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AT&T says that nationally its 3G service covers 81 percent of customers and that its dropped call rates are low. It says its geographic coverage isn't indicative of its actual coverage by population in the U.S. And it says its 3G network is improving.  (Source: AT&T)
AT&T says its network is very strong, dropped calls are very low

The battle between Verizon wireless and AT&T over Verizon's ads mocking AT&T's 3G coverage has been a contentious one.  AT&T took Verizon to court claiming the ads deceived the customers.  While it lost the first round, being denied an injunction, AT&T will have another chance to plead its case at a December 16 hearing.

AT&T's public relations representative, Seth Bloom (an employee with Fleischman-Hillard), contacted us, looking to give us his company's views on the debate.  We were happy to get some interesting responses to our questions.  Our dialog is given below:

DailyTech: Is Verizon's map of your 3G coverage incorrect? (I'm talking specifically about 3G coverage, not misinterpretation.)

SB: They chose geographic coverage. What the maps don't show is that about 75 percent of Americans - 233 million people - can access AT&T 3G services today where they live and work. AT&T offers 3G service to roughly 81% of the customers to whom Verizon offers 3G.

DailyTech: Accuracy aside, do you feel the coverage map is deceiving? Also, as it says 3G coverage, why do you feel customers won't be able to figure it out, if that's the reason why you feel it's deceptive?

SB: Yes, we feel the coverage map is deceptive and independent research has shown that Verizon's commercials mislead some consumers into thinking AT&T does not offer any wireless service in a vast area of the country. In addition to the 75 percent of Americans - 233 million people - who can access AT&T 3G services today where they live and work, all of the activities shown in the Verizon television advertisements can be done on AT&T's 2.5G EDGE network, which is available to more than 296 million people where they live and work and across the vast majority of the United States. The ads undermine the public's confidence in the coverage of AT&T's network and in how we represent that coverage.

DailyTech: What's the worst dropped call rate posted by AT&T -- by your internal metrics -- for a city? The best?

SB: I can only share national figures. 3G dropped calls are down 12 percent over the previous year and nearing a 1% level, and 3G blocked calls (unable to complete on first attempt) are down 30 percent.

(Ed. Note -We tried to follow up with a second request for more information, including total dropped calls, dropped calls on the EDGE networks and dropped call rates for New York City (or New York state).  We also tried to get an answer whether these studies were conducted internally or independentally by a contractor.  Mr. Fleischman was unable to provide us with that info, thus its hard to say whether reports of 30 percent dropped call rates on the iPhone in NYC via Apple representatives at a NYC Genius Bar was accurate.  It is clear though that most of AT&T's network doesn't have this many dropped calls, though the exact number remains unclear, based on the limited info provided.)

DailyTech: What steps is AT&T taking to upgrade its 3G network?

SB: AT&T invested more than any other U.S. public company in 2008, and plans to spend between $17 and $18 billion this year, with billions dedicated to the wireless network. AT&T is setting expectations and standards for the technology community, encouraging them to develop the more sophisticated hardware, software and standards to handle the volumes and applications we're seeing on our wireless network.

  • We're deploying the next generation of High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 3G technology - HSPA 7.2 - to considerably increase the mobile broadband speeds on our 3G network.

  • The network improvements include backhaul enhancements that will deliver more bandwidth to thousands of cell sites this year.

  • We're also in the midst of an initiative to substantially expand the wireless spectrum serving 3G customers in hundreds of markets across the country, using high-quality 850 MHz spectrum, which expands network capacity and improves in-building reception. Deployments of this 850 MHz spectrum are about 90 percent complete today.

  • We're adding about 2,000 new cell sites to our network in 2009, expanding service to new cities and improving coverage in other areas. o We're enabling widespread Wi-Fi connectivity via the largest hotspot footprint in the country with more than 20,000 hotspots in all 50 states.  Wi-Fi access is free to qualifying AT&T smartphone and broadband customers, allowing them to take advantage of the best available AT&T mobile broadband connection.

  • We're preparing for field trials of 4G LTE wireless networks next year, with deployment planned to follow in 2011. This schedule aligns with industry expectations of when a wide variety of compatible 4G wireless devices will be available.

DailyTech: Would it be correct to say that perhaps the wild success of the iPhone and the growth in subscription (in the U.S.) caught your company a bit off guard, and that may be one reason for the struggles? If this is true or perhaps partially true, does this mean that with time these issues will go away as the high speed (3G) capacity catches up?

