Is AT&T to blame for the poor iPhone experience in cities like San Francisco and New York, where calls drop, data fails, and bars depict signal strength with no real connection behind them? And if so, what can they do about it -- build more network infrastructure, create tiered pricing, or maybe just give up on exclusivity?
Dan Lyons, writing under his nom-de-guerre Fake Steve Jobs recently posted a curse-filled parody, describing an entirely fictional, frighteningly plausible conversation between his character and an equally fake AT&T CEO, Randall Stephenson. It's climax:
And now here we are. Right here in your own backyard, an American company creates a brilliant phone, and that company hands it to you, and gives you an exclusive deal to carry it — and all you guys can do is complain about how much people want to use it. You, Randall Stephenson, and your lazy stupid company — you are the problem. You are what’s wrong with this country.
I stopped, then. There was nothing on the line. Silence. I said, Randall? He goes, Yeah, I’m here. I said, Does any of that make sense? He says, Yeah, but we’re still not going to do it. See, when you run the numbers what you find is that we’re actually better off running a shitty network than making the investment to build a good one. It’s just numbers, Steve. You can’t charge enough to get a return on the investment.
AT&T has made billions in profit off of its user base (and off the iPhone!) and many of those users think it would behoove AT&T to take a large portion of those profits and re-invest them in expanding and improving their network. AT&T claims they're doing just that, especially in high iPhone-density cities like San Francisco (now getting the 850Mhz band) and Dallas (upgrade to 7.2Mb HSPA). And as Fake Steve so deliciously skewered, AT&T Mobile CEO, Ralph de la Vaga has unfathomably discussed stopping users from using their devices under the "unlimited" data plans AT&T markets to them.
But is the problem really AT&T?