LAS VEGAS — Even as AT&T publicly dodges responsibility for the well publicized iPhone congestion woes, the company Wednesday spelled out in detail how it is trying to alleviate the problem: By massively beefing up its “backhaul” to cellular towers, putting in 13,500 new T-1 lines and 238 DS-3 optical connections in New York and San Francisco alone.
AT&T Chief Technical Officer John Donovan also said the company added 2,000 new cell sites over the past year, with 900 of those in New York City and another 850 in San Francisco, two cities where iPhone woes were felt the strongest. AT&T’s “aggressive backhaul project” is ongoing, Donovan said, and will target Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Charlotte, N.C. and Miami in the coming year. While the T-1 lines can bring fast relief in the form of approximately 1.5 Mbps of bandwidth in each line, the DS-3s are workhorses, adding 45 Mbps or so with each fiber connection.
Donovan’s comments were part of Ma Bell’s developer summit held here at the Palms Resort Wednesday, where AT&T also announced plans to add a wide mix of new smartphone handsets including Android-based devices from Motorola and Palm OS devices, alongside plans to make it easier for developers to build web-style apps and widgets for midrange or “feature” cellphones. All that pending activity, however, means that Donovan and AT&T’s technical crew will be working overtime to get the network in shape for the expected continued expansion of mobile data use.
By adding to backhaul — the description for the bandwidth being brought from the core network to the cellular radio towers — AT&T should be able to alleviate some of the iPhone congestion problems. But AT&T still has some concerns about its available wireless spectrum, which Donovan said is at a premium.
While AT&T will be able to use its recently purchased 700 MHz spectrum assets for its planned move to Long Term Evolution (LTE) in 2011 (where he said AT&T will also use its dormant AWS spectrum for LTE uplink traffic), for the next year or so Donovan must make AT&T’s 3G network stable on its existing holdings, which range from about 25 MHz to 50 MHz in most markets. Upgrading its 3G network to HSPA 7.2 technology will help some, though not much since the balance of AT&T’s devices aren’t compatible with the newer, faster service that will be coming online soon.
“If you do the math [on the cell site expansion] we’re burning through spectrum pretty quickly,” Donovan said. “I’m restless about it, but I’m not losing sleep… yet.”