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  (Source: The Huffington Post)
Study surprisingly finds AT&T dropped call rates rising, despite network investment

AT&T has the nation's fastest data network, but when it comes to its voice network, the picture isn't quite that pretty.  Verizon has long touted its superior voice network over AT&T, so this year AT&T tried to do something about it increasing its infrastructure investment by $2B USD over last year's investment.  The new investment was geared at shoring up trouble spots in cities, in particular.

Surprisingly, a study [PDF] by ChangeWave Research surveying 4,040 smartphone subscribers claims that AT&T's voice network metrics are actually getting worse.  From March 2009 to March 2010, the study claims AT&T dropped calls rose from 3.3 percent to 4.5 percent.  Competitor Verizon, meanwhile, saw its dropped call rates dip from 1.8 percent to 1.5 percent over the same time period.

The next highest dropped call rate after AT&T was T-Mobile with a 2.8 percent dropped call rate in March 2010.

Aside from dropped calls, the survey also claims that AT&T subscribers are quite unsatisfied with their voice network experience.  AT&T was tied with T-Mobile in March 2010 for the lowest satisfaction rate, with 23 percent of subscribers reporting satisfaction.  Verizon, by contrast, had a 49.9 percent satisfaction rate.

The study comments, "AT&T was clearly the worst in the March survey, tacking on yet another increase over the latest ChangeWave research survey.  Furthermore, a closer look at the trends show an increasing number of dropped calls among AT&T customers surveyed, and a steadily decreasing number of dropped calls for Verizon customers."

AT&T carries more smartphones than any other network in the U.S., currently.  It is the exclusive carrier of Apple's popular iPhone which that currently holds about 25 percent of the market (after only RIM's many BlackBerry handsets, which collectively hold 40 percent of the market).  Despite owning exclusive U.S. distribution rights to what many view as the world's hottest smart phone, AT&T has had some trouble dealing with the increased network stress that smartphones and more subscribers bring.

As part of its efforts to improve call quality, it has reportedly been hard at work with partner Apple to improve the way the iPhone interfaces with the AT&T network.  Tweaks to the iPhone firmware reportedly increased the data network speed by 84 percent between December and April, and also attempted to improve the voice network experience.

We've been in contact with AT&T spokespeople -- they refute the study's conclusions and are working to get us some independent numbers that they feel show the true picture.  We will update as soon as we get those.

Update 1: Wed. May 5, 2010, 2:30 p.m
AT&T still hasn't gave us any numbers, yet, but they reemphasized their strategy of increased infrastructure investment.  A spokesperson addresses customer concerns, stating:
We encourage any customer who is having an issue to call us so we can understand what's going on.  We value feedback of all kinds.  We continue to focus on network improvements and continue to offeri the best device lineup,  A great measure of satisfaction is customer churn, which continues to go down including in our most recent quarterly earnings, where it was a best-ever 1.07 percent for postpaid customers.
Update 2: Wed. May 5, 2010, 2:35 p.m.-
The AT&T spokeperson who refuted the results of the study provided us with the following info:
The opinions compiled in this survey are dramatically at odds with actual quantitative results derived from millions of calls made during extensive drive-testing of the AT&T mobile broadband network by a highly respected outside firm.  Those results, from GWS, show that, on a national basis, AT&T is within just two-tenths of a percent of the industry leader in wireless call retainability.  That's a difference of just two calls in a thousand, a virtual dead-heat.  In fact, the statistically valid drive tests shows the AT&T network continues to deliver the nation's fastest 3G network and near best-in-class call retainability nationwide. In those recent drive tests, AT&T's network dropped only 1.44 percent of calls nationwide, within two-tenths of 1 percent of the industry leader and a difference of less than two calls out of 1,000."
They note that the survey relied on people's recollection of how many calls were dropped, while real world tests show that AT&T drops only about 1.44 percent of calls, rather than the 4.5 percent which the study claimed.

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old news is old
By invidious on 5/5/2010 2:38:17 PM , Rating: -1
Aren't there other dead horses you could be beating?

RE: old news is old
By mcnabney on 5/5/2010 2:42:51 PM , Rating: 5
Well, since AT&T has been aggressively marketing their efforts to improve their network it actually is worth noting that the horse is still dead.

More interestingly, T-Mobile has been dropping even more. Their customer satisfaction had been right on the heels of Verizon and Alltel, but now it is falling back. I used to be a T-Mobile customer and was satisfied, now it seems that with their price cuts comes service cuts as well. I guess you do get what you pay for.

RE: old news is old
By porkpie on 5/5/2010 3:19:36 PM , Rating: 3
What's "dead" here is the methodology used by the study, which makes the results entirely invalid.

