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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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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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