Just in case they take a little longer than mid 2011 to deploy LTE with a magically firm backhaul supporting it and at least one phone with a compatible radio to make their customers happy in the event of Verizon failing to absorb enough iPhone defectors, AT&T, which among other superlative things calls themselves the largest wifi network, announced today that they intend to deploy a bunch of public wifi routers, which for whatever reason they call hotzones, into major markets starting with midtown Manhattan and Embarcadero Center in San Francisco to make whoever it occurs to turn on wifi and connect to such routers less frustrated with the utter failure of AT&T to deliver adequate cellular data service on a typical day in such areas and presumably Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

I’m I the only one who thinks this situation has switched from being awful to a joke to pathetic to not funny anymore to being a bright sign to try another carrier?

Hotzones, baby; hotzones. Sounds like a new super-range wifi, right? Surely it’s not the same equipment you have behind the TV to cover not just a spot but a super hot zone? What, because there are a series of them overlapping each other’s range you can glide from one to the next? Don’t count on it, your phone won’t be transmitting any louder first of all to somehow take advantage of better range to a single router, and do you happen to have a phone that will hop onto the nearest available unencrypted wifi network (oh yeah, that’s another issue with this over cellular, no encryption)? I don’t, never did, and for a good reason. Better hope those pesky Google Street View cars aren’t on patrol in these zones from the sound of it. If there’s any way this switches gears to strong encryption it must involve a schlep on the users’ end or some dopey application. Correct me if I’m wrong, AT&T. I sure wouldn’t want to blog about you sucking even slightly more than you actually suck.

So for those AT&T customers with wifi-enabled phones who join these presumably unencrypted networks over and over as they move around an area with a bunch of buildings and other thick obstacles to radio waves with wifi draining their phones even faster, sounds like their problems are over (especially if they use Google Voice for SMS as that would go over wifi, and for free I might add), though now might not be the worst time for AT&T to encourage Google to unleash Google Voice VoIP over wifi. Scratch that, AT&T has more or less kept their distance from Android because, in spite of what pretty much every other carrier in the world believes, it’s better for business to focus almost exclusively on the Blackberry Torch.

AT&T claims that the wifi routers they’ve deployed thus far have been pretty popular, as if that’s something for the fastest 3G network people to brag about, though they stop short of directly suggesting that by offloading some would-have-theoretically-been cellular data traffic to a completely separate arrays of short-range networks will make their data and at times voice and also SMS over cellular services usable in places like midtown Manhattan (my favorite example). And you can bet your last dollar that it won’t.

You know, if I were still an AT&T customer, what I’d appreciate instead of these grand announcements, which dodge acknowledging that calling themselves the fastest this and the largest that might not have been the right wording when declaring that they’re working on wrapping the gunshot wound that is their abysmal densely-populated service with a little more gauze, is delivering the noticeable improvements first and then telling people about it. Or letting people discover it on their own and let the web rejoice on its own about it, no press release required. On the other hand, I guess I’m just the type of guy who at an airport would rather hear an honest time estimate announced of my plane being delayed and rather than hearing “Another forty minutes or so folks” every hour. You?

To AT&T’s credit, Verizon, who has more subscribers using, and google this all you want if you don’t believe me, more data hungry phones and subscribers than AT&T does by a huge margin, does not claim to have the nation’s largest wifi network. What’s up with that, Big Red? What, those “thirty  NFL cities” you claimed to have blanketed with LTE by the end of the year with your already LTE-capable HTC Thunderbolt to be announced in a week at the CES, you’re gonna pass that off as wifi hotzone technology because LTE’s IP-based and might be faster than your existing network? Please. With all those subscribers and data flying around, not having the nation’s largest wifi hotzone network, that’s just damn irresponsible. Instead you’re pushing mini hotspot devices that drain your network’s resources. That’s cellular suicide, by AT&T’s model at least.

