SNL Weekend Update Roasts AT&T iPhone Network Problems

Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update sideswiped iPhone network problems last night, the latest in a series of mainstream reporting on the issue:

"It was reported this week that Google would soon launch its own cellphone as a challenge to the iPhone. Also a challenge to the iPhone? Making phone calls."

Whether AT&T is to blame, or some combination of how AT&T's network and the iPhone work together, we don't know. While AT&T was content to increase data revenue while decreasing infrastructure investment all in the name of shareholder value, it's perversely harder to ignore bad publicity than it is unhappy customers.

To quote Fake Steve, whose ill-conceived Operation Chokehold did succeed in bringing a lot of the current attention to bear:

AT&T, a huge wireless provider in the United States, cannot reliably connect calls in New York City. How can this be?

SNL video after the break!

[YouTube link]

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Wow, making phone calls. The millions & millions & millions of Iphone users agree, we make phone calls just fine. Now the Verzion network thats a whole other problem.
  • I travel for work and use the iPhone. ATT network in NY does not work. My phone can show 5 bars and not complete a call 3-5 calls don't connect and I drop an equal amount of connected calls. When I went to the ATT store in Times Square they said " there is to many people using the network" when I asked why the 3g data did not work they told me to use edge. I bought a Droid.
  • Whether you can or not, it's catching on to the masses that you can't. Much like the perception that Vista was crap caught on. Microsoft couldn't overcome that and basically decided that windows 7 was the answer and it'd be futile to try to repair perceptions to Vista.
    Well, obviously AT&T can't scrap their network and build a new one. But at the same time, they should give up trying to defend things as they stand.
  • I do know any real solution involves spending a lot of money. Economy is rebounding, you're adding users AT&T. Time to spend.
  • Watched a long segment on CNN about iPhone/AT%T issues on CNN Thursday. Mad Money also covered it. The Verizon ads were funny, but now the critiques have really gone mainstream. Fix the network AT&T or get the phone on a reliable network in the states Apple. Its just that simple. A bloated Luke Wilson is not the answer.
  • cardfan,
    Uhhh, hello? Vista IS crap! Perception my ass! Where have you been!?!
  • @Dexter - it's a plugin, you can mouse over to read all your expletives. We try to keep the place clean for kids, puppies, and mom's apple pie. K?
  • Dexter asks someone where they've been, while discovering cr@p (which has been censored here for at least a couple of years) is replaced with asterisks. :lol:
  • This is the sort of thing that I've been referring to when I've been saying that AT&T is in for it (so to speak) over their 3G network in NYC. The SNL joke mentioned the iPhone by name, not AT&T. The live audience in NYC laughed because they know what the joke is about locally. Apple almost certainly won't be interested in AT&T as an exclusive carrier because the iPhone is taking a hit in the media due to whatever problems AT&T has in supporting all the iPhone users in NYC. It didn't matter if "Operation Chokehold" didn't succeed in affecting AT&T's network or not.
    AT&T probably expects to lose customers in 2010. Those who purchased the iPhone 3G but not the 3GS are going to be finishing up their contracts starting from July 2010. A certain proportion of people will either choose a different phone (because people like variety and for no other reason), or, depending on the features of the next model of the iPhone, will have to decide whether to go with that on whatever networks that support it.
    If you look at the original FSJ post where he talks to the fake AT&T CEO, the conclusion is that the way a cellular network makes money is not from selling services. Instead, it's from maintaining a certain sized network and bringing more money into the company than it costs to maintain the network. The most profitable network would be one in which people sign contracts to pay the network for services but never actually use the network for anything.
  • Out here in the hinterlands AT&T works fine.
  • In Las Vegas, NV the iPhone works just fine for me, with the exception of one part of town, which I do not go to that often.
    That however is just for me, which I realize. The problem for ATT, is the perception that it doesn't. In New York and San Francisco I believe that this is not a perception but a reality. There are just to many complaints for it not to be.