SB: The iPhone is an iconic device that has changed how people access information, and our tremendous success with the iPhone is clearly driving the data traffic on our network. But keep in mind that the demand for mobile data bandwidth is also being driven by a wide range of smartphones and emerging applications and devices, so it wouldn't be accurate to pin the growth we're seeing today solely on a single device.

At the same time, it's important to note that we've maintained the nation's fastest 3G network throughout, and we're investing heavily and working tirelessly to enhance and expand our network to stay ahead of demand. (And that demand has been nearly 5,000 percent in the last 12 quarters.)

To answer your question more directly: Yes, we're seeing strong results from the network investments that we've made to date and that will continue. In addition to the improved dropped call rate I mentioned above, AT&T's 3G reliability is 96.67% and 3G retainability is 98.1%. (Both are within ½ percentage point of VZ.) Customers are noticing our efforts. AT&T added more subscribers in 3Q thanVerizon, and more customers left Verizon than AT&T in the same period. (AT&T: 2M adds, 1.43% churn vs VZ 1.2M adds, 1.49% churn). Our total churn rate has steadily decreased by 14 percent over the past two years, while Verizon's has increased by 24 percent over the same period.

DailyTech: If AT&T can't win a decision to take the ads off the air, what strategies might be employed to counter the bad publicity? Might AT&T turn to fighting fire with fire, perhaps picking at lacking aspects of Verizon's network or phone offerings in new ads?

SB: Our new ad, which began airing last night, is one way we're doing just that. We are also continuing to talk directly to customers. We want customers to know that our 3G network has unique attributes that Verizon and other competitors cannot match: AT&T has the fastest 3G network and that it allows for simultaneous talk and Web surfing. We also talk about our unrivaled stable of smartphones (not just iPhone) - Bold 9700, Bold 9000, Curve 8900 and other Blackberries; HTC PURE, HTC Tilt 2 - both running WM 6.5; Nokia E71x & Surge; Garmin nuvifone, and more. Twice as many smartphone users have chosen AT&T over any other US carrier.

DailyTech would like to thank Mr. Bloom for graciously accepting our request for interview and answering the majority of our inquiries in depth.

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By TheRequiem on 11/20/2009 1:36:49 PM , Rating: 3
I still think that Sprint is being left out as a major player, they still have 50 million subscribers and are currently the ONLY network that are rolling out 4G access RIGHT NOW. Sure, not many devics use this besides some air cards, but they will have a massive 4G network by the time "other networks" start rolling out theirs in 2011. Sure, they don't have the most advanced devices like the iPhone or Droid, but they will have 4G phones before anyone. Notice how there are no commercials hitting Sprint in this aspect? The LTE vs WiMax debate is pointless, LTE is useless until it's deployed. WiMax is here now. It'll just be another CDMA vs GSM deal. Both technologies will co-exist.

The sleeping giant, are we? =)

RE: Sprint?
By ICBM on 11/20/2009 2:07:28 PM , Rating: 3
I have always had a good experience with Sprint. I hope they can pull their act together and take advantage of their 4G lead. Too bad they are so strapped for cash.

RE: Sprint?
By sprockkets on 11/20/2009 2:12:35 PM , Rating: 2
Rest of the World with LTE vs. Sprint with WiMAX

Yeah, that will work.

Nokia and Nortel both dumped WiMAX and are going LTE. Have fun Sprint all alone.

RE: Sprint?
By TheRequiem on 11/20/2009 2:26:33 PM , Rating: 2
What you seam to not understand is right now, it is Sprint vs. Nobody, so yeah... it is working. There are hundreds of thousands of people already browsing the Internet using WiMax. Nokia and Nortel dumped WiMax because their companies work in contigency and not with Sprint.

Sprint doesn't need the world to adapt WiMax, they are an North American carrier even though they own about 60% of the worlds landlines.

Sprint is not the only carrier going with WiMax. Internet companies and data services are already paying Spring MAD loot to use their network, not to mention WiMax is backed with multi billion dollar investments from Intel, Sprint, Timer Warner, Comcast to name a few, plus a dozen others.

You are out of the loop guy, it's the NOW network! =)

RE: Sprint?
By mcnabney on 11/20/2009 2:46:20 PM , Rating: 1
Are things getting lonely sitting out in the Sprint complex in Overland Park? You do still have employees out there, right? Another 2,500 jobs gone this December? Everything else outsourced?

You know, Verizon and AT&T are both hiring. You see, companies with vision, good management, and loyal employees actually grow their business. That means new customers and actual profits for shareholders. When Sprint finds out how to actually run a business you might be credible again.

