November 11, 2010, 11:37 AM
Blogger

Dear AT&T, what’s your secret sauce?

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

I’m going to preface this blog post by stressing that much of the evidence found within it is purely anecdotal. However, I do have evidence; it’s just mainly based on personal experience and TV commercials. My evidence through personal experience is as good as gold. As for the commercials, well, I may need a little more proof.

The thought had been lingering for awhile, but an announcement this week struck a chord that’s forced me vocal. It occurred on the day of the launch of Windows Phone 7—the mobile operating system designed to be the smartphone comeback kid for Microsoft. While I’m writing a news story about the launch, skimming the announcement, I see this phrase: “AT&T and T-Mobile stores in the U.S. are now selling Windows Phone 7 devices.” That’s it for now. Those are the only two carriers.

Now, I believe I have mentioned in previous blog posts that I am a semi-recent iPhone owner. The iPhone, as I’m sure all you savvy m-commerce professionals are aware, is only available on AT&T for now. So by my count, AT&T has nabbed two deals to be a main carrier for two sophisticated and highly sought-after smartphones.

My question: Why?

My iPhone is lovely. The design is intuitive, user-friendly and sleek. But, if you come away with one point in this entire post it would be this: The only thing I don’t like about my iPhone is being forced to be on AT&T’s network. Let me say it again: The only thing I don’t like about my iPhone is being forced to be on AT&T’s network.

AT&T drops nearly every call of mine that lasts more than 10 minutes and texts often do not go through. I purchased my iPhone because I want to participate in m-commerce and use apps and the mobile web. However, I feel as though I have to sacrifice the basics—calling and texting—because the iPhone is only available on AT&T. Mobile web users want to talk from time to time, too!

Want evidence? Take a gander at my Facebook page. You’ll see a post from my sister: “Too bad AT&T cut our phone call short on Sunday! Miss you!” On Saturday of the same weekend, I was catching up with my pregnant best friend and the call dropped as well. First words when I called my pal back? “I see you’re still using the iPhone.” Sending a text message successfully also can be a difficult mission. It requires me to stand in a few plotted strategic locations throughout my apartment.

And I’m not the only one.

A few weeks ago my friend excitedly posted on Facebook: “I’m thinking about an iPhone, any friends have thoughts or feedback?”

Responses included:

“As long as you can pay the prices that AT&T charges you for the insanely average service, you will love your iPhone.”

“Apple lover. Atnt hater.”

“I just read an article in the paper this morning saying that Verizon still plans to start offering the iPhone early next year. If you decide on the iPhone, definitely try waiting for Verizon because AT&T totally sucks.”

Ahhh. So it’s not just me.

Before I purchased my beautiful iPhone, I always wondered why AT&T focused so much of its marketing efforts on their coverage. Not only 3G network coverage, mind you, but basic coverage. You know the one with the boyfriend in France and the girl by the lake pining away and then she receives a message, or the piece with the orange drapes covering beaches and office buildings to symbolize the vast network?  Now I know.

When I was on my not-smart Verizon phone I got reception on a decent amount of Chicago’s underground train system. Now that scenario is nothing but a distant dream. I think it says a lot for Apple’s designers that I’m sticking with the iPhone despite being pigeon-holed into AT&T’s network. If I was on my old Samsung Intensity, I’d be off AT&T in a heartbeat.

I did put some feelers out to my analyst pals who own iPhones to see how their service has been. Nikki Baird, managing partner at Retail Systems Research, noted that living in Denver, she does not experience the same issues as me. However, she followed that with: “I just got back yesterday from a conference in Las Vegas, and if it had not been for WiFi, my iPhone might as well have been a brick for all the good it did me – someone called me during the lunch hour, and I didn’t even get the notification of the voicemail until 8pm that night.”

To give AT&T a fair shake, I’ve yet to experience my iPhone much in other cities. And much of the poor coverage feedback I receive is from iPhone owners in and around Chicago. But still, you’d think a wireless carrier would focus on getting it right in a metropolitan city of nearly 8 million, many of whomare tech-loving iPhone touters.

To AT&T's credit, they were quick with a response: 

"It’s important to note that we’re investing more than any other company – we have a planned investment of $18-$19 billion this year, with billions of that investment going to wireless network improvements. We’re seeing improved service in many major markets, including Chicago. In addition, we continue to have record-low churn levels, which is a great indicator that customers are very happy with the service that AT&T is providing."

The contact also offered to have me provide my mobile number and investigate problems. I just might try it.

A Microsoft spokesperson said Windows is working with many carriers for Windows Phone 7 and will add Sprint and Verizon in 2011. It also added it's worked with AT&T in the smartphone market since 2002 and AT&T was one of the first carriers first to demonstrate strong support for Windows Phone 7.

Comments | 4 Responses

  • Take a look at Verizon's Facebook page and they are even more negative towards Verizon

  • I have an iPhone and I love it. I also work for AT&T, but I'd love the iPhone regardless. I regret the problems you've experience, but undeniably EVERY service provider has connectivitiy issues on occasion. Our network is no different. As you are aware, AT&T is spending billiions (with a B) to upgrade our network. According to a study published yesterday in Bloomberg Business Week, "AT&T’s wireless network performs better than systems maintained by other top carriers including Verizon Wireless in many markets, according to new data from start-up RootMetrics, a mobile network performance service." [Link to story below] No provider can guarantee 100% connectivity 100% of the time, and it is possible that the iPhone may be contributing to your problems (if you are holding it in a way that blocks the antennae). All the best. (http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/techbeat/archives 2010/11/att_mobilitys_network_fares_better_than_rivals_in_14_mar ets.html)

  • Notice the positive comments about AT&T come from AT&T employees. They are working on their customer service but that does not fix their perpetual network problems. Unfortunately the $$ spent on the upgrade might come to late ... after frustrated users switch to Verizon.

  • I've also had the same difficulties after switching over to AT&T from T-Mobile. I switched solely for the iPhone and have been very disappointed so far in the service even though my monthly bill is almost double what it used to be. I find it nearly impossible to use my phone during peak usage periods such as rush hour in Chicago when I most want to be using my iPhone to pass the time on my daily commute on the train. If it were not for the iPhone, i would have ditched AT&T's shotty network long ago.

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