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December 16, 2009 12:22 PM   Subscribe

AT&T's recent complaints about its mobile phone customers using too much of its underpowered data service have now expanded this week to open opposition to net neutrality legislation. In response, the satirical blog The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs jokingly "reported" on a fake Apple memo calling for "Operation Chokehold", where customers agree to get together on Friday to overwhelm the company's networks. The joke has gained traction with disgruntled users, enough so that AT&T, in turn, chided the blog for "an irresponsible and pointless scheme", creating a Facebook page to promote "Operation Cuckoo".
posted by Blazecock Pileon (107 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Operation Chokehold has about a hundred times as many Facebook fans.
posted by box at 12:26 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would be shocked if "Operation Cuckoo" is official. "No one has a love affair with their wireless provider?" That's a bold new marketing slogan.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:30 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Operation Chokehold is an irresponsible coalition of childish attention seekers that could, if their mission is successful, create an engagement of economic hardship and personal danger.

What the I mean that's not even come on now
posted by enn at 12:31 PM on December 16, 2009 [17 favorites]


I would be shocked if "Operation Cuckoo" is official.

The page is using the company's logo and hasn't been taken down by Facebook, so I went with the assumption that it is sanctioned.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:33 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Judging from the Twitter traffic, a lot of folks are taking it pretty seriously. But as one wag noted, how will AT&T be able to tell? The complaint is that service is poor because many folks are streaming lots of data all the time. Also, what Admiral Haddock said.
posted by fixedgear at 12:34 PM on December 16, 2009


> the satirical blog The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs jokingly "reported" on a fake Apple memo calling for "Operation Chokehold", where customers agree to get together on Friday to overwhelm the company's networks. The joke has gained traction with disgruntled users, enough so that AT&T, in turn, chided the blog for "an irresponsible and pointless scheme", creating a Facebook page to promote "Operation Cuckoo".

This is hilarious in so many ways. If I was capable of dialing out on my AT&T phone through the cell tower I can see outside my window, I'd call my friends about this.
posted by ardgedee at 12:35 PM on December 16, 2009 [39 favorites]


You know, I realize it's totally juvenile and will accomplish nothing, but still, I joined the Operation Chokehold group for the sole reason that it may contribute to my never being anything like whoever wrote that Operation Cuckoo blurb. Jesus, if I'm ever that stodgy and joyless, pull the fucking plug.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:37 PM on December 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Obligatory I have an iPhone and I've never had any issues with AT&T's service post. (But you will have to take unlimited data from my cold dead hands, I would not have bought the phone or the contract without it)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:43 PM on December 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's like Critical Mass for lazy nerds.
posted by bondcliff at 12:43 PM on December 16, 2009 [25 favorites]


What's the actual operation or action that Operation Cuckoo involves? Are they going to secretly replace people's iPhones with nonworking lookalikes or something?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2009


all this venom makes me wonder how apple has managed to skate by without being blamed for forcing customers to exclusively go with AT&T all this time and whether it's going to either happen soon or if they're making at least new iphones available on other networks as well.

as far as AT&T is concerned: I hope these douchebags suffer enough to cry themselves to sleep at night. I also hope this will become a case study for all the mba cand. kiddies have to study.
posted by krautland at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's the actual operation or action that Operation Cuckoo involves?

There doesn't seem to be any. It's just a statement to the effect of "violating your contract with your wireless provider is just WRONG, dudes", and like 8 fans who probably joined ironically.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2009


You promise to save your data plan for marriage, and only use it in order to make little baby smartphone users, and promise not to use your data plan for sinful self-pleasure. In return, you get to not grow blind and you never have to shave your palms.
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 12:49 PM on December 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Would anyone notice?
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:49 PM on December 16, 2009


This situation seems to parallel that of AOL in 96/97 when AOL was charging by the minute and other ISP's (Fuck yeah Netcom) came along and offered unlimited access for a monthly fee. Except here AT&T, among others, are trying to enact consumption limitations on everyone to ensure that their business model results in profits. I remember the telecoms complaining back in the late nineties that people were using their unlimited access local phone lines "too much" by being on the dial-up all the time. I hope the results are the same and profits aren't legislated. tl;dr Fuck you AT&T.
posted by vapidave at 12:50 PM on December 16, 2009


The spokesman also claims that many have criticized the event: several have pointed out that the action may affect emergency calls.