    If this media attention does not move ATT to act, nothing will. Apple also has a problem, with the recent news the problem is there radio chip. True or not true, the perception will be there now. Apple does not like bad perceptions, they know it will hurt their bottom line.
    The question is what will they do about it. If it is the radio chip then they will/need to fix it, if it isn't, then they need to put some pressure on Att or spread the love to the other networks with the iPhone. Once Att starts losing customers, they will be forced to act.
    Even in areas were the iPhone works well, people that thought a dropped call once a week or so was fine, will now start to think not, because the perception is now being planted by the mainstream media.
    Who would of thought the real Iphone killer would potentially be Atts
  • Has it not occur to anyone that the dropping of the calls is cause by the GOD damn phone and not AT&T's freaking network!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Has any other cell phone user on the god damn AT&T network complain of drop calls on regular phones? NOPE! Whats the common denominator? Care to guess? Yes its the CHEAPLY MADE FOXCONN PHONE YOU CALL iPhone!!!!!!!! Thats whos dropping the calls and not AT&T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Well in other countries the iPhone works fine. Here in Ireland I can't remember ever having had a dropped call. I was in NYC two months ago and the AT&T network was rotten. It's the network, not the hardware.
  • Strange. I've never dropped a call and I'm on the new Telus network. In town (and even out of town) with an iPhone 3GS, I've never had problems connecting calls and keeping them. I have had "No Service" twice now, though, but a simple restart fixes that. Don't know what that is caused by.
  • I laugh at this whole thing when I drove from Gary to the north side of Chicago. No dropped call. I say I never have more than 1 out of 10 calls poop out, and most of those resolve without hanging up/redial.
    At the same time I think Apple and AT&T should do themselves a favor and spend some time apart as soon as possible. T-mobile (N. America) is a perfect candidate. Sometimes it is a good thing to start seeing other people ;-)
  • I'll vouche for Roger's network. True, it's not Canada's Most Reiable Network now (as deemed by the courts) but I've never really had connection issues on like my brethern down south have had... or, at least, no worse than other phones I've owned. It's not the phone, definately the network. Glad I don't have to use AT&T's network in SanFran or the NYC area.
  • I'm glad SNL finally got around to reporting on AT&T's poor network. It just so happens that the new owner of NBC, Comcast, is a competitor to AT&T outside of the wireless market.
  • I live in Seattle and bought the 3GS when it first came out. It's always work great here -- thought all the network issue comments were just negative hype. Last October I went to New York -- didn't make a single call that wasn't dropped (with full bars). Regularly rebooted my iPhone to get the internet back. I love New York, but I'd hate to live there and have an iPhone...
  • I live and work in NYC and I have no issues with calls connecting. I'm a first time customer of AT&T since the iPhone 3GS came out, but I don't see any different using AT&T then my last carrier. Can't remember the last time I had a dropped call. Towards the end of summer I did have some issues with no 3G or Edge while on the Staten Island ferry for parts of the ride but those issues have been resolved for awhile now.
  • Dropped calls? Is there an App for that?
  • Has it not occur to anyone that the dropping of the calls is cause by the GOD damn phone and not AT&T’s freaking network!
    I would think that everyone would be experiencing dropped calls if the iPhone were the cause. I've never had a dropped call in two years (with any of the models) — not one.
  • Lol I don't get this making and dropping phone call thing????? Why is it that I never run into these problems. I always make calls just fine and complete them as well. And have full 3g where I go. If it was that bad nobody would have the phone or AT&T. You mean to tell me over 80 million people are having trouble making and keeping calls with AT&T and there staying with them???? Come on get real. How much did verizon pay Lorne Michaels to do this bit?
