NY Times Columnist Blames AT&T Issues on iPhone Glitches

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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.



I just want to state for the record that here in “fly-over country” (Tulsa, OK) I couldn’t be happier with my AT&T 3G coverage on my iPhone. I don’t travel much so my local coverage is great for me. Edge covers our whole state and that will do for times I’m outside the metro areas and off the interstates. (Remember the original iPhone praised by so many that only had Edge capabilities?)


Well, that, of course, is a pile of BS. I’ve tried AT&T’s broadband cards for laptops on more occasions than I care to count. And on all of them those cards behaved just as iPhone does today. And, mind you, I’ve tried those cards even before iPhone was even rumored.

AT&T’s network always sucked, still sucks, and probably will continue to suck for years to come.


Prior to being made available for sale, all cells phones must be certified by the FCC to be able to perform within certain parameters and without causing interference to the use of other cell phones or interfering with the use of licensed spectrum. The iPhone passed those tests and received the FCC’s certification. And prior to AT&T accepting the iPhone, both Apple and AT&T extensively tested the iPhone on AT&T’s network to be certain that it would work properly on AT&T’s network. Once again, it must have passed those tests for AT&T to have accepted the iPhone for use on its network. For these reasons and because iPhone users reporting from Europe and from areas of the U.S., where the number of users are less dense than they are in New York and San Francisco, don’t report any unusual problems with making or receiving calls, it seems unlikely that any flaw in the iPhone is causing the poor quality of service on AT&T’s network. It is a more likely inference that AT&T’s network simply can’t handle the increased demand that the iPhone places on it.


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

I believe the correct grammatical word is ‘NUMBER of iPhones’. Amount is used for VOLUME.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Geez Nemo… Ever had a USB drive that just hung or dismounted unexpectedly after being connected to your Mac for awhile but worked fine with Windows? It is probably doing all the electrical parts of USB correctly, but may have a software protocol issue between it and your Mac. Similar with the iPhone and AT&T’s network. No FCC problem, but perhaps a protocol problem that happens when there are lots of these devices competing for hook-ups. It’s silly to call it either Apple or AT&T’s fault, and sillier to drag the FCC into it. This stuff happens with software protocols. It might even be a fault in one party’s implementation that can only be reproduced and diagnosed from the other party’s side of the connection.

And honestly, it doesn’t matter whose fault this is. Both Apple and AT&T have a big interest in fixing the problem. In fact, the whole handset/carrier complex has an interest in them cooperating to just fix the problem. If they can’t or won’t, what does that say about real customer benefits of exclusive handset/carrier relationships?


I believe the correct grammatical word is ?NUMBER of iPhones?. Amount is used for VOLUME.

Yep. Countable items require constructs like “number of iPhones” or “fewer iPhones.”

Uncountable quantities (like money or water) would be “less money” or “amount of water.”

The word “more” is an exception in that it can take both countable and uncountable items.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

The word ?more? is an exception in that it can take both countable and uncountable items.

Right. More cowbell. More cowbells.

Lee Dronick

I am wondering if AT&T’s statement is a political/business move. Apple and them are probably in contract renewal negotiation. This could be a counter to Apple’s threat to leave the network unless a condition is not met, “Go ahead, we will tell the world your phone sucks.”

Disclaimer, I am not contract negotiator.


A Load of Crap. I had Cingular, remember that loser, and when ATT swallowed them up I was told coverage would become “unbelievable”, and it was, Unbelievably worse thatn Cingular had been. Verizon for 4 years and counting, NOT A DROPPED CALL. go on, pull the other one!

Bryan Chaffin

Amount/Number issue corrected. Thanks, folks. smile


For all of the talk about how bad AT&T’s network coverage is, I can honestly say that I’m very satisfied with my coverage.  I am lucky that I live in Houston, since it seems that Houston is one of AT&T’s better network locations.


And yet, I’ve never had a problem with AT&T anywhere in the U.S.


Ever had a USB drive that just hung or dismounted unexpectedly after being connected to your Mac for awhile but worked fine with Windows?

Sure, but they were all WIndows-formatted. I’ve never had that problem when I’ve formatted a USB drive in Mac format. I keep one USB flash drive formatted for Windows so that I can exchange files with WIndows users. The other 6 are all Mac HFS+ formatted. (LOTS faster, especially in disconnecting.)

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