I don't have an iPhone or AT&T, but if I had to call 911, and you disrupted my service because you want to watch YouTube videos as you sip your latte? That calls for a chokehold of another sort.
posted by desjardins at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2009


you disrupted my service

Don't data and voice run on different bands?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2009


Blazecock Pileon: Note: Operation Chokehold may adversely affect AT&T’s voice network and block emergency calls.
posted by desjardins at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2009


Well if that's the case, how would ATT perform in an actual widespread emergency*?

*asks the person living in the San Francisco Bay Area
posted by oneirodynia at 12:56 PM on December 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


My understanding is that 911 calls get routed on any available cell (of the same format GSM/CDMA), not just your own provider. Someone can perhaps provide technical details.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:59 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Note: Operation Chokehold may adversely affect AT&T’s voice network and block emergency calls.

I'm pretty sure data and voice are separate, so if the data network is being targeted, it's not clear how that directly and adversely affects the voice network. Does anyone know the mechanism for this?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:02 PM on December 16, 2009


krautland : or if they're making at least new iphones available on other networks as well.

They are going to need to do this if there ever want me to buy an iPhone. I like T-Mobile's customer service a lot more than AT&Ts.

But then, I've been on fire, and that was preferable to dealing with AT&T customer service, so there's that.
posted by quin at 1:04 PM on December 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


As a former punching bag/customer service rep for AT&T, all I can say is DIE AT&T DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE!!!!
posted by cimbrog at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2009


Wow, this'll show 'em!

what, I do not know
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2009


I've been on fire, and that was preferable to dealing with AT&T customer service, so there's that.

Oh, hi quin. Want me to set you on fire for old time's sake?
posted by cimbrog at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2009



I'm pretty sure data and voice are separate, so if the data network is being targeted, it's not clear how that directly and adversely affects the voice network. Does anyone know the mechanism for this?


That is the beauty, thanks to the advanced technology of the iPhone and AT&T (you may have seen the commercials), we can use data and talk at the same time. We can jam both simultaneously! *evil laugh*
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2009


all this venom makes me wonder how apple has managed to skate by without being blamed for forcing customers to exclusively go with AT&T

Are you suggesting that the Apple faithful should lay blame for something on Apple? In a thread on MetaFilter?

Brave. Very brave.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:12 PM on December 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also, I'm not necessarily saying that I'll be switching when my iPhone contract is up, but I have seen a friend's Droid and I have to say, it's pretty sweet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:13 PM on December 16, 2009


I find it deeply ironic that one of the fans of Operation Cuckoo, namely Jourdan, appears (if his profile pic is to be believed) not to have a mouth. Therefore he's clearly only using the dataplan. Is he an poorly-disguised spy from Operation Chokehold sent in to infiltrate their nefarious plan of doing absolutely nothing?
posted by ob at 1:15 PM on December 16, 2009


Want me to set you on fire for old time's sake?

I dunno... your offer is pretty tempting, but I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to the "burning" package right now. But if I were to, can I assume that the standard additional charges for re-ignition will apply?

:p
posted by quin at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


creating a Facebook page to promote "Operation Cuckoo".

More like Operation Cuckold, amirite?????
posted by GuyZero at 1:21 PM on December 16, 2009


According to this article in the Times, AT&T's network is actually better than Verizon's and the iPhone's design is partly to blame for performance problems, but AT&T is unwilling to place the blame on Apple.
posted by ekroh at 1:23 PM on December 16, 2009


According to this article in the Times, AT&T's network is actually better than Verizon's and the iPhone's design is partly to blame for performance problems, but AT&T is unwilling to place the blame on Apple.

Who Do You Believe, Randall Stross or Your Own Lying Eyes?

"If it’s the iPhone’s fault, not AT&T’s, why aren’t iPhone users around the world having the same problems as those here in the U.S.?"
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:28 PM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


desjardins: "Blazecock Pileon: Note: Operation Chokehold may adversely affect AT&T’s voice network and block emergency calls."

I'm amazed that AT&T hasn't already tried to label the pranksters as "terrorists".
posted by Joe Beese at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2009


According to this article in the Times, AT&T's network is actually better than Verizon's and the iPhone's design is partly to blame for performance problems, but AT&T is unwilling to place the blame on Apple.

