NY Times Columnist Blames AT&T Issues on iPhone Glitches

AT&T's bandwidth issues in the U.S. are the "glitches" in the way the iPhone talks to cell towers, and the company's network is hands down the best in the U.S., according to New York Times columnist Randall Stross. In a piece published Saturday, Mr. Stross cited telecom analysts and research firms to point to AT&T's superior average performance and a Nielsen exec who claimed the iPhone has "shortcomings" in the way it talked to towers.

The premise of the article is that AT&T gets a bad rap for its network, but that the facts don't back that up. "When I set about looking for independent data to confirm the superior performance of Verizon's network" Mr. Stross wrote. "I was astonished to discover that I had managed to get things exactly wrong. Despite the well-publicized problems in New York and San Francisco, AT&T seems to have the superior network nationwide.

To that end, Mr. Stross talked to Roger Entner, senior vice president for telecommunications research at consumer metrics firm Nielsen, who told him that it's the iPhone that is needlessly chewing up network bandwidth. "The electronics in the phone that connect it to the cell towers had shortcomings that affect both voice and data" he said.

Root Wireless, a firm that does network tests around the country via smartphone software, has found that AT&T's average performance in terms of download speeds is faster than the competition, including Verizon. The same was true for signal strength, which Root's research showing better than 75% signal strength more often than that of Verizon.

Chetan Sharma, a telecom consultant opined for the piece that AT&T has faced astronomical growth of its user base and bandwidth usage, and that the company has done an amazing job of coping with that meteoric growth.

"Other operators have the luxury of watching and learning from AT&T," he said, "which has the most number of next-generation smartphones, with full browsers and built-in video players."

Daring Fireball's John Gruber was first to deconstruct the piece, pointing to the fact that the analysts cited had AT&T as a client and the fact that Root Wireless's measurement of average performance wasn't conducted with any iPhones in their test hardware (the company's software runs as a background process, which isn't allowed on an iPhone).

Mr. Gruber also pointed out that if the iPhone was at fault for chewing up network performance that it should also be a problem outside the U.S. (and no other network users appear to have this issue).

The Cult of Mac's Pete Mortensen also noted that Roger Etner of Nielsen isn't an engineer, but rather a marketing analyst with MBA and BA degrees. No engineers of repute have made similar claims about the iPhone, at least not as of yet.

What is clear, however, is that AT&T's network does have better throughput, but only when it's available. The company's network is built on newer, faster technologies than Verizon's. It's also clear that Verizon has broader 3G coverage across the country, even if that network is slower and doesn't support features like visual voicemail and talking and surfing at the same time.

It's also clear that AT&T has performance issues in New York City and San Francisco due to the large number of iPhones in both markets.