Back in December, AT&T released a rather ambiguous but telling statement on their plan to come down on iPhone users for heavy data consumption. You can find my opinion on the statement there.
Yesterday morning, AT&T clarified their plans (AT&T’s official statement) and sent out an even bigger message.
AT&T has no intention of fixing their sub-par data network.
At least that’s what it sounds like over here. Now if this were any other corporation, I would think that this is just a move to increase revenue. However, since it’s the parent of the most unreliable data network on the planet (not a fact, but it just feels right), it seems like they are slapping a bandaid on a problem that needs surgery.
The thing to examine here is that the type of data consumption AT&T is facing was virtually unprecedented in 2007 when they signed an exclusivity agreement with Apple. Remember, the App Store didn’t exist yet, and it wasn’t released for a year after the first gen iPhone’s initial launch. Additionally, AT&T gave Apple full control over the iPhone’s technology capabilities, which has opened up the door to situations where the phone’s capabilities exceeded those of the networks (think MMS & tethering here). The predicament AT&T now faces is something they probably could not have foreseen 3 years ago. The AT&T data network is buckling under the demands placed on it by consumers and features that simply didn’t exist when they snagged exclusivity with Apple.
However, that is NOT to say that this situation is excusable. While this may not be what AT&T thought they signed up for, reality is reality. Their original exclusivity agreement has been extended since the release of the app store, the launch of the 3G and 3G S and the introduction of tethering capabilities. We could easily blame Apple for extending the agreement, and many people have. However, the real problem is that while AT&T couldn’t have seen this happening from the beginning of their relationship with Apple, they’ve had ample time to adapt, repair and enhance in anticipation of the growth of data usage.
I suppose this could be their way of stalling and damming the flow while they finally fix their data network. However, and I hate to say it, that is probably optimistic at best. I’ll just be optimistic for the time being.
In the meantime, I was happy to read that current iPhone users will be able to keep their unlimited data plans (including when they renew). It’s unclear whether or not that will apply if current users upgrade early for the next gen iPhone, but there are a few things that are still unclear.
What I do know is that AT&T has given non-subscribers yet another reason not to subscribe to their service. I love my iPhone and I won’t leave it any time soon. However, I can see this pushing a lot of users off the fence.