As someone who's been on At&T for over 4 years (actually on cingular before the merger), and who only got an iphone within the past 8-10 months, that article is a lying piece of shit. At&t's network, both for voice and for data, has been utter garbage for as long as I've been on it.
posted by shmegegge at 1:40 PM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


also, I was on Verizon before AT&T, and though their customer service was bad enough to drive me away, I'd go back in a heartbeat if they ever got the iphone, because even back then the network was miles beyond what AT&T still has.
posted by shmegegge at 1:42 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't get it. AT&T claims that iPhone unlimited data plans are an excessive burden on the network, so people are going to protest by...proving them right?
posted by anifinder at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, color me suprised that this thread is still here, given that this one is still very much open.
posted by fixedgear at 1:54 PM on December 16, 2009


I don't get it. AT&T offers unlimited data plans, then complains when people use lots of data?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2009 [13 favorites]


The 21st Century is finally living up to its promises!

P.S HUGE ROBOTS NEXT, KTHX BYE
posted by The Whelk at 2:00 PM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm a former ATT user - now a happy, smug VZW user - and the schadenfreude is so delicious! ATT coverage sucked for me back when it was Cingular coverage, then when it was ATT, with the dumbest dumb phones there were. And it still sucks for all my iPhone-using coworkers.

AT&T claims that iPhone unlimited data plans are an excessive burden on the network, so people are going to protest by...proving them right?

Maybe ATT shouldn't sell something it doesn't have, then?
posted by me & my monkey at 2:01 PM on December 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


I had many many issues with just the Edge and voice networks on AT&T, first on my WinMo phone and then my G1 (which didn't do 3G on AT&T). Moved to Verizon recently and it's been night and day (and in the bay area I get 3G on Verizon 99% of the time, much better than most people with iPhones I know).

If AT&T was silly enough to kill unlimited data, I wonder what Apple would do? I've got to believe they're pressuing AT&T, and if they fail maybe would add another carrier... if anything was going to kill AT&T's exclusive with Apple, this would be it (which would be a much bigger loss for AT&T than for Apple, I imagine).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:03 PM on December 16, 2009


> According to this article in the Times, AT&T's network is actually better than Verizon's and the iPhone's design is partly to blame for performance problems, but AT&T is unwilling to place the blame on Apple.

AT&T also offers Blackberries and Windows Mobile smart phones. As wildly popular as the iPhone is, Blackberries still outsell them in the States. AT&T has been offering Blackberries, Treos, and Windows Mobile phones for years before the iPhone existed. Why are these other phones not considered to contribute to the problem?
posted by ardgedee at 2:10 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't begin to fathom why AT&T are acting all innocent about this. They promised a service, signed a load of people up for it, took payment... and now complain that all that traffic is damaging their network? I've seen the same argument from ISPs in the UK complaining about users "abusing" the networks by down/uploading large quantities of data when on "unlimited" tariffs.

Users are using the bandwidth that they've been promised and have paid for. It's not abuse or irresponsible treatment of the network, it's simply users expecting the provider to honour the contract. We don't get to claim that they're "abusing" our bank accounts and explain that we're only actually able to pay off 50% of the contracts we've signed up to in any given month, so why the hell do the companies think they can similarly duck out on their end of the bargain and then act all self-righteous about it?

I don't have an iPhone or a contract with AT&T, I just get pissed off at the hypocrisy of it all.
posted by metaBugs at 2:11 PM on December 16, 2009 [9 favorites]



"If it’s the iPhone’s fault, not AT&T’s, why aren’t iPhone users around the world having the same problems as those here in the U.S.?"


In fact, iPhone owners on O2 in the UK have had similar problems.

Without question, there has never been a mobile handset that has driven such massive amounts of data consumption across a mobile network and AT&T has admitted that they're network is straining under the pressure. If Verizon had had the iPhone exclusive I think they'd be in the same position. If T-Mobile had had the iPhone exclusive, they would probably have been brought to their knees.

There are far more iPhone owners in the US than in any other market in the world and a disproportionate number of them live on the coasts, particularly in NYC and SF which are the two most difficult markets in the US in which to build a mobile network, owing to those city's topography and restrictive zoning which makes adding new cell sites difficult and expensive.

There's a real capacity/physics problem here--"AT&T is evil/stupid/incompetent" is not an adequate explanation. While I found Stross' article thin in details and too breezily written, it's been remarkable how Apple has escaped consumer criticism for the technical weaknesses of their (generally fantastic) device.