  • For every 1 person who says they don't have an issue, 2 people do. Thats a total of 3 people. Now that doesn't sound like a lot but lets multiply those numbers, if 50 people don't have an issue 100 people have problems, that's 150 people. Now thats a lot. Lets kick it up a notch, 500 people don't have an issue, but 1000 people have problems. That's 1500 people.
    So for everyone bragging about how they don't have an issue, fine, good for you, people who are having problems will find you and beat you for rubbing it in their face all the time.
    And for everyone blaming the iPhone, you're saying it's the radio chip? I find that hard to believe, look at my numbers above. if 500 iPhones are fine, 1000 have problems totaling 1500. That means that out of 1500 iPhones, 1000 of them have defective radio chips? Very unlikely, Apple would never let that poor of quality go to the public. And if someone from another country has no problems whatsoever but comes to America and has issues the whole time they're here, it can't be the phone. I haven't heard anyone with an unlocked iPhone running on T-Mobile have problems (yet).
    You can't say that a majority of the iPhones being sent to American customers are defective while the over seas customers get all the good ones. That doesn't make sense. While yes, the sometimes the quality of phone will determine how if it'll drop calls or not. I don't remember hearing about dropped calls with the 2G iPhone came out, but it seems as the more and more people who switch to the iPhone the more and more problems there seem to be. AT&T's network just can't handle it in certain areas like New York or San Francisco. And when AT&T told Fred up in NY that too many people are using the network and to use EDGE instead of 3G, that indicates that the issue is with AT&T.
    Now if and when the iPhone goes to other networks, which should be all of the networks, AT&T will have less problems because everyone who is having problems with AT&T will leave them and go to another carrier who has the iPhone. I think Verizon would handle the iPhone better than AT&T, they would still have problems, just not as many. I think that no one network can handle the iPhone, the next generation iPhone should be a CDMA/GSM hybrid and released on all networks, while yes AT&T will lose customers and revenue, it was destined to happen with a bunch of the iPhone users complaining and willing to get a Droid, MyTouch or Pre just to get away and have better service. If all the major networks got the iPhone and to quote Luke Wilson, it'll be "A better 3G experience" for everyone.
  • @Ghop: "Once Att starts losing customers, they will be forced to act."
    I disagree. AT&T got most of their 3G network out of the iPhone deal, and the problems in NYC and SF are probably resistant to a ready solution, i.e., a profitable solution. They probably know that they will start losing customers in 2010 (i.e., not gain them at the same rate), in which case it would be foolish for them to spend lots of money to accommodate more customers at the cost of turning a profit for their shareholders. It would be better for AT&T to swap out (let's say) 15% of its smartphone customers with notebook data customers, or to limit data use during peak hours in certain areas by 15%. In other words, AT&T can keep the same network and make money from it more efficiently without improving it. Cellular network services aren't like water and electricity, where the more people use, the more money the utility companies make.
    @Jojie: "Has any other cell phone user on the god damn AT&T network complain of drop calls on regular phones?"
    There's a Strand Report about how the iPhone is difficult and expensive for network operators. There's also a Strand Report about how iPhone users have Stockholm Syndrome. The main point is that, in the U.S., the more people love the iPhone and Apple, the more they perceive problems using the iPhone as being caused by AT&T. Wired Magazine is a good example: they absolutely love the iPhone 3G/S: they cover new apps, they mention the iPhone in every review of any phone or any story about a phone manufacturer, they review more products with iPhone docks... Wired also targeted AT&T for a number of problems in using the iPhone 3G and attempted a user survey of AT&T's data network. If there were no exclusivity deal, people wouldn't be able to do that so easily.
    @TK: It's not just the people who have the iPhone in NYC, it's their friends and family who try to talk to them on the phone and who hear stories about the iPhone's performance from the iPhone owners in NYC. Also, whenever people are talking about getting an iPhone, they have to justify not getting it somehow using any problem they've heard about it. "Are you getting an iPhone?" "I don't know, I've heard there are problems with them, and the plan is really expensive, so I'm just going to X [stick with Blackberry, get an LG feature phone, etc.]."