By the way, even though this sounds dumb versus saving wifi surfers a few steps by opening it up to everyone at least on New Year’s Eve, you’ll be needing a “qualifying wireless data, LaptopConnect and AT&T High Speed Internet” plans if you want to connect to these things which I assume means that there is some sort of authentication procedure before you get on the network and I doubt AT&T has everyone’s MAC address to do that automatically. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to rely on what I’m paying T-Mobile to deliver as advertised and as demonstrated.

Tl;dr? Judging by their most recent press release, AT&T will continue to suck at least in Manhattan and Frisco with equal or greater force well beyond mid 2011.

Doug Simmons


  1. I don’t know why you guys keep bitching about AT&T. I live in Dallas, a densely populated city, and I get over 1.2mbits per second up and down consistently on my AT&T iphone versus my roommate who’s got a Verizon Droid that tops out at 790kbps.

    And no, I’m not using wifi to get those speeds. As a matter of fact, every iphone I’ve gotten my hands on in Dallas performs just as well, in some cases better, throughout the city.

  2. Umm… bro, not only is that really anecdotal, but Dallas is the home of AT&T and quite a bit less dense than NYC (and you).

    Why do all these people on the internet keep bitching about AT&T much more than any other carrier? Ever heard the saying “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” man?

    Think I read on this site, maybe another Simmons article actually (probably), where some commenter said that AT&T doesn’t suck and all the people whining about it sucking is just residual horde mentality from a brief moment (iphone introduction) when the network momentarily sucked. Thanks for the lol, whoever said that.

  3. Hey Doug, like your style, always have. Also like T-Mobile’s style, always have (since my G1).

    I don’t mean to sound forward but maybe later tonight you could go on the market and install Tango, the video conferencing (“Facetime”) thing for Android, add my email to your contacts, and you and I could have a little .. facetime? And, you know, discuss each other’s .. framerates? If your .. throughput’s as good as mine I can assure you that nothing will be pixelated ;)


  4. This is exactly what you can expect from other carriers in very densely populated areas where smartphone data hungriness has grown to a level that is not possible to serve without placing 3G towers on top of every other house. Nothing surprising at all and it will definitely come to Verizon Wireless as soon as they reach the same penetration of iPhones. At least AT&T tries to improve the situation in a more “brain friendly” way (i.e. less radiation of the same type compared to installing more 3G towers).

  5. erdoke: Did Verizon not handle even more data than AT&T did last year? Are Verizon’s smart phones on average not more data-hungry than the iPhone?

    And cumulatively would you not throw out a guess that in order to cover the same amount of territory with a conventional cell towars but with wifi routers you’d still have this brain unfriendliness? And did you consider that people using these hotzones would have both their wifi and their cellular radios on at the same time in order to get voice, making the situation worse?

  6. man, you really know how to blow something out of proportion doug, i mean, yeah NYC is big and all, but really, do you honestly think NYC is the most important place in the world? erdoke is on the right track. NYC and frisco are 2 places in the entire U.S, what about all those mother lovin articles about AT&T kicking the snot out of everybody elses network ACROSS AMERICA… old news right? they cant be that good still even though it was less than 6 months ago that some other 3rd party researcher said AT&T was king of mobile data speeds… i got a feeling your “marital bliss” your having with your carrier will end shortly after your honey moon… i hope the same doesnt happen with your actual wife… she might be mad your cheating on her with t-mobile…

  7. I live in Los Angeles and have a new Windows Phone 7 on AT&T’s network and I never drop a call…unless I’m talking to an iPhone user. In fact, the ONLY people I ever hear complaining about AT&T usually have an iDevice in hand and they never, ever, EVER even consider that it might be the fault of the device. I mean Apple “just works” so it must be AT&T, right??

  8. @Doug Simmons:

    I have no comparable numbers on mobile data throughput. If you have these please share. Surely, I’m not interested in sold smartphone numbers and theoretical usage scenarios for these. Actual data for NYC and SF area would make sense here, but I guess these are difficult to obtain.
    There is a limit with mobile towers and also there are areas where it’s more difficult to get all permissions to install new towers. So you are not able to improve performance your network even if you would like to. Maybe it’s easier to install these WiFi hotspots in NYC than increase density of 3G towers.