With the momentum we're seeing behind Android--and a host of other trends related to mobile data usage--I think we'll shortly see that this is a broader industry problem not just an iPhone/AT&T issue.

Certainly in upcoming debates around network neutrality you're going to hear all the major carriers make the argument that unprecedented levels of data consumption are straining their networks and the only way they can continue to rationalize their investment in upgrades/capacity will be by retaining control over what happens on those networks. Grab some popcorn . . .
posted by donovan at 2:11 PM on December 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am confused. Does one ensure that an AT&T phone will work by not using it?
posted by Cranberry at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that 911 calls get routed on any available cell (of the same format GSM/CDMA), not just your own provider. Someone can perhaps provide technical details.

If the AT&T network becomes completely unavailable, yes. But if the network is still visible to the phone, it may still try to use it, even if the call ultimately fails.

I'm pretty sure data and voice are separate, so if the data network is being targeted, it's not clear how that directly and adversely affects the voice network. Does anyone know the mechanism for this?

There's only one cell network, and the over-the-air part is largely the same. It depends how much compartmentalisation there is between different types of traffic beyond that.
posted by cillit bang at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2009


Here in Canada we have this same BS with service providers offering "unlimited" plans. Sure, you can use them all you want until you hit the limit... wait, what?

I know this road does not lead to piles of cash that qure quite as large as they could be otherwise, but shouldn't a company offering an unlimited service be able to support all their users using the service to the maximum without affecting emergency services?

I just typed service many, many times.
posted by utsutsu at 2:21 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


For the bunched panties bitching toward anyone that takes part in Operation Chokehold (unggg!! was it good for you Lefty?) and thus potentially created a voice service outage: Would you seriously be irate at the users and not the company?

The company, not the users, would be the entity that built a network that would allow data service to trample all over its voice service.

FWIW, I have yet to see anyone from a reputable source claim that this could conceivably effect voice service. And for AT&T themselves to say as much would be marketing suicide.
posted by highwayman at 2:21 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


As wildly popular as the iPhone is, Blackberries still outsell them in the States. AT&T has been offering Blackberries, Treos, and Windows Mobile phones for years before the iPhone existed. Why are these other phones not considered to contribute to the problem?

Owners of smartphones are generally 3-4X more likely to use data services (browsing, connected application, multimedia, email) than the typical owner of a feature phone.

But even among smartphones, the iPhone stands out has having the highest penetration of service usage of any platform and this is particularly the case with high-bandwidth uses. To take one example, iPhone owners are 3X more likely than a Blackberry owner to access video on their device.

Though still small in terms of installed base, Android usage looks more like iPhone usage than it does the average smartphone. For now "iPhone" is short-hand for what will soon be legions of devices sucking down mass bandwith . . .
posted by donovan at 2:41 PM on December 16, 2009


There's a real capacity/physics problem here--"AT&T is evil/stupid/incompetent" is not an adequate explanation.

While that's certainly true, it's not a very big fig leaf. When sold out of the ability to deliver promised product/service, a lot of businesses will tell you "out of stock" or "unavailable at this time." In fact, one might say honest business do that. Should AT&T be continuing to sell service in markets where their network is overburdened?

Certainly in upcoming debates around network neutrality you're going to hear all the major carriers make the argument that unprecedented levels of data consumption are straining their networks and the only way they can continue to rationalize their investment in upgrades/capacity will be by retaining control over what happens on those networks.

We certainly can. It's been fronted already, along with many more specious ones. And maybe they're right, although I suspect that we'd all be better off insisting on giving that market to businesses that can figure out how to do it otherwise. The important thing to remember is that at least as long as there's competition in the market, it's OK to charge by tier of service. What really breaks the benefit of the net is if you charge by source or destination of the data.
posted by weston at 2:45 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Without question, there has never been a mobile handset that has driven such massive amounts of data consumption across a mobile network and AT&T has admitted that they're network is straining under the pressure. If Verizon had had the iPhone exclusive I think they'd be in the same position.

