AT&T doubling network speeds to 7.2Mbps - Great…do you have a signal?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 4:09
Posted in category AT&T, Cellular Technologies

Carriers in the U.S. have long had a fascination with advertising themselves as the fastest, biggest, or most reliable network.  Really who could blame them?  It is a PR move meant to attract as many customers as humanly possible.  In the age of increasing smartphone use, more and more people are in tune to and concerned with how fast the network is as it will allow their mobile web browsing to be much more fluid and desktop like.  Sure faster speeds are always a big plus, but what if you can’t even get a reliable signal let alone any signal at all?  What good is all of that speed?


It is no secret that AT&T is upgrading their network for what many believe (and is pretty much a given) is preperation for a next gen iPhone which supposedly will support 7.2Mbps download speeds, it is told on countless gadget blogs.  So now we will be able to browse twice as fast, right?  Well not so fast.  Remember the current iPhone will download at a max of 3.6Mbps, however in real world use I personally have never achieved speeds of higher than 1.1Mbps on 3G.  Is it my network?  Quite possible as I have seen countless accounts and screenshots over the internet of faster speeds.  Though, accounts can be misspoken and pictures photoshoped.  So with a 7.2Mbps ceiling will the new iPhone touch 2Mbps or even run at half the theoretical maximum at a brisk 3.6Mbps?  It is nice to dream isn’t as distance from the cell tower and how many users on a tower all have a negative impact on your performance as the numbers increase in each instance.


The increase of speed and support for more speed is always a big plus, however, what good is all of that speed if you don’t have a signal to begin with, either because the signal doesn’t reach into the cave that is your office, or because AT&T simply hasn’t built 3G out into your area.  Wouldn’t one think that before you upgrade to a faster speed that you would want to be a little more diligent in rolling out 3G support to all of your network so you don’t have to keep supporting and stuffing multiple radios in every handset?  It would be cheaper for everyone.  Granted a full 3G rollout would cost millions of dollars more and possibly even several extra years meaning AT&T could very possibly fall behind in the speed race that has cropped up between carriers.  In the upgrade to faster 3G and even the eventual and scheduled late ‘09/early ‘10 release of 4G, their network will become even more stratified.  Just increasing speed alone won’t make happy customers.  And if the customer is happy because they live in the miniscule footprint of your new higher speed area, I’m sure they won’t be to happy when they venture far from their living room only to realize that was the extent of their increased browsing speeds.


In reality, the upgrade to 7.2Mbps speeds isn’t as bad as the upgrade to full on 4G will be I believe .  Why?  Well the 7.2 upgrade is a software based upgrade whereas 4G will require some infrastructure upgrades meaning more money and time to upgrade.  So in the end we will again have small pockets of 4G with a larger pocket of *higher speed* 3G, lower speed 3G, Edge, and finally GPRS bringing up the rear.  One might being to question why it takes  carriers so long to upgrade their network.  Carriers themselves have been asked that numerous times in interview after interview.  Their answer?  More or less they will blame economic conditions, poor profits or money at the time, atmospheric conditions (ok not the last one) or whatever else they can dream up.  In reality it often boils down to greed.  They want to keep their pockets as plush as possible while having to dole out as little money as possible on upgrades - especially hardware/infrastructure upgrades because they are mighty expensive.


Then the whole issue of network integrity comes in to play.  You may have the “nations fastest 3G network”, however that is only if you can get a signal or keep a call from dropping long enough to get anything accomplished.  It is no secret AT&T has these problems, and even in places one would think their signal would be rock solid.  Cities such as Chicago and New York just to highlight two of the biggest and most confusing problem cities.  I myself have god awful AT&T reception in Chicago.  I can have 5 bars showing on the phone yet the signal is cutting in and out to the point I can’t even carry on a conversation.  Shouldn’t AT&T focus on increasing the amount of load and users they can handle before worrying about speed for the few?


Will the upgraded 3G speeds see a faster rollout than the move from 2g Edge to 7.2Mbps 3G speeds?  It is quite possible.  However the real test will be the bigger cities and higher load areas.  Will AT&T upgrade their network to allow better usage for a larger number of people?  Or, will they continue to push speed of reliability and concentrate only on the few?



Image Source: Work Point Inc.

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One Response to “AT&T doubling network speeds to 7.2Mbps - Great…do you have a signal?”

  1. Gib says:

    April 21st, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    I think you did a good job of looking at the speed increase. While it does look good on paper, ATT’s coverage is nothing to be excited about to begin with. They need to spend some serious money IN THE USA on their network or one day soon customers in masse will get upset and find someone else who has massive coverage in their country and can provide fast data speeds without any networks being crashed.

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