Since AT&T became the exclusive carrier of the iPhone, complaints and news stories about poor network connectivity and availability have run rampant. The majority of complaints have come from heavily populated areas, most notably New York and San Francisco. The company has acknowledged the problems, and has spent millions of dollars trying to beef up their 3G network. The company has long blamed its network issues on iPhone users and the tremendous amount of data they use. They’ve also claimed to carry more data traffic than any other wireless carrier. A new study just released refutes that claim.
AT&T has said that iPhone users make up three percent of the company’s customer base, and that this small group is responsible for using 40 percent of the network’s capacity. That’s not impossible, but it does seem pretty improbable. AT&T has even talked about offering iPhone users incentives to cut down on data usage to alleviate network congestion.
The company has said before that it handles more data over its network than any other carrier, and that it carried 50 percent of the country’s mobile data traffic in 2009. ABI Research just released a study saying that’s not the case. The study claims that Sprint and Verizon each individually carried over 16 billion megabytes more than AT&T did last year, and that the two companies together accounted for 63 percent of the country’s mobile data traffic in 2009.
AT&T spokesman, Mark Siegel said, “It is not clear how ABI Research reached its conclusions, but I can tell you that our research and analysis of other third-party data indicates that AT&T carries more mobile data traffic than any other U.S. provider.” He added that ABI Research had not contacted AT&T to ask for any input to the report.
Any time a company releases data about itself, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Few companies will report that they’re doing badly, that they’re failing at anything, or that they’re not serving their customers the way they’re expected to. Independent research companies can be a little more objective, but without a clear understanding of how they compile their data or reach the conclusions published in their reports, it’s difficult to know how accurate those reports are.
But if this is true, then what’s the problem? If AT&T truly did not handle as much data as it claims, and is not responsible for the amount of mobile data it says it is, then why are there so many problems with its network? This would also call into question those iPhone user figures. What percentage of AT&T customers are iPhone users, really? And how much data do they really use? If the 3/40 rule is wrong, AT&T has to come up with another reason why their network isn’t serving its customers well, both iPhone users and otherwise.
What is true is that AT&T has had network issues. The company has admitted it themselves. They’re spending billions of dollars to expand and improve their 3G network. Yet at the same time, they’re trying to keep up with Sprint and Verizon by building a 4G network. How reliable will that new network be if they haven’t even fully addressed the problems with the old one?