Let's be clear about a couple of things:

Verizon might very well be in the same position if they had had the iphone. But if we're going to start tossing out hypotheticals, let's toss out the one where they take the proper steps to support and improve that network. you know, the steps AT&T haven't taken despite earning revenue of 40 billion and a profit of 10 billion dollars in the past 9 months.

second: if, and that's an awfully BIG if, the problem is that no one network could handle the iphone's traffic, then all that means is that it's in everyone's interest for all carriers to have it. since that seems to be the way things are headed anyway, it's in AT&T's interest to be the best carrier for the device, instead of just the guys who took the initial money and ran. what have they done, instead of improving network infrastructure? they've offered to charge you to put your own microcell in your house so that you can offload your home data usage onto your isp at no additional cost to AT&T.

I'm sorry, but even if the iphone is part of the problem, at&t has consistently failed to address their part in it, and has done everything possible to push the cost of fixing it onto the consumer or other companies. No matter where the problem started, the solution is for both Apple and the consumer to abandon AT&T, the sooner the better.
posted by shmegegge at 2:47 PM on December 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


Offering a service and then asking clients not to use it is genius though:

-Hey, I caught that train to London!
-I'm sorry, Sir, but you'll have to leave at Lille. You can't ride further than that.

-Hey, the party is going great! Worth every penny I paid for the band.
-Sod off, we'll quit three hours earlier! (punk band)

-Hey, I managed to enroll my child in the best private school in town!
-Sorry, Sir, but we'll only teach your child half the subjects each day. Can't dispense too much teaching if it has to go around for everyone.

-Hey, I lopped off my leg. Ouch. Luckily I'm fully covered by insurance.
-We regret to inform you we can't cover costs over $200 because we said so.

Hm, the last one's actually realistic.
posted by ersatz at 3:16 PM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


earning revenue of 40 billion and a profit of 10 billion dollars in the past 9 months.

Those are the headline operating figures for the wireless division, which excludes paying tax, servicing debt and funding capital expenditure ($5bn, $2.5bn and $11bn respectively, company wide - the document doesn't break them down by division).
posted by cillit bang at 3:21 PM on December 16, 2009


ardgedee Why are these other phones not considered to contribute to the problem?

Iphones, Android and Windows handsets are all pretty bad with the amount of bandwidth that they use - they're hogs. Blackberry servers use compression so that you can actually be a very high user and still use less than 100MB in a month. The builtin Blackberry browser doesn't allow file downloads over a certain amount, so unless you're streaming radio or videos I'd say they're probably the easiest on data consumption.

If I was a Blackberry user on AT&T, I'd be somewhat upset about this whole protest. But if I lived in the States, I'd be a Blackberry user on Verizon.
posted by jeffmik at 3:27 PM on December 16, 2009


No!!! You'll clog up the taps!!!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:33 PM on December 16, 2009


Yeah, BB is better than most because it was designed to run on really, really old low-bandwidth networks like CDPD. There were 3 or maybe 4 generations of Blackberry devices before they even had real web browsers. At one point they didn't even have phones - they were just 2-way pagers.

Android, iPhone and WinMo all basically assume you have desktop-like connectivity. The laws of physics and information theory make this difficult if you're working wirelessly. Damn you Claude Shannon!!
posted by GuyZero at 3:46 PM on December 16, 2009


O crap, someone is going to have to reboot the intertubes.
posted by iamabot at 3:49 PM on December 16, 2009


ardgedee wrote: "Why are these other phones not considered to contribute to the problem?"

Because for whatever reason users of other phones, on average, don't use as much data as iPhone users. Whether you chalk that up to the users not knowing they can do all these things the iPhone can do with other handsets or to other phones being too clunky to allow the higher usage, they just use less.

shmegegge wrote: "let's toss out the one where they take the proper steps to support and improve that network. you know, the steps AT&T haven't taken despite earning revenue of 40 billion and a profit of 10 billion dollars in the past 9 months. "

Yeah, except that last year alone they had a capex of $20 billion.

I know it's hip to rag on at&t, and if you live in the bay area, they probably deserve every bit of it, but it's not like they aren't doing anything.