  9. First of all, yes, I do think NYC is the most important place in the world; second, technically it’s not cheating as she and I now openly have a t-mobile family plan and we even share our location on Google Latitude.

    I know that this doesn’t come from as solid a source as “some third party researcher” but what do you make of this, sm0k3y, that Consumer Reports, from a survey of 58K people, recently ranked AT&T as the worst carrier? JD Power and whoever, never heard of them, but they just tapped T-Mobile as the best in customer service which is exactly what they’ve given me.

  10. well, doug, JD actually answered that for you… idevice… plain and simple and i wasnt talking about 3rd party "these people are liked more" results, im talking about data speeds, none of the awards you mention AT&T being left out of have anything to do with data speeds, and more to do with customer service… and it comes back to mob mentality, how many people with an idevice will fault the carrier before there own precious device, just because theres a notion out there that they "just work" fuck all that, your argument is all fluff, glad to hear your wife is up for threesomes though… need to find me one of them.

  11. erdoke: Imagine walking down the street, passing lots of people owning various AT&T smart phones. I’m talking about an outside sidewalk, not this website.

    You think a significant portion of those people (as in at least one in ten), even with their arm twisted by a phone that doesn’t seem to function when they go to work in the place most heavily concentrated by people going to work in the tri state area would go and find out about this wifi thing, which few clusters of blocks in the city it covers, and figure out how to enable wifi (after being willing to leave it running), pick out which SSID is the AT&T one, join it and eventually convince it that the phone belongs to an AT&T subscriber with the right plan and just keep doing that until AT&T comes up with a better solution?

    Another thing, in addition to data, that fails in such parts of the city is voice, even though that gets prioritized over Internet data. And SMS, big delays with that too. Good luck relying on any means of AT&T wireless communication when trying to meet someone on a particular train car in Grand Central Terminal. If someone has to rely on using a SIP client, a site like sipgate and Google Voice for voice, SMS and data, would you not call it unacceptable that these people are paying the full price for service for their AT&T cell phones?

    Why isn’t AT&T handing out femtocells, apology letters and ETF amnesty to those in these hotzone deployment areas instead of some short range wifi routers? How many floors off the ground will these things cover? Lots of buildings in the city. Any chance that if these things get enough usage to be worth mentioning in a press release that they’ll all be as saturated as the cellular network?

    This is another instance of AT&T stringing along frustrated subscribers and irked shareholders that any day now things will improve because they’re throwing the book at the problem, like with this hotzone, HSPA+ and 4G LTE announcements. They ought to try announcing what to me would be the most convincing thing to placate people, that soon Verizon will carry the iPhone and suck at least as much as them, both with iPhones and Android phones, based on logic like sm0k3y’s.

  12. you know what the funny thing is… there still in business, and adding subscriber base as well… and they dont have to cut thier prices to be lower than everyone elses to do it. sorry you feel this way doug. and im sorry for the suckers you convinced to switch to t-mobile and then they realize they dont have half the nationwide coverage they used to… way to scam people simmons…

  13. This is interesting, escalating from being called a fanboy to a con artist.

    How did we get to this point? Think I rigged the seven tests in that youtube clip somehow? Think I tested a bunch of other areas in which AT&T won and left them out? Some trick photography perhaps? Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough for you where those tests took place?

    Worth noting, sm0k3y, that there is more New Yorker traffic to this site than there is from any other city.

    On behalf of my victims thanks for your sympathy, but for my own reference could you elaborate a little on in what way I scammed anyone?

  14. Guess I have to ask the question. If you know AT&T coverage in NYC sucks, and millions of New Yorkers know coverage sucks, and presumably AT&T at this point knows their coverage in the City sucks, then why aren’t they doing anything about it. Are they just being cheap. I can’t imagine that’s the case with competition and everything else on the line. I think erdoke may be close. I also know that the $2,500 navigation system in my Tahoe worked like shit when trying to navigate through the City.

