iPhone data usage forces AT&T to readjust their network setup

Fri, Apr 2, 2010


The enormous amount of bandwidth consumed from iPhone users has taught AT&T a thing or two about how to more effectively and efficiently handle their networks, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal.

Speaking to the Journal, AT&T CTO Jon Donovan observed that no other carrier has had to deal with the volume of data that runs through AT&T’s network on a daily basis. While surges in bandwidth usage have often led to subpar service, especially in major cities like New York, Donovan notes that it has helped AT&T learn how to more properly manage its network and that “continued improvements” in large cities will be coming soon.

For example, AT&T said when iPhone customers started checking their email and surfing the Web from their high-rise offices, AT&T repositioned its cellular antennas to point up, instead of down. Rivals will start the process of making the same changes only after the phones hit their networks, it said.

The iPhone taught AT&T other lessons its rivals will discover through customer trial-and-error. Before the iPhone, it used to be able to accurately forecast to the minute the type of phone usage each new customer would add to its network based on basic demographics such as age and income levels. The forecast always held true across cities and towns.

But with the iPhone, such bets are off, AT&T executives painfully learned. It now looks at a broader set of customer profiles to forecast behaviors. For example, in a metro area with a large proportion of students, the phone operator schedules network upgrades to occur outside of colleges’ nine-month academic terms.

Journal also writes that closer cooperation between Apple and AT&T has helped reduce network strain. It notes that AT&T last year flew two executives to Cupertino with the express purpose of convincing Apple CEO Steve Jobs that AT&T was working hard to fix well-known network inefficiencies. Also on the agenda? Give Apple designers a “crash course in wireless networking.”

The end result was a mutually beneficial relationship that saw AT&T engineers visit more frequently with Apple engineers, and ultimately resulted in Apple tweaking the iPhone in such a way as to reduce the data load placed on AT&T’s network.

Apple rejiggered how its phones communicate with AT&T’s towers. As a result, the phones now put less of a load on the network for such simple tasks as finding the closest tower or checking for available text messages.

“They’re well past networking 101, 201 or 301,” said Mr. Donovan. Apple, he said, is now “in a Master’s class.”

With the iPad 3G ready to hit the streets in about a month, we can only hope that AT&T’s network is up to the challenge. If history is any indication, though, iPhone and iPad users are in for a world of disappointment. But as the great Principal Skinner once said, “Prove me wrong kids. Prove. Me. Wrong.”


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