More People Question AT&T’s Network Capacity

We’ve been asking for quite some time now the question others seem to be getting around to: Does AT&T really have the network it needs to handle all its iPhone customers? A story out today on BusinessWeek asks the same question, albeit not with any deep insight into the way cell networks operate.

If you read the following excerpt from the story you can see both the report’s somewhat shallow understanding of cellular operations and AT&T’s non-answer answer on how to fix the problem:

One of the biggest choke points in AT&T’s network is found in what’s called back-haul capacity, or the size of the pipe that connects cell towers to the Internet, according to a person familiar with the matter. AT&T is trying to remedy this shortcoming by increasing its back-haul capacity. Donovan tells BusinessWeek that the company has nearly doubled the number of these connections it plans to add this year. While it had planned on adding 55,000, it now plans to add 100,000 to accommodate skyrocketing mobile traffic.

Not sure how much good all that backhaul will do if AT&T is still shorthanded when it comes to spectrum depth — the wireless “pipe” that reaches from the cell tower to the handset. We have asked the company to clarify its spectrum amounts before, but you can bet we will be waiting a long time for an answer because it’s not one that AT&T wants to publicize.

And while adding backhaul capacity will help improve existing tower operations, the simple fact is that with limited spectrum depth each tower can handle only so many user connections before performance drops.

So how much spectrum does AT&T have? We’re not the only ones interested in these kinds of answers. One thing AT&T will agree on is that when it comes to spectrum they are not the king of the hill — or should we repeat AT&T’s own words in its complaint to the FCC last year over the Clearwire merger? Sure, why not? Here’s an excerpt from that complaint:

In June 2008, Sprint Nextel Corporation and Clearwire Corporation filed at the Federal Communications Commission its application for merger approval. Our attached FCC filing shows that the combined company will become the largest holder of licensed and leased mobile spectrum of any other carrier, have a service that will be commercially available later this year, have financial backing from Google, Intel, and three of the nation’s largest cable television companies and be fully capable of substantially impacting competition in the mobile communications market.

Well said — but don’t take our word for it!

2 Responses to “More People Question AT&T’s Network Capacity”

  1. Bo Says:

    My favorite quote from an tech “Analyst”:
    “AT&T only needs to do a software upgrade to update their entire network to 7.2 Mbps,” she noted, citing the highest theoretical speed for AT&T’s upgrade. - Nadine Manjaro, a senior analyst at ABI Research

  2. Paul Says:

    Top notch analysis, eh? Since it’s just a software upgrade… should happen any day now!

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