All of it will be for naught if they don't force the phone manufacturers to use better RF chipsets, though. No matter how good the network is a really crappy phone (the iPhones are merely moderately crappy in that respect) will drop calls and be generally junky.
posted by wierdo at 3:53 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


AT&T to New York and San Francisco: We’re Working on It
The head of AT&T’s wireless unit said Wednesday that the carrier is working to improve its network for iPhone and other smart-phone subscribers in New York and San Francisco. Manhattan and San Francisco, particularly the city’s financial district, “are performing at levels below our standards,” Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T Mobility, said at an investors conference.
...
With about 3% of smart-phone customers driving 40% of data traffic, AT&T is considering incentives to keep those subscribers from hampering the experience for everyone else, he said. “You can rest assured that we’re very sure we can address it in a way that’s consistent with net-neutrality and FCC regulations.” ... Longer-term, he said, a pricing scheme based on usage is likely, though it will be determined by industry competition and regulatory guidelines.
Posted December 9, 2009, 10:24 AM ET (emphasis mine)

Insightful comment, via Slashdot:
I can picture two outcomes. One: AT&T's digital network is brought to its knees, normal customers who are not part of the flash mob are pissed off, and AT&T issues a press release saying that unlimited data plans are obviously having a negative impact on the network and will therefore be terminated. Two: AT&T's network sees little or no disruption, and therefore they realize they have nothing to fear from angry customers. Unlimited data plans are terminated anyway.
Though the Slashdot story came from an "end to unlimited plans" angle, which I don't think is either mis-direction from the other news stories (the WSJ article I first linked made it seem like the worst congestion was in SF and NYC), I agree with the potential outcomes. The "critical mass for lazy nerds" backlashes and there's justification for new data usage fees, or nothing happens and it appears that the network really isn't doing that badly, but the over-users still get charged more.

As for the "simple fix" of installing more infrastructure - from my localized experience with government permits for cell towers, the process can be costly and slow for adding more structures. Part of the problem comes from contractors pushing the limits on allowable limits (cheaper fake trees, taller structures, etc), requiring more time and effort to produce an acceptable cell site, and part of it comes from the local rules, concerned citizens (everyone wants cell coverage, no one wants a cell tower in their back yard, unless they get the lucrative land rent), and things out of the control of the infrastructure suppliers.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:32 PM on December 16, 2009


Part of the issue has to do with spectrum availability. Governments auction off the airwaves and coordinate their use. The policy goes back to the sinking of the Titanic, the theory being that the broadcast call for help could have saved lot of lives if other boats knew how to "hear" the distress signal and find them. Larry Lessig provides some information about it in The Future of Ideas.

A chunk of spectrum is now dedicated for use by local emergency responders as well as the Department of Defense. Another band of spectrum is set aside to ensure that your wireless gizmos work smoothly. Radio and TV broadcasters have a lot of spectrum, and part of the shift to digital involved giving back the spectrum they used for analog transmissions, on the premise it could be put to use in a new way in the future.

From an industry perspective, some parts of the spectrum are more desirable than others. Wireless auctions of choice spectrum raised huge amounts of money for governments, but the data explosion means that the allocated resources are becoming strained.

There's also the phenomenon that you also get with airlines: they want the planes full to capacity, so they overbook flights... which is great unless everyone shows up. On data networks, everyone is showing up. That means less profitability for the company than before.

Landline fiber capacity is vast because engineers figured out how to split the light spectrum into more and more colors, expanding to accommodate increasing volumes of traffic. Technology will no doubt play a big role in future wireless solutions.

For now, spectrum is a scare resource, and it's regulated by government, hence the heavy-duty PR work among would-be wireless competitors to try and control parts of the market. CTIA provides additional information about wireless industry issues, if you're curious.
posted by woodway at 5:03 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]



Verizon might very well be in the same position if they had had the iphone. But if we're going to start tossing out hypotheticals, let's toss out the one where they take the proper steps to support and improve that network. you know, the steps AT&T haven't taken despite earning revenue of 40 billion and a profit of 10 billion dollars in the past 9 months.

As wierdo points out, AT&T hasn't been sitting on their hands doing nothing, they have--as all the carriers have--been investing massive amounts of money in their network. Their 2008 financials indicate that from 2007-2008 they increased their spend on their network by 42% and that was after billions spent in the previous years to upgrade their GPRS network to EDGE and to then deploy their UMTS network.

I have no interest in being an apologist for mobile operators in general (and AT&T in particular--I'm a customer and I've been continually frustrated by the network issues I've personally experienced over the past year, especially). What I was tryignt o do was underscore the root of the problem, which I believe is a capacity problem that, frankly, has caught the industry off guard.

