Report: AT&T's Problems Isn't the Size of the Ship, It's the Motion of the iPhone Ocean

AT&T's network problems don't stem from the capacity of its network, but rather from the ways in which the iPhone and other smartphones connect to that network, according to a report from ArsTechnica. The site based its report on information from O2, the UK iPhone carrier who had experienced similar problems to AT&T, problems not shared by other carriers in Europe.

AT&T's network problems in handling iPhone traffic have been much publicized and criticized, especially in the two biggest and most densely populated iPhone markets in New York City and San Francisco, for some time. Much of the blame has been laid at the feet of the network's capacity to handle the increased data being consumed and transmitted by the iPhone.

According to ArsTechnica's report, however, the issue isn't one of capacity. Instead, the problem lies with power -saving techniques used by Apple to increase battery life on the device. AT&T's network - and O2's network - weren't designed and developed with those techniques in mind, whereas networks in Europe were.

Specifically, the iPhone connects and disconnects to the network repeatedly, as needed, rather than maintaining its connection in an "idling" mode when not in use. This saves power on the iPhone's side, but the equipment used to make those connections on the network side is where the bottleneck lies in AT&T's network, not the bandwidth capacity of that network.

In mainland Europe, texting and other forms of data transmission were adopted and popularized much earlier than in the U.S. and the UK, and those networks were better set up to accommodate the kinds of frequent connecting performed by the iPhone. This is at least part of the reason, if not the only reason, that iPhone users in other global markets haven't experienced the kinds of disconnects and slow performance complained about in the U.S.

Ars also noted that the iPhone is not alone in its use of this power-saving feature, Android devices and WebOS devices from Palm also use a similar technique to save power, meaning the problem will grow as these other devices increase their sales, not to mention the explosion of iPad devices likely to hit AT&T's network.

As O2 went through this first with iPhone customers in its London market, that company figured out the problem and made changes to its infrastructure to better manage its iPhone traffic, and the company told Ars that it shared its information with other carriers, including AT&T, that carry the iPhone.

AT&T has not publicly said anything about this specific issue, but it has said it is improving its network to accommodate the iPhone, and Apple has said that it is confident in AT&T's ability to address iPhone network demands. If Ars's report is accurate, that suggests that AT&T is on the path to fix the problem.