Wrong Place, Wrong People

On Friday, CNN published an article describing how AT&T’s network isn’t really all that bad. According to Dan Frommer, the service at AT&T is only bad “for the wrong people in the wrong places.” He is wrong in both points he makes supporting AT&T. First, the article states that the service is worst in tech-savvy places. Second, Frommer “proves” the service isn’t so bad by showing us the percentage of customers who abandon AT&T each month. Both arguments make no sense.

I live up in the San Gabriel mountains north of Los Angeles. On the other side of those mountains is an area commonly referred to as the high desert (Victorville, Apple Valley, etc.). This area is far from being tech-savvy. I only know two other iPad owners in this area, and only a handful of iPhone users. There are no “tall buildings, landlords and construction processes” to make the network challenging here. Yet I challenge you to drive through Victorville and try to have a phone conversation without losing the call more than once.

As for data, the 3G speed is decent enough… assuming you’re holding still. But as soon as you try to move around (after all, this is a mobile device we’re using, right?), the bars go up and down more rapidly than a small fishing boat off the coast.

The troubles I’ve had with AT&T are not just in this area either. Over the past 12 months, I’ve travelled to a number of different areas. The one thing I have to give to AT&T is at least they are consistent.

New York City, New York
This location likely supports the claim made in CNN’s article. My phone would suggest I had at least three bars, and as many as five, but phone calls sounded horrific and I couldn’t load a full web page unless I had 20 minutes to spare. Using Google Maps was completely useless.

Las Vegas, Nevada
This is the only other place that fits Frommer’s argument. I was in Vegas for C.E.S., and could not get data to function at all until I turned off 3G. Presumably there were just too many iPhone geeks in the same small area all trying to access data at once.

Orlando and Tampa, Florida
I was amazed with how good the service was here. I don’t think I had one dropped call the entire time I was in Florida and the data speeds were the fastest I’ve seen. It was the fastest and most reliable service I’ve had in three years.

San Francisco, California
This might be one of the “wrong places” Frommer is referring to. But even once you leave the heavily populated San Francisco, service doesn’t ever get any better.

San Antonio, Texas
I think AT&T put one tower in the city, and no where else in Texas. While I was in San Antonio, the reception was good and data speeds seemed decent. As soon as you left the city, the reception was non-existant.

Tucson, Arizona
The data speeds in Tucson are good actually, but I did experience multiple dropped calls.

Missoula, Montana
Phone service works great in Montana, however there is no 3G coverage at all anywhere in the state. I would hardly call this location an over populated tech-savvy place.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Similar to Montana, phone service was above average but data speed were ridiculously slow.

Salt Lake City, Utah
I didn’t make any calls in Utah, however the data was fairly sluggish. If you travel north of Salt Lake, expect to lose all 3G service completely.

When I was in Utah, Idaho, and Montana, I was with a friend who uses Verizon. In almost every place where I would lose service, the Verizon phone and Verizon aircard would have no trouble staying connected. None of these areas are not over saturated with iPhone users.

The second argument made was that AT&T doesn’t lose very many more subscribers each month compared with Verizon. AT&T’s rate was 1.29, compared to Verizon’s 1.27 percent. But the thing to note here is that AT&T has the iPhone and Verizon does not. People (like me) are sticking with horrible coverage simply because we like our iPhones that much. Conversely, Verizon doesn’t have the iPhone, so people are sticking with their crappy phones simply because they really like their coverage.

Frommer closes with two paragraphs. One is completely correct…

At least until Verizon Wireless gets Apple’s iPhone. Then we’ll know if this whole mess is really AT&T’s fault or just the unique situation of having to support millions of iPhones in use at one time.

But he is way off with his second…

But in reality, things aren’t as terrible for AT&T as you’ve been led to believe. It’s just really bad in the wrong places, for the wrong people.

No really… things are that terrible.