And I found your MAD LOOT statement hilarious since your company hasn't been profitable for almost five years. All those players were involved early-on, but the market has shifted to LTE. Face it, you bet big on the wrong horse and it is going to cost you.

And owning 60% of the world's land lines. Did you make that up right now? You don't even sell land lines anymore since Embarq was spun off (and bought by CenturyTel). And your fiber backbone ownership in the US is just average, much less in a global perspective. In the past year your market cap has been as little as $4 billion - which is about what AT&T and Verizon will post as NET EARNINGS in an average quarter. Right now Sprint is worth about half of what Verizon paid for Alltel. That is the global market's valuation, not mine.

RE: Sprint?
By Alexstarfire on 11/21/2009 12:48:49 PM , Rating: 3
Who cares about net earnings? If you post no profit it doesn't matter if your net earnings are $4 trillion.

RE: Sprint?
By callmeroy on 11/23/2009 10:15:24 AM , Rating: 2
Who cares about net earnings? If you post no profit it doesn't matter if your net earnings are $4 trillion.

Really? Please tell me you don't manage the books for any company.

Who cares about Net Earnings....only about every single company on the planet that wants to make a profit.

Net Earnings is what's left AFTER expenses, sales taxes, even after you fact in depreciation. Its also referred to as Net Income or you may have heard it called the bottomline before as well.

What ever you call it, the fact is Net Earnings ARE profit.

RE: Sprint?
By DLeRium on 11/24/2009 12:51:00 PM , Rating: 2
You really don't get it do you? Going 850 for ATT hurt it significantly. All the good phones are still around the world. Quad band 2G was easy to make but Tri Band 3G has no incentive at all. No one makes those phones. Apple sure, but not many more phone makers care about UMTS 850.

Look at the CDMA phones. Even fewer world phones make it out. HTC is the one lucky enough to really pump in phones, but other than that you have Palm which the world doesn't really care about either but that could soon change with its GSM push. WiMax is gonna be left in the dark. Sorry. Have fun. Until Samsung, LG, Nokia and HTC all decide to pump out US 3G phones or in this case 4G, the US market is STILL going to be behind the rest of the world. At least LTE unites the Americas, but with Sprint on its own, you're going to get some real crappy phones.

RE: Sprint?
By bigbubba on 11/22/2009 2:21:33 PM , Rating: 1
Ya, except the fact that their 4G networks isn't even as fast the Verizon's and ATT's 3G network, it's pathetic. Your whole arguments is negated. If these investments from all those companies into 4G were actually happening I think we would be seeing WiMax being marketed more, which we are not.

RE: Sprint?
By mcnabney on 11/20/2009 2:31:55 PM , Rating: 2
Yup. Sprint is going to love not having anything exciting to put on their pricey WiMAXX network. Why would handset makers want to spend so much effort to possibly market to 30 million customers (Sprint has 49M cusotmers now, but between prepaid customers that do not do WiMAXX and their typical monthly customer loss I think 30 million potential is generous) when an LTE device can be sold to a billion. As usual, count on Sprint to bet big on the wrong thing (Nextel, WiMax, Embarq-spinoff).

RE: Sprint?
By mcnabney on 11/20/2009 2:26:32 PM , Rating: 2
Verizon has LTE in two large markets now, will be rolling it across the nation in 2010, and finishing the whole footprint in 2011. AT&T will start deploying this time next year.

Sprint has taken themselves out of the market. They have found themselves in the position of offering service at prices which cannot be profitable (what 15 straight quarterly losses now? A half billion in 3Q) and still continue to lose customers. Now they have sold off the management of their most valuable asset, the Network, to a contractor. Sony/Ericcson will fulfill the contract requirements, not help Sprint service their customers. They just don't get it. They treat their employees terribly, outsource everything, and still waste money on things like arena naming rights. I am glad I sold my shares long before the Nextel disaster. I think they are around $3-4. I sold mine about four years ago for $25.

There is a lesson to learn here. Treat your customers well and don't just compete on price. Buying Sprint service is like buying cheap tools. You may be happy walking out the door, but you pay for that savings by not being able to do what you need to do.

RE: Sprint?
By TheRequiem on 11/20/2009 2:46:31 PM , Rating: 3
You couldn't be more far off then anyone I have ever heard talk about Sprint. Obviously, you too, are FAR out of the loop.

