opportunity for companies involved in backhaul network business. However, with the rate at which 3G phones are being added to the network, the pressure on the carriers to deliver results quickly is increasing.

So while we wait for better service, AT&T and other networks will continue to tout their 3G & 4G networks and will promise more bars in more places. Also perhaps anticipating customer backlash,  the smart lawyers at AT&T have modified terms in the AT&T wireless contract.

…we each agree to resolve those disputes through binding arbitration or small claims court instead of in courts of general jurisdiction…. Any arbitration under this Agreement will take place on an individual basis; class arbitrations and class actions are not permitted.

Yes, I know how it feels…Here is a video/picture showing frustration from users…


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