News Analysis: AT&T, burdened with the task of supporting all of those iPhone and iPad devices, is far behind the other carriers in moving to 4G technology.
A few days ago I reported on Verizon Wireless and its
plans to start
deploying its 4G LTE service to 30 cities in the United
States by the end of 2010. Recently, I also
talked about T-Mobile's interest in either investing
in Sprint's Clear 4G WiMax system or simply buying Sprint with Deutsche
Telekom. T-Mobile has also been readying an LTE launch that probably won't
happen until early next year, although the parent company is already in the
process of deploying LTE in Europe.
So where's AT&T in all of these plans? Apparently
still struggling to support all of those iPhones and iPads it's been selling.
One thing that AT&T failed to anticipate when it got the exclusive deal
from Apple to sell those devices is just how popular its 3G service would
Once it found out that the appetite for 3G data by
iPhones and iPads was basically insatiable, it was already behind the power
curve in deploying 3G. As a result, iPhone owners complained about poor
connections for data, they found that they sometimes couldn't even get a data
connection, and even when they could, the quality was frequently poor.
This isn't the best way for a wireless company to win
friends, so AT&T did what it had to do. It raised its rates for 3G. This
had two effects: One was to get users to be a little more moderate in their
thirst for data, and the other was to raise more money if they just kept on
sucking down those bits. That extra money was a good thing because it helped
AT&T raise the money to pay for more 3G expansion.
Problem is, all of that 3G expansion means that AT&T
doesn't have the kind of resources it needs to deploy 4G. It will still happen
eventually, of course, but it won't be as soon as it will be for the other
wireless carriers. In fact, it looks like it'll be about a year before AT&T
is able to deploy any of its LTE 4G network, and even by the end of 2011 it'll
only be able to serve about 75 million customers, a much smaller number than
Verizon Wireless will have by the end of 2010.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.