I need to be strictly aggressive on this one. First of all, I worked for Sprint TSS (Technical Support Staff). The losses have been harsh, but not terrible... and it's because they lost some lead in the smartphone segment and don't have an iPhone killer at the present time or something competitive yet. The employees are treated like royalty, they have some of the best benefits and employee programs in the world, so check your facts and quit guessing. Second of all, the customers have contiuously rated us them A customer service provider for getting their problems fixed. They take very good care of their customers and proof of that is about three articles up from a customer.

The only people they have had to let go ARE contractors so not sure what your talking about their. Also, the IDEN network (nextel) wasn't Sprint's network before the merger so yes it does have some contracting worked out, but for the better. However, the CDMA is and that is fully Sprint operated, not sure where you got that info either. The only contractors they use their are engineers that work on ALL the CDMA networks.

As far as cheap tools go, I worked for a Verizon contracting unit for a long time and Sprint's are FAR MORE ADVANCED. They can be more complicated at times because of the added Nextel tools, but Sprint is very well equipped to solve just about any problem. Verizon was a mess...

So the lesson really is, quit knocking the company because they bought out Nextel and stock quotes went down... I can't comment on the pricing structure of the services, but they are not what has hurt the company. Perhaps you haven't seen the level of investment they have introduced in investing in their future?

RE: Sprint?
By mcnabney on 11/20/2009 4:57:17 PM , Rating: 2
Well, I would pretty much think that the whole world would constitute a 'loop' and the current valuation of Sprint indicates a complete lack of faith in management to create a profitable business.

And you don't need an iPhone killer to compete in the marketplace. The Blackberry Curve is the nation's #1 selling smartphone, not the iPhone. Verizon doesn't have an iPhone 'killer', although the Droid does seem to be a good iPhone 'option'. That hasn't stopped Verizon from posting at least a million net customer adds every quarter for years now. And that happens despite charging quite a bit more than Sprint and T-Mobile for service. Why? Because customers want a service that works! I live in KC and Sprint service is terrible in their own home town! That is why customers are leaving. And to keep customers the company just keeps pushing their prices down, which means smaller and smaller margins, and depending more and more on wholesale and prepaid, which are all far less profitable. That is why the company is in the coffin-corner. You are losing customers, but can only slash prices to keep what you have. If you can't make a profit you won't stay in business long. Your only hope was a Verizon acquisition, but they obviously didn't want to pay money for customers that care only about price.

And the employees are part of the problem. Salaries were too high, facilities were way overspent on (I have been all over the Sprint campus), and numerous bad investments have been made. Picking the Pre may have actually doomed two companies since Palm is in an even worse situation. But the catastrophe of Nextel and iDen really did the damage. And that is even with the government giving you a sweetheart deal on some ghz spectrum to keep iDen from messing with emergency services.
I don't know how you could work for Sprint and not know that the network operations have been completely contracted out to Sony/Ericcson. A lot of prior Sprint employees are now Sony/Ericcson employees now. And they started 2009 with an 8000 employee layoff and they just announced another 2500-3500. Here is some local coverage.

My cheap tools analogy is about the product Sprint sells, not how many Nortel switches they purchased. Sprint's network is terrible. I only have one friend that still works for Sprint (but six that once did) and they always complained about their service. They didn't have to pay for it (hmmm, another example of giving your product away), but their devices wouldn't even get a signal at the CAMPUS. I have been in the campus with both T-Mobile and Verizon phones and never had a problem. Don't try to sell a cheaper tool (service), make your product better and charge a good price for it. Your investors will thank you. Thankfully, I haven't been one for a while.
And the big investments? WIMAXX and the Pre. Yeah, good luck with those. I think that almost any consumer would prefer a 3mb/s connection that always works and at full speed than an 11mb/s that doesn't. I really don't see the need for 4G right now since providers have instituted caps at 5GB per month. The real problem with wireless is lag, which is instrinsic to wireless.
Really, the only sad thing is that the Kansas City metro area is going to lose more jobs. I wonder what will happen to the campus after Sprint is bought up by US Cellular or someone else. What will they do with all that space. When they first built it I thought that it looked like a prison. Do you think the Overland Park government would mind putting bars on the windows?

RE: Sprint?
By Alexstarfire on 11/21/2009 1:33:32 PM , Rating: 2
Well, considering that Clear is using Sprint for it's internet service, through the WiMax, I don't think they will be in jeopardy for much longer. Clear is supposed to open up in 80 or so new markets next year. Hell, they already cover all of Atlanta and have a great price for it to boot, with unlimited data BTW. No caps. I say that if Clear takes off, and there is no reason I see it not happening, that Sprint should be doing a lot better soon.

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