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The iPhones have created enormous problems for AT&T's data and voice networks. As few as 12 iPhones streaming video can reportedly swamp an AT&T tower's data broadcasting abilities.  (Source: Hot Cellular Phone)

AT&T has partnered with McDonalds, Starbucks, and Barnes & Noble, thus far, to offer its customers free Wi-Fi, in hopes of reducing strain on its network. IPhone users, according to analysts consume five times as much data as BlackBerry or Windows Mobile users.  (Source: Valleywag)
Company looks to new partnership, such as a major one with McDonalds to ease the burden on its network

AT&T of late feels that it has been bullied and maligned.  First, it argues, Verizon attacked it on its geographic 3G coverage, which the company felt was inaccurate as its coverage by population was much better than the maps might indicate.  Second, the company received enormous flak when AT&T Mobility President Ralph de la Vega was asked at a business event on December 9 about what steps his company might take to control iPhone data usage. He responded with remarks that seemed to indicate that his company was planning to charge users who overused their "unlimited" plan.

Those remarks led to a planned data protest entitled "Operation Chokehold", which went down on Friday, December 18.  While the protest didn't seem to do too much to AT&T's network, it did convey the frustration of the company's subscribers.

In an interview with BusinessWeek, Mr. De la Vega now says that his remarks were misinterpreted and his company was never planning to impose higher fees.  He states, "There were no follow-up questions, so I figured everyone understood what I was saying. I guess I should have been more clear."

While many have speculated that AT&T will drop the $30-per-month unlimited data plan in lieu of a tiered pricing scheme, in order to ease its data troubles, Mr. De la Vega unequivocally denies this speculation, stating, "There are things people say I said that I didn't say. We have not made any decision to implement tiered pricing."

Rather than a stick, he says AT&T will use a carrot approach to try to solve its data issues.  Namely, it is ramping up efforts to provide free Wi-Fi to iPhone subscribers through a series of partnerships.  Its hoping that when iPhone users switch from 3G to Wi-Fi regularly, the strain on the network will be lessened.

The move is essential to AT&T as Wi-Fi via wired broadband is much cheaper than 3G data transmission.  It is estimated that as few as 12 iPhones streaming video can swamp a single iPhone tower, leading to Apple suggesting that terrorists could use unlocked iPhones as a dangerous weapon to our nation's communications.

iPhone users use an estimated 60 percent of mobile web data, though they only have about a 24.7 percent smart phone market share (in a 36 million unit market) according to ComScore.  IPhone users pay on average $95-per-month for this usage, about twice what smart-phone subscribers on other networks pay.  However, the average iPhone user uses approximately five times the data of a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile user.

To prevent such network swamping, AT&T has announced a deal with fast food giant McDonalds to waive the $2.95 Wi-Fi charge for customers at the chain's 11,000 restaurants.  AT&T already had similar deals with the ubiquitous coffee-superchain Starbucks and the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble.

AT&T's voice network also has seen its issues.  In cities the carrier's hardware partners have reported sky-high dropped call rates.  The company cut capital expenditures this year from $20.3B USD in 2008 to an estimated $17B USD this year, leading many to criticize it for not investing enough in its network.  The company responds to these criticisms by arguing that its spending this year was simply more focused on trouble spots, such as San Francisco.  Mr. De la Vega comments that in San Francisco "our network has never performed better".

His company is also considering Femtocells -- personal, portable signal generators -- as a promising solution to the company's 3G voice and data problems.  Unfortunately, those cells are still not available and no concreted details have been provided on how they're priced.  It's refreshing to see that AT&T will not be punishing its customers for its shortcomings, but its management has their work cut out for them in terms of improving their network and keeping their customers from jumping ship to rival carriers.

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RE: WiFi battery issues
By goku on 12/22/2009 6:58:25 PM , Rating: 3
To reap any power savings from the WIFI, you need to disable the cellular radio. This is akin to saying "yeah bluetooth is a BIG power hog! It reduces my battery life so much!" Well yeah if you keep both the cellular radio and bluetooth radio on! But if you choose to use just the bluetooth radio, you'll see an enormous drop in power usage, if you choose to use just the Wifi radio, you too will see an enormous drop in power usage. The cellular radio is huge power drain and it's no-wonder why cellular phones have great difficulty in maintaining battery life.

If you have the cellular radio on, it is always draining power because it's always talking to the cell tower, letting it know that you're still there. Try Switching your phone to flight mode and you'll quickly find how much longer your battery life can be extended. To put the power savings of disabling the cellular radio, with my old battery in my phone, if I keep cellular radio on, but never make a call or use the phone for anything, the battery will be dead in about 4 hours. If I switch the phone into "flight mode" (disables cellular radio) the phone will last about a week and that's with running all sorts of applications except browsing the web and making calls.

Now with this said, this brings up another issue, how are you suppose to make calls with the radio disabled? Well you can't and so maybe AT&T needs to make a VOIP app for the iPhone so that when connected to a WiFi connection, it partially disables the cellular radio and redirects incoming and outgoing calls through the VOIP app.

RE: WiFi battery issues
By ChristopherO on 12/24/2009 1:42:59 AM , Rating: 2
This was hilarious. Thanks.

If I switch the phone into "flight mode" (disables cellular radio) the phone will last about a week and that's with running all sorts of applications except browsing the web and making calls.

Pity you can't actually talk to anyone. I mean, rationally everything you said makes perfect sense, but you'll also save a lot of gas if you buy a car and never drive it. Or buy a Blu Ray player and never put a disc in it...

And just to be technically accurate, the cellular radio is not as big of a power drain as you're claiming. Older wireless technology used much more inefficient radios than today's chips, and a fresh RAZR with new battery could go 4-7 days between charges, assuming normal tower communications. The problem specifically is that the ancillary hardware takes more power, and the smart-phone features.

Skipping email, or direct-push, etc, will enhance your battery the most, but you would need to be crazy to buy a smart phone if that was your intent. For example, MS Exchange support will ping an HTTP server every 6 seconds with the mobile ID and see if anything is queued for the user. If the HTTP front-end server responds in the affirmative, it initiates a full synch (it's a very, very small communication when nothing is there -- we're talking 2 packets, unless the ack comes back and then it gets big).

Remote POP/web mail is even more inefficient because the queuing just isn't there (a pop cycle will typically run many thousands of packets depending on mail volume)... But the frequency of synch is usually vastly less than 6-seconds, so it can even out in the end. By practical experience, a 30-60 minute pop cycle is usually about the same battery life as direct Exchange synch.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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