Vendors Make Hay Thanks to AT&T Unreliability

I noticed a fun trend percolating under the covers at this year’s CTIA trade show in San Francisco, as a number of vendors were quietly pitching their products as a way to mollify disgruntled iPhone users either by way of giving a boost to AT&T’s woeful service or by providing corresponding services that work over WiFi for those many instances where AT&T’s are inaccessible.

I noticed a fun trend percolating under the covers at this year's CTIA trade show in San Francisco, as a number of vendors were quietly pitching their products as a way to mollify disgruntled iPhone users either by way of giving a boost to AT&T's woeful service or by providing corresponding services that work over WiFi for those many instances where AT&T's are inaccessible.

As I've written about frequently, the iPhone lost most of its luster among the eWEEK lab crew over the last year, as the AT&T service is so astoundingly poor in our downtown San Francisco offices that the device is functionally useless as a phone during work hours. Without the WiFi coverage I provide for everybody in the office, the iPhone would also be useless for data as well during business hours here.

Indeed, I could no longer justify paying 80 some-odd dollars a month for AT&T's paltry service (which didn't work in my house either), quitting in February despite the 18 months remaining on my contract. And my colleague Cameron Sturdevant seems close behind , although he's not mad enough about it to pay the Early Termination Fee.

I challenged some folks from Wilson Electronics, maker of an array of cell phone signal boosters and mobile antennas, to come by my office to see whether they could fix the dreadful service in our office in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Unfortunately, they failed to bring a unit with them to the meeting, but I still had fun watching them try to place a call from an iPhone 4 while sitting in P. J. Connolly's cube (maybe 15 feet from an eastward-facing window that looks down Mission Street).

Three bars of service got them two failed outbound calls, two unreceived inbound calls and a whopping zero bits of throughput on a download speed test for a whopping zero percent success rate.

Wilson dropped off a couple of their Sleek Universal Cell Phone Signal Boosters later that afternoon, one of which I promptly gave to Cameron, before his iPhone love affair spasmed into its final death throe. With the booster set up, his first four or five test calls worked, which is a minor miracle 'round these parts.

We'll check back with him later to see how it's going.

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In other news, I met with Toktumi at the Pepcom event during the CTIA off-hours, as they were touting the latest enhancements to their Line2 WiFi VOIP app for Apple's iOS. Specifically, Toktumi announced that Line2 now supports unlimited SMS texting (but no MMS picture or video sharing at this time) to other mobile devices within the U.S. and Canada.

When added to Toktumi's existing features like a real phone number, unlimited domestic VOIP calls, visual voicemail, 20-person conference calls, caller ID and other auto-attendant capabilities, the app makes a pretty compelling case as a second phone line on the iPhone - one that may be more usable than the first, more expensive one from AT&T. Or in my case, Toktumi could be the only line, since I continue to use the iPhone over WiFi for media consumption, games, social networking and Web browsing, gleefully not paying AT&T a monthly stipend for what amounted to just the idea of service rather than actual service.

More to the point, Toktumi is also pointing Line2 toward those with non-phone Apple mobile devices, too. Line2 should work equally well on the iPad (once iOS 4.2 launches) and iPod Touches.

From my initial trials, the SMS feature works just as it would from a mobile device, as the receiver sees my Toktumi caller ID and can respond back to the app (unlike with Skype texting, which shows a nonexistent callerID number).

Line2 is a free download from Apple's App Store and comes with 30 days of free service. After 30 days, monthly service costs $9.95 a month for the basic services including the phone number and unlimited calling and texting within the U.S. and Canada. Users wanting an auto-attendant, conference calling and custom greetings can pay $14.95 a month for those and other features.