(It's the industry in which I work, though I don't work for a carrier)

Pre-iPhone (and pre-Pre/Android/next-gen BBs/etc) the carriers had spent enormous amounts building their data networks and the most common complaint you'd hear behind closed doors was that they were radically under utilized. In fact there were some pundits suggesting that the "if you build it they will come" strategy was a bad business move.

Among the things that carriers did in response to this was simplify pricing and move to all-you-can eat data plans. Btw, this really was a US phenomenon as the EU carriers were slow to move to all-you-can-eat which is one reason we've seen the US eclipse major EU markets in terms of the percent of phone users using the Internet, etc. But I digress.

Flat-rate pricing + faster networks + better phones led to steady and strong increases in data users. Then the iPhone showed up and usage took off on AT&T . . . then a year later they released the App Store and usage skyrocketed . . . and now every one else is either scrambling to catchup (see Microsoft/RIM/Palm) or is diving hard into a market that's been turned upside down in terms of business modele and consumer expectations (see Google).

second: if, and that's an awfully BIG if, the problem is that no one network could handle the iphone's traffic, then all that means is that it's in everyone's interest for all carriers to have it. since that seems to be the way things are headed anyway, it's in AT&T's interest to be the best carrier for the device, instead of just the guys who took the initial money and ran. what have they done, instead of improving network infrastructure?

Ah . . . "everyone's interest" . . . not so much . . .

This is a brutally competitive wireless market--one of the most competitive in the world, actually--and that's why AT&T is paying dearly, both in cash out the door and in recent customer perception, for the iPhone exclusive. There's no "took the initial money and ran" scenario for the operators--in fact it works the opposite, they pay hundreds of dollars upfront to acquire each customer and then want to hold on to you as long as possible, getting you to pay as much as possible each month.

For AT&T the iPhone has very much been an acquisition play and the costs of subsidizing the iPhone are actually hurting their margins (but to be clear, not their overall growth).

This is a love/hate thing for them--you typically don't see AT&T touting iPhone in their marketing--they'd ideally like to win you as a customer with any phone other than an iPhone, which not only will hit their network hard as discussed in this thread, but will also switch "customer ownership" to Apple. Inside the industry, the Apple/AT&T relationship when announced made everyone's jaws drop--"AT&T did what? They're not even activating the phone or billing for content services. They must be craaaazy." But AT&T is in a knife fight with Verizon so, in that competitive context, it made sense to them.

Apple can gripe all they want and point fingers at AT&T, but the fact is that they need the carrier subsidy and AT&T was the logical choice for a partner since AT&T's network is built on the global technology standard, GSM, which meant that Apple could rapidly take their shiny new device to markets across the world. Apple tried to go mass market without a big carrier subsidy and failed. ("Mass market" doesn't mean "everyone I know in the Valley or Manhattan"). iPhone growth really started to hockey stick only after they renegotiated their deal with AT&T and dropped the price to $199.
posted by donovan at 5:05 PM on December 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


Even if hypothetically, AT&T unilaterally ends unlimited data plans, haven't they breached their contract with me? If I wanna end the agreement early, they hit me with an early termination fee. They can't just change the terms of our contract like that. I'd be the first to join a class action suit.
posted by fixedgear at 5:16 PM on December 16, 2009


They can't just change the terms of our contract like that.

I'll bet there's a clause in your contract that lets them do just that. There usually is in scenarios like that where the customer has absolutely no negotiating power.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:31 PM on December 16, 2009


You usually get 30 days from any contract change to say "no thanks" and get out scot free. This is from the date of the change, not the notification, though.
posted by squorch at 5:38 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmmm.

Uh... having worked on GSM, GPRS and 3g products, and in particular the data network, I am fairly comfortable saying that the claim that the __voice__ network will be interrupted by placing a large amount of traff on the RAN backhaul. SGSN or GGSN is probably not actually valid.

And AT&Ts network problems have to do with their post-tower network, not the tower to phone air interface.

Some of the issue is that the standards basically do not allow efficient dumping of internet-bound traffic before it doglegs back to a GGSN [which is the GPRS+ equivalent to a mobileIP home agent -- i.e., it is the entity with the internet-facing address for the user, thereby providing the front end to cross-access-point roaming, and unlike mobileip there is no triangular routing in this case, so all traffic in both directions must transit the GGSN] which is stupid but basically what the carriers wanted [since they