Sympathy for the Carrier

5:10 PM -- It's sometimes hard to not feel a tiny twinge of sympathy for mobile operators dealing with the data deluge on their networks.

The sheer complexity of supporting large amounts of simultaneous data traffic on networks that -- at their root -- were intended mainly for voice calls is mind-boggling.

For instance, as far I can tell, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s problems with its networks in NYC and San Francisco last year stem from a combination of network controller signaling problems, inadequate backhaul, and old radio equipment. All of which involves spending money to upgrade the network, hence the extra $2 billion that AT&T is spending on wireless this year.

And it's not even clear to me that AT&T can just throw money at the problem to fix it. It is less easy to control mobile in a world where people expect to able to download a massive video file anywhere while maintaining an instant message conversation with friends and still be able to make and receive good quality phone calls. Witness the chatter about Verizon Wireless spending more on CDMA to prep for its own iPhone.

Long Term Evolution should go some way toward fixing the signaling problems with smartphones, simply because operators will be able to dedicate more bandwidth to the signaling channel. LTE is going to put even more strain on backhaul networks though, and we'll likely hear users yelling about lack of coverage and CDMA-to-LTE handoff issues to begin with.

So, like I say, a twinge of sympathy from me when it comes to carriers dealing with data issues. But not too much -- remember that the carriers wanted it this way, have been advertising the "mobile Internet" for years before it arrived, and are generally still making big money on data right now.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

[email protected] 12/5/2012 | 4:34:14 PM
re: Sympathy for the Carrier

AT&T decided to sell data services before they and their network were ready to handle them. If anything, they have committed a massive fraud by claiming to be able to deliver the services that customers have purchased when clearly they are not. 

Greedy & foolish management at the top of AT&T Wireless/Mobility. They deserve every last bit of bad press.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:34:10 PM
re: Sympathy for the Carrier

I largely agree, with one caveat: Would any carrier actually have been ready for the iPhone and its massive associated increase in data traffic, I'm not so sure...

kalvie 12/5/2012 | 4:34:10 PM
re: Sympathy for the Carrier

Any provider with a well-prepared engineering and product team would have deployed a beta test in a major market (like, maybe NYC) and extrapolated for the worst-case.

AT&T apparently didn't do their homework on Apple. Every geek and hipster wanted an iPhone just like every geek and hipster wanted (and bought) an iPod... Somehow AT&T was surprised that their target market wanted to download every interactive app, stay connected to Facebook and Pandora all day, and stress out the little cell towers constantly.

Speaking as a geek hipster, I can only say one thing to AT&T: "duh."

[email protected] 12/5/2012 | 4:33:59 PM
re: Sympathy for the Carrier

Based on their fixed-price 5GB+ data plans and 4G speeds, both Sprint and Clear seem to be more ready than AT&T and Verizon.

AT&T has known this day of reckoning was coming, but greedy executive management wanted to delay the obviously required network spend until the last possible moment. In their view, that moment was not so much when they were delivering crummy service to their customers on overloaded networks, but rather when press coverage picked up on customer torture to poison the well of prospective new customers.

AT&T has had years to prepare better back-haul capacity, especially after the so-called "fiber glut" that followed the CLEC bust around 2000-2001. They have also had years to switch over from high-overhead ATM-based network signalling to IP-on-Ethernet-based networking on fiber. In every way, they have stalled progress to milk their cash cow literally to death.

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