  15. Here are the two articles that will leave you feeling like you’ve been given the most convincing answer to that question you’ll find:


    Strongly recommend you read that. In short, it’s not something that can be solved by putting up more and more towers and upgrading existing infrastructure; rather these problems will only go away for AT&T when they eventually roll out LTE. Meanwhile things will only get worse for AT&T subscribers. He also believes that Verizon’s network will comfortably absorb the iPhone:

    The premise that Verizon’s network will support the iPhone fine is now anecdotally supported by the fact that Verizon smartphone subscribers use more data than iPhone subscribers, and because Android phones actually use the same power saving disconnect methods that the iPhone popularized.

    Worth reading.

  16. @JD: Windows Phones don’t drop calls, even in NYC. That doesn’t change the fact that I can’t send an email with a photo attached without the recipient telling me that they received four emails…the first three have half a photo. That’s the point where the data cut off and then the phone tried to reconnect and resend until it goes through.

  17. regardless of what the traffic on this site suggests the world IS bigger than NYC, hell, america is bigger than NYC, and as i said in another post, im glad your happy with t-mo and you probably wont ever leave your all important city so thats great for you, but to people that live pretty much anywhere other than NYC (or even if you live there and work/play elsewhere) a company that doesnt even offer service in all 50 states cant be the best choice for a majority of people. plus, AT&T isnt going to accomplish anything other than wasting money even if they upgrade the site backhaul lines to fiber because its still touching down on copper 9 times out of 10 when it reaches whatever telco company has lines in the area. its not about number of towers

  18. I believe just about every single time I’ve brought up AT&T sucking, including before this T-Mobile era for me, I’ve specified explicitly that it sucks for me in “midtown Manhattan during business hours.” Were you to dig through my AT&T posts and comments that’s what you’d find.

    I’ve never said if I were going a coast to coast bike ride that I’d prefer to have T-Mobile or that I’d have little faith in AT&T relative to any carrier. Actually I’ve even said I’d welcome dead zones thanks to Google Maps Navigation caching, though I’ve very rarely found any, just a few on some back roads in New Hampshire which I escaped within a few minutes. Only on the highway but not one problem passing through Vermont. I’m not disputing what you’re saying about AT&T and the entire country.

    Fortunately this place is a blog where we have some people like you who don’t live in New York City or San Francisco but can chime in with the reality you face in Bumblefuck Vermont where you find AT&T’s wider coverage to be more significant than its urban shortcomings that I’ve highlighted for the other people who go to this site who live in other such places. Nothing stopping you from posting links to coverage maps or embedding pictures of them. Though again, a given visitor to this site is more likely to live in New York City than any other where by my accounts and plenty of others AT&T does in fact suck excessively, and I did a pretty good job quantifying by how much it sucks — though up to the audience to take PC Mag’s research firm’s word, which I believe I even linked, over mine.

    You apparently feel that way so much so that for me to go on and on about how T-Mobile is blazing fast compared to AT&T in NYC in which in some places AT&T doesn’t even work at all, that that is me scamming people, our readers, suckers, into going to T-Mobile, a place where you’ll pity them being once they fall for my trick.

    And that’s where you lose me.

  19. I sit here and read over these comments wondering how many different types of screw drivers you guys have in your tool boxes. I have at least two. I have phillips screw drivers and flat heads. Is one better than the other? It’s arguable, just like wireless carriers. If AT&T coverage in NYC is shitty, then don’t get it if you live there. I happen to live in a somewhat populated area of bumble-fuck NC known as Wilmington. You would most likely know my area from either one of these two travesties of home entertainment; Dawson’s Creek or One Tree Hill. Verizon and AT&T run neck and neck and my buddy (with a Droid X) and I (with my Surround) get exactly equal coverage everywhere. There isn’t going to be one carrier that kicks ass all up and down everywhere. I wouldn’t want that. Point is, if there was a major difference in coverage quality in NYC AT&T would be losing their ass. They aren’t. Which means, despite media coverage, there isn’t any kind of drastic difference. Thank god for capitalism and free markets. If there was one ubiquitous carrier it would probably be a company like Apple. They’d tell you that you don’t need cell phone signal.

