November 11, 2010, 11:37 AM

Dear AT&T, what’s your secret sauce?

The only thing I don’t like about my iPhone is AT&T’s network.

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.

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