My own personal experience (which is just as statistically invalid -- I provide it only for a reference point) from numerous trips to a dozen major US cities, is that Verizon and A&T are essentially equal, whereas T-Mobile comes in a sad, sad third. Perhaps T-Mobile has improved in the 2-3 years since I last experimented with them, but I rather doubt a quantum improvement.

RE: old news is old
By Smartless on 5/5/2010 3:55:10 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Though I haven't read the full report, the posted one doesn't indicate where they surveyed the 4,040 smartphone users. Wouldn't an impartial report consider that the most important aspect of a coverage survey? Another factor that may skew it is the phone itself. So here's the part where I discredit myself, I use AT&T but from personal experience, I've not had a dropped call that I couldn't explain and my coverage has always been better than my wife when we go traveling and she has Sprint.

RE: old news is old
By Anoxanmore on 5/5/2010 4:24:01 PM , Rating: 2
It had better be better coverage than Sprint, they[AT&T] have 4x the network size. :P

RE: old news is old
By SmCaudata on 5/5/2010 4:01:40 PM , Rating: 2
I am currently with T-mobile and I find their customer service actually getting worse. Call drop rate is still incredibly rare to me. The interesting thing though is that they haven't cut prices. I've had the same family plan for well over 2 years because it is still cheaper per minute AND it had the myFaves for each phone. Basically their prices are going up relative to the value.

As for AT&T, although I have not been a subscriber, in Minneapolis and now in Denver where I have lived my AT&T friends have more than once asked to use my phone because theirs dropped or had no signal.

The thing is that in the US GSM was quite poorly executed. Call drop rates here are much higher than they are in Europe. CDMA is a much better option in the states for call quality. It does lack in other things though. When LTE rolls out none of this will matter anyway.

I think what this survey does show is that what would be best for the consumer is for phones to be capable of all bands and to no have them attached to discounts with contracts. It would lower prices and increase reliability.

RE: old news is old
By SmCaudata on 5/5/2010 4:09:15 PM , Rating: 2
Forgot to include: What is the most interesting is the numbers from Sprint. A Sprint family plan with 1500 minutes, calls to all mobile networks free, and unlimited data/text is only $190 for 5 lines. Less than $40 per line. No one else comes close to that price. All that value and second on customer satisfaction (granted price is figured into satisfaction). Sprint may be my next carrier.

RE: old news is old
By wiz220 on 5/5/2010 6:00:41 PM , Rating: 2
I've had sprint for about 10 years now and recently it hasn't been too bad. But their coverage in my area does leave a bit to be desired. Plus, they can be a bit slow to get the latest and greatest phones. This summer could be the perfect time for you to switch though with the HTC EVO coming out.

RE: old news is old
By djdjohnson on 5/6/2010 3:09:25 AM , Rating: 2
I have been with T-Mobile since it was VoiceStream (since 1996 actually) and I have never had any significant issues with them.

As far as coverage goes, in my hometown, I NEVER have dropped calls. And I'm getting excellent 3G speeds.

My co-workers and I went to a convention in Las Vegas last week and of the four major carriers represented, AT&T's coverage was horrific (with dropped calls being the norm, not the exception), Sprint's was adequate, Verizon's was good, and T-Mobile's was excellent. 3G data speeds fell right along those same lines as well, with AT&T's being unusable, Sprint and Verizon's being okay, and T-Mobile's being very good. Battery life on our various phones also fell along the same lines, with the iPhone users having dead batteries by early afternoon, and my HTC Touch Pro 2 being at 75% at the end of the day.

I know some areas have trouble with T-Mobile, but out west where I live, it's actually extremely good.

RE: old news is old
By Gyres01 on 5/6/2010 12:09:16 PM , Rating: 1
This topic is so last year, and the year before, and so on....WTFC just buy the phone you like. Cell technology has gotten worse, period IMHO....and I have had cells since the old Tandy brick phone of the early 90's...

RE: old news is old
By Omega215D on 5/6/2010 5:40:01 AM , Rating: 2
The thing is that CDMA can handle more traffic due to it being a code divided technology instead of time based like TDMA/ GSM and can come close to sounding as clear as a landline. CDMA has quite a bit of usage outside of the US. It has a nice spread in South American, Asian and some European countries.

LTE looks really good and even though it's not fully 4G (doesn't meet all the requirements).

RE: old news is old
By Netjak on 5/7/2010 5:37:49 AM , Rating: 2
in the U.S. you are stuck on old technology that is gradually upgraded, like windows :) Here in Europe, there were an analogue NMT, long dead, and GSM in service almost 20 years. Since there is only one technology competition is strong, providing excellent coverage and overall service. At home I have ISDN, which is excellent, and the quality of speech on the GSM phone is almost the same.

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