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iPhone drama: AT&T does not deserve (most of) the hate, Part 1

iPhone drama: AT&T does not deserve (most of) the hate, Part 1

It’s become common practice for Apple loyalists, technology gurus, and the American media to bash AT&T and their iPhone exclusivity. When you really look at what they’ve done, don’t they deserve just a tiny bit of credit?

Just like anything else on the internet, I think iPhone owners’ displeasure with AT&T has been blown out of proportion. From what some people would have you believe, a full-on revolt is about to occur any day now with people marching towards AT&T headquarters waving pitchforks in the air. Is there some legitimate disappointment or unhappiness from customers? Yes, absolutely. But it’s nowhere near as bad as it seems and, believe it or not, AT&T even deserves some props for what they’ve done so far. I’ll get trashed for saying this, but they’ve been a good partner for Apple and I can defend my stance.

The beginning

Back when the iPhone was just a concept in Steve Jobs’ mind, AT&T (actually, Cingular at the time) knew right away they were on to something and immediately showed interest. They understood and trusted Apple’s vision to the point that they signed an exclusive agreement in 2005 or 2006 without knowing a heck of a lot about the device at all. In fact, nobody at the communications company even saw the phone until just a few weeks before it was introduced to the public. Putting that kind of faith (and money) into a company that had never made a mobile phone before was extremely risky. In my opinion, I think AT&T deserves some of our respect just for this fact alone. Nobody else was willing to take a chance on Apple except them.

Giving up control

Not only that, but AT&T has been unbelievably lenient with Apple’s demands from the start. They allowed Apple complete control over the device’s hardware and software, something no major cell phone carrier would ever do. To put that in perspective, when Apple was shopping the iPhone to potential partners Verizon declined the deal largely because they insisted on forcing their own crippled Verizon-branded software on the phone. Full-fledged internet browsing in Safari? It wouldn’t have existed. Visual voicemail? Verizon wouldn’t have modified their network to allow it. The wildly popular App Store? Ha! Whereas it is the habit of U.S. carriers to dictate the features and capabilities of devices they sell, AT&T took a new approach and left that part to Apple.

If you need additional examples of how AT&T has given up traditional carrier power in the name of offering a better user experience for iPhone customers, consider the fact that Verizon would have demanded all ringtones, over-the-air music & video downloads, and 3rd party applications be managed and sold through their money-gouging V-Cast service. Everything would have been more expensive, more tightly controlled, and far less innovative. Again, I feel like people overlook these things when they openly question Apple’s choice to stay loyal to AT&T.

Coverage comparisons

One of the main reasons iPhone owners and journalists get on AT&T’s case is their network. While it’s true they don’t offer flawless service in every region across the country, what mobile phone carrier does? There are many places Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile don’t have reliable coverage, just like AT&T lacks in certain areas. You could argue for days, weeks, or even months about which company is better. The truth is that they’re all the best and the worst, depending on where you’re located. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from reading all of the fear-mongering articles or online forum posts that claim AT&T is terrible everywhere.

I was a satisfied Verizon customer for 5 years until I nervously switched for my iPhone 3GS a few weeks ago. I knew I desperately wanted an iPhone, but I was terrified (based on everything I read) that I wouldn’t get a steady signal from AT&T anywhere I went. Imagine my surprise when I started traveling around the northeast and got full 3G service just about everywhere. And where 3G wasn’t available, a solid (although admittedly very slow) EDGE connection was. Add to this that I’ve yet to experience a single dropped call and it’s clear something doesn’t match up. It made me realize that maybe all of this highly-publicized noise about AT&T sucking more than other service providers in terms of coverage was just that – noise from a very vocal minority. If Apple switched AT&T for another carrier, that minority might be happy, but a whole new crop of people would be complaining about the other company’s poor service in their area.

Raising the bar – really

As AT&T continues to take a beating about their network, their efforts towards improving it seem to be largely ignored. The conglomerate has poured billions of dollars into covering new areas and dramatically bettering service in pre-existing markets over the past couple years alone. When the original iPhone came out in 2007, AT&T’s coverage map showed almost no 3G service. A look at the map now shows just how far they have come. It’s not completely there by any means, but progress should be commended nonetheless.

In addition, AT&T is addressing some long-standing issues in major metropolitan areas (most notably New York City) by rolling out enhanced 3G on their 850MHz spectrum, which is better for penetrating buildings. The company is also improving cell towers by installing fiber optic lines and boosting network speeds to 7.2Mbps (double the current 3.6Mbps). All of these upgrades should be rolled out by the end of the year and will certainly quiet a large portion of complaints.

With all of those data-hungry iPhones floating around eating up their bandwidth, AT&T has had to invest in their wireless business like never before. You have to wonder if Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile would be taking the same drastic steps in this situation. Their networks would surely break down under the load of all that data being passed around too, so it’s not an AT&T-specific problem. It’s an iPhone-being-massively-successful problem. Nobody saw it coming – at least not to this extent – and it’s taking a bit of time to catch up. Yes, it sucks for some customers now, but just like Apple keeps building on their iPhone OS with free updates, AT&T keeps building out their network to accommodate demand.

Part 2 available now

The 2nd and final part of the iPhone/AT&T drama analysis is available now. The topics of discussion include AT&T’s pricing for both plans and early upgrades, as well as the things AT&T actually deserves to be bashed for. Although I’m defending them a bit now, there are some problem areas that should be addressed. Please feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts so far and don’t forget to continue reading for the conclusion!

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5 Comments Have Been Posted (Leave Your Response)

I always thought Apple was stupid for only going with AT&T but I didn’t realize Verizon had the chance and blew it because they wanted so much control. I’m still with Verizon so I know first hand how bad Vcast is. I’m still waiting for a non AT&T iPhone though. Even though it will probably never happen. I’ll keep dreaming.

Now, how did I know this would be one of those articles that said “ATT is not so bad…let’s look at some history.” Again, screw the history from four years ago. Kudos to ATT for their decisions 4 years ago! Now, let’s talk about how ATT is managing the iPhone demands N-O-W.

You obviously didn’t read the whole article. The entire 2nd half of it is about AT&T managing the iPhone demands now. Sounds like they’re doing a lot. Whether its going to be enough remains to be seen.

Finally a little love and some real truth…

Very nice article. I believe iPhone users will be very pleasantly suprised when the new data network that replaces the 3g network begins to come online over the next year or so.