  • @Dennis
    Good point, but what if people who are not having problems switch just because the perception is there and their friends tell them how much better the quality of the iPhone is on their network of choice (assuming other networks get the iPhone). Wouldn't that be a big problem for Att? Shouldn't they stop the bleeding?
    I am assuming there is a large concentration of iPhone users in the NY/SF, probably more than any other market. Shouldn't Att fix that problem, even if said 15% leave?
  • @Dennis
    however though, instill like your point. People leave improved network performance, no money spent. AT&T probably wants exclusivity to end. 
  • @Jojie: #14
    Exactly so. There is something wrong with the iPhone in conjunction with the NYC network.
    Everywhere else I've used my iPhone it works great. No problems in the Seattle area, Phoenix area, Dallas area or Chicago.
    I thought it might be the Steel Canyon syndrome, (lots of multi-path reflections) but I suspect its something different, since it works in downtown Chicago.
    Clearly there is something wrong with AT&T handling the iPhone in NYC. Its their bread and butter, so you expect them to be able to deal with it like they do everywhere else in the country.
    Still the Blackberry users in NYC aren't dropping calls any more than they do on Verizon.
    So its got to be a combination of carrier+device, with heavy finger pointing at the iPhone.
  • I wish AT&T would fix the network so TiPB has real things to write about 
  • @Ghop: I assume that if AT&T could have fixed that problem by now, they would have. They're saying that they are going to improve service in NYC and SF imminently though, so we'll see what they do. A year or so back AT&T claimed it was because they didn't have a high enough density of cell phone towers in NYC to handle the switching of traffic as people move around the city. I don't have any idea what solutions there are for AT&T in NYC, or what percentage of the U.S. customer base is currently covered by AT&T's 3G network.
    If AT&T loses 15% of its iPhone contracts, or pays back 15% of what it makes in the form of incentives to iPhone users in order to keep the network operational, it's basically the same thing.
  • @Jhop: I guess what I'm saying is that the situation is more dynamic. As AT&T loses some of the load on their network, their network quality will improve, even if they do nothing to improve it otherwise. Then the metrics will go up, and they can advertise those metrics to get more customers into two year contracts. I'm sure AT&T is improving its network (including the upcoming speed bump), but only at a certain rate which allows them to maintain a profit on the books.
    IMO, the two-year contract is simply too long. I doubt my iPhone 3G will have even 60% of its original battery capacity by the end of my contract. There are hidden costs to the consumer in these two-year contracts. A contract of 1.5 years would be better for consumers and device manufacturers, if people could get over the psychological barrier of paying more for a phone.
  • Attention all users who never have dropped calls:
    There's something wrong with your iPhone because the people who do have dropped calls say so. Return you lousy iPhones, that never drops calls, as soon as possible. :roll:
  • Tk right on
  • ATT works great in Atlanta. I have no problem here.
  • @Dennis:
    Those Strand reports are pretty interesting reading.
    On the iphone Jihaddists:
    The Moment of truth - a portrait of the iPhone
    This last one you have to request to get the full report.
    The synopsis says this:
    In the report we take a close look at the 10 largest myths about the iPhone:
    1) The iPhone drives data traffic into mobile operators networks
    2) The iPhone helps operators attract new customers
    3) The iPhone is good business for mobile operators
    4) The iPhone is dominating the mobile services market
    5) App store is a huge success that has revolutionised the services market
    6) There is money to be made by developing applications for the iPhone
    7) It is iPhone customers that are generating the majority of online mobile surfing traffic
    8) The iPhone has a large market share
    9) The iPhone was the first mobile phone with a touchscreen
    10) The iPhone is a technologically advanced mobile phone
    Simply put, many of the conclusions that the media have published about the significance of the iPhone for mobile operators are not documented in the operators’ - or other key market players - financial statements.
  • @icebike - When Kevin took his brand new, not released in the US, worked fine on Rogers, BlackBerry Bold 9000 to New York City last year it was a nightmare for him. I believe the Bold in general (RIM's first 3G GSM phone?) had problems getting up to speed on AT&T.
    You might be right, New York (and San Fran?) might be a particular problem for AT&T, especially with the iPhone.
  • I live in the SF Bay Area.
  • Generally AT&T's service is solid in Las Vegas. There is one major area where there is absolutely NO service. That area is the new City Center development. T-Mobile works perfectly; while Verizon & Sprint have very shaky service in the area.
    Doesn't make sense to lack service in such a major tourism and business area. A lot of frustrated business people, conventioners, tourists, employees, etc., without service. Nothing but frustrated AT&T customers throughout the near $9 billion development.
  • When the NYT wrote a column exonerating AT&T and blaming the iPhone hardware, Ars wrote a nice rebuttal. ( ) largely placing most of the blame back at AT&t's feet. However, one anonymous source in the article maintains the iPhone's power management scheme could share some responsibility here. The source claims the iPhone, to preserve power, switches the radio back and forth from active to idle far more often than most phones, overloading the signalling channel even though the reception is otherwise fine. While I do not have problems as frequently as those reported in NYC, and am generally happy with my iPhone, the list of issues the article suggests this can cause is quite familiar.
  • typical response here, some jumped up pr*** thinks hes funny, why not slag off the network not the phone, been using my iphone here in the uk on o2 for 12 months now, no dropped calls, one data outage for a very short time. the phone is fine, but put it on a weak network like a t & T and gets a bad rep grr
  • I live in Florida. And for the most part the iPhone works fine for me. I'm not having drop call issues. But if I remember correctly AT&T released an app that you can use to notify them of drop calls, failed calls etc. I don't know how much that would help the service though. But IMHO apple should let their contract with AT&T expire and let anybody use the iphone with any network
  • I live and work NYC, Brooklyn, queens, Staten Island, and NJ. Today I drove from Brooklyn to Plainfield, NJ, and back to NYC.
    Today's total: 3 dropped calls. 2 calls not connecting while I was in a 5- bar area. No reception 30 ft from the front door of a restaurant in NYC. My friends BB - Verizon - worked fine.
    My brother is pissed off enough at my dropped calls and crappy reception that he told me to get a new phone.
    SO, whose gonna pay the $165 ATT wants from me to cancel my service? The only way for me p to fix my ATT problem is to go back to Verizon.
  • I live in Sonoma CA and had Verizon, no problems for years. Then, because I liked the iPhone, I switched to AT&T. More dropped calls than with Verizon but at first I still felt it was worth it given I like the iPhone.
    Also, I was glad AT&T customer service answered their phones quickly when I called them. However, I now figure their customer service must be using another carrier for their lines because my cell phone works fine but the AT&T network is a nightmare. It is like going back 50 years...I don't even have a phone at home now that works. Moreover, my reception got worse after I called customer service and they performed some sort of supposed update. 1 of 15 attempts makes it through to a phone call and 1/5 of those get dropped!
  • 'Contracts' are a scam. Just like credit card fees and mortgage scams. Perhaps after a decade or so of millions of folks suffering severe financial injury a law will be passed and perhaps a decade or so after that we will as a country not only have regulations that protect individuals but also pay the taxes required to fund regulation of those laws. But then I'm an optimist.
  • at&t sucks in nyc. the tri state area of ny nj pa de ct has horrible at&t service. full bars and dropped calls are a daily ritual. i have gone thru several phones and sim card replacements to no avail. at&t finally looked into my acct and couldnt believe how many calls were dropped or failed that they gave me a partial refund for 4 months of service. although i was thankful my phone still sucks and clients dont want to hear excuses. now when i call they act as though they never had that in my records. still stuck in the contract.. the marriage of apple and att was a big mistake.
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