  20. Hey look Matt as I said before you I’m not disputing that AT&T doesn’t have good coverage elsewhere, I safely assume wider than T-Mobile’s. But as the title of the drag racing articles suggested, NYC Drag Race or whatever, there are several examples of how AT&T stacks up to what you may consider to be adequate and to what T-Mobile delivers in seven different locations in Manhattan, the worst performance showing up where I’ve always contended it’s abysmal, midtown.

    I just got back from midtown. Had a session with a client, an old lady who decided it’s time to try computers and to do that with an iPad. 58th between Park and Madison, not far from the flagship Apple store, though still midtown. When I first made my way through the AT&T registration, wondering briefly why it was so laggy, it hit me that I should have bought a wifi router. Once I eventually got the NY Times app working and we were sitting down with it for the first time, AT&T was so bad that I had to distract her, talking about something technical, while I flipped through that NYTimes app to get it to cache the pages I was about to show her how to use so that she would get frustrated right away with the machine.

    Today I was going to buy her a wifi router from Radio Shack for $40 bucks to sweep this problem under the rug but I was running out of time and couldn’t make it without being late. Then it hits me, Hey, no problem, I’ll just tether the iPad over wifi through my T-Mobile Nexus S and get good performance and no 3G restrictions Apple imposes on certain applications. Seriously.

    Worked like a charm even with relatively large downloads like the iBooks app while teaching her email, little lag whereas before she’d keep tapping a link thinking she didn’t push it hard enough when in fact it was just AT&T taking forever to broker the relationship of the websites and Safari.

    I don’t know what more I have to do for you Matt than bitch for a while then eventually video head to head speed tests in several locations in my city to reveal to you that AT&T’s network is a joke in major parts of New York. I’ve been in Times Square my share of times (wife works there) over the past few years, I’m well acquainted with the performance there and not just on my Nexus One but on multiple WinMo phones. These were legit tests and the data is compelling.

    Changing the channel with you to CNBC, I don’t fully follow this logic that just because a company is making money and is financially healthy it means they’re currently providing acceptable service including providing that acceptable service in two cities that, incidentally, lie the top four of our US city audience. My old health insurance company makes a lot of money, they’ve pissed me off even than AT&T. They both suck and they’re both making bank. Let me grab another example out of the air: Airlines stopped giving you free food and luggage, the TSA’s become a real pain in the balls, flying sucks yet the airlines are suddenly doing a lot better precipitated, apparently, by these changes toward things consumers have made it clear they don’t like.

    We don’t know how much T-Mobile USA makes, they’re private. But if you want to talk finance, the number that I’d suggest is the most significant in terms of quantifying where investors think a company is headed, is the price to earnings ratio. Basically the higher the number the more optimistic the expectation of investors of that company to succeed down the line — the more demand for the stock. The lower the number, the “cheaper” the stock, the company, not just its individual share price. To offer you a baseline, Exxon’s P/E is 13, John Deere 19, Caterpillar 31.

    AT&T’s is 7.9 right now. Verizon’s at 210.

    I spent a good ten minutes last night looking up that number on as many dusty old blue chip companies I could come up with, trying to find one that Wall Street values lower than AT&T — couldn’t find one. Wall Street, and by that I mean both investors and traders, is more psyched about GE’s and Proctor and Gamble’s potential than it is about AT&T’s.

    And they’re just crazy about Verizon for some reason. Why do you suppose that is? Both companies do similar things, do they not? Yet one is valued by a free market at 220 times its earnings yet the other only eight times? What is it, does the second T in their name scare away investors? Why do both subscribers and investors like Verizon this much more? You can’t even talk and surf at the same time with them.

    Which company do you suppose is going faster than the other to improve both coverage and technology than the other guy between my baby and yours? I don’t know the answer, I’m curious and you seem to know everything. But if this grudge festival were just about coverage to us and not about which company doesn’t get killed by another company where it especially counts, not about speed, why haven’t you mentioned these guys?

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