Apple iPhone Keeps ATandT's 4G Migration on Hold

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 be.

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

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...