Heavy Data Use Puts a Strain on AT&T Service

Heavy Data Use Puts a Strain on AT&T Service

By JENNA WORTHAM September 3, 2009

Slim and sleek as it is, the iPhone is really the Hummer of cellphones.

It's a data guzzler. Owners use them like minicomputers, which they are, and use them a lot. Not only do iPhone owners download applications, stream music and videos and browse the Web at higher rates than the average smartphone user, but the average iPhone owner can also use 10 times the network capacity used by the average smartphone user.

"They don't even realize how much data they're using," said Gene Munster, a senior securities analyst with Piper Jaffray.

The result is dropped calls, spotty service, delayed text and voice messages and glacial download speeds as AT&T's cellular network strains to meet the demand. Another result is outraged customers.

Cellphone owners using other carriers may gloat now, but the problems of AT&T and the iPhone portend their future. Other networks could be stressed as well as more sophisticated phones encouraging such intense use become popular, analysts say.

Taylor Sbicca, a 27-year-old systems administrator in San Francisco, checks his iPhone 10 to 15 times a day. But he is not making calls. He checks the scores of last night's baseball game and updates his Twitter stream. He checks the local weather report to see if he needs a coat before heading out to dinner - then he picks a restaurant on Yelp and maps the quickest way to get there.

Or at least, he tries to.


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Reply to
Monty Solomon
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Hmmm, this may actually may be the good side of the iPhone. :-)

It could force an earlier demise of TDMA and the adoption of CDMA (and the elimination of the GSM TDMA-induced interference :-)

For a general not-too-technical distinction between CDMA and TDMA:


Reply to
Thad Floryan

It's coming. The next generation of GSM, known as LTE, uses CDMA. You should start seeing it in a year or two, which is quite fast by telco standards.

Even better, all of the major US carriers plan to use LTE so we may return to the good olde days when you could use any phone on any network.

R's, John

Reply to
John Levine

Many people must carry two cellphones, one for personal use, and one from their employer. Cellphones should be like keysets, able to handle multiple lines, a hold button, and push-to-talk intercom. (Only problem is where to fit the six buttons on today's tiny phones. Heck, the designation strip alone occupies more square inches than the phone has.)

Reply to

So history repeats itself...back in the early days of computer time sharing the phone companies complained because the holding times on data calls were so much longer than was typical for voice calls. This required additional trunks and switches in the central offices to maintain service quality.

Reply to
Jim Haynes

Yep, commercial data - and about 10 years ago Dial-up Internet connections

- really bent the old Erlang calculations way out of shape.

Who still recalls the "Internet Gridlock" hysteria about 10-15 years ago and how the whole voice network was going to collapse because of long modem calls......

Reply to
David Clayton

Which just reminded me of "something odd" that occurred back in the 1960s and early 1970s here in Silicon Valley. Many of us at Tymshare would do what is now known as telecommute. Turns out one programmer lived in Los Gatos and we couldn't figure out why he'd lose the data connection every

2 hours like clockwork. He ended up setting a timer to 1 hour 55 minutes, log off, reset the timer, then call back and log in, ad infinitum.

Long story short, Los Gatos was served by GTE (the rest of Silicon Valley was Pac Bell) and GTE thought a 2-hour call was an indication of equipment failure, so they'd drop the call at the CO.

I don't recall exactly how that problem was resolved because many of us would be off hook and on-line for 8-12 (or more) hours a day developing software.

Reply to
Thad Floryan

One time I was out in the wilds of Iowa, and there was something printed in the phone book (small independent company) to the effect that calls were limited in duration and would be automatically disconnected after so many minutes.

Reply to
Jim Haynes

I can't see a timed drop call at 2 hours because it thought there was a problem. Most GTE switches were 53 or 53A at that time. There were also a few 72's. I have worked on them and have never seen that. Some switches had electronic front ends, but that could only happen if they dropped, maybe it was something in the PacBell trunk.

Reply to

That's possible. The 2-hour drop was a fact (I saw it occur after being invited there to see what might be the problem) and it could have been PacBell "doing a number" (no pun :-) on calls from the GTE service area.

Reply to
Thad Floryan

In 1979 I was a summer student doing programming. We would spent hours on the phone telling customers exactly what to punch character by character as we made changes via voice. If there were too many changes then we'd courier the 8" floppy. We would regularly hit this

2 hour limitation when talking from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay.

Now that I think about it Thunder Bay was/is it's own telco. Most of our other customers were in Manitoba so that may account for the difference.

(Side note: When I mentioned to my mother that I might have to make a business trip to Thurnder Bay she said, in a dreamy sort of voice, "You were conceived in Thunder Bay.". Dad was a drywaller then and they spent the first year they were married there.)


Reply to
Tony Toews [MVP]

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