iPhone MMS Feature Adds Another Challenge for ATandT's Network

For iPhone users in New York and San Francisco, the news that AT&T will be launching MMS messaging capabilities later in September perhaps may be bittersweet. Despite the potential of 3G wireless, in heavy-traffic areas the network's speeds can feel closer to dial-up.

AT&T has announced that it will finally begin offering Multimedia Messaging Service capability to iPhone users on Sept.25, a feature that carriers around the world have been offering but that AT&T has so far not provided for its eager U.S. customers.
While this is cause for celebration among some iPhone users, for those in densely packed cities such as New York and San Francisco, the news faces a more mixed response, as AT&T's service in these areas can sometimes feel more like dial-up than the promised 3G speeds.
A Sept. 2 article in The New York Times quotes one New York iPhone user as saying, "What good is having all those applications if you don't have the speed to run them?" He told the Times that his iPhone often refuses to even place calls.
"There's been a lot of blaming of AT&T over [slow speeds], and you can blame them to some degree. But that was bound to happen," analyst Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, told eWEEK. "iPhones are essentially little computers, much more than they are phones, and they use a lot of data. So, they were going to put a strain on anybody's network."
Though it was maybe more particularly bound to happen on the AT&T network, which wasn't the hardiest of the lot when Apple first approached AT&T about the iPhone.
"Verizon was Apple's original preferred partner, but they were trying to dictate the terms of the agreement, and Apple doesn't play ball like that," Kay said-speaking over an iPhone from the Boston area, where he said his data speeds were snappy.
AT&T's network is already straining, and the company knows that with MMS it's unleashing a new flood of data onto the network, "but the issue is, they have to offer the capability," Kay said. "Having a network capable of carrying data is table stakes."
The demands AT&T faces, in its defense, are unprecedented, as the iPhone's capabilities encourage owners to use the phones more aggressively than has ever been the case before. An extreme example of this occurred during March's South by Southwest conference, at which the sudden concentration of highly tech-savvy device users slowed AT&T's network to nearly a halt.
Building out a network is a thing much easier said than done-requiring billions of dollars and years of effort-but AT&T insists that it's trying.
AT&T recently remarked in a statement, "We're riding the leading edge of smartphone growth that's resulted in an explosion of traffic over the AT&T network. The volume of smartphone data traffic the AT&T network is handling is unmatched in the wireless industry. We want you to know that we're working relentlessly to innovate and invest in our network to anticipate this growth in usage and to stay ahead of the anticipated growth in data demand, new devices and applications for years to come."
Kay said he believes that if AT&T really steps up, takes on the expense and improves its network, it'll be well rewarded in the end.
"Apple may have paved the way with the iPhone, but it's going to be everybody doing it, going forward," he said. "Everybody is already is using the Internet, but it's going to be even more people. The demands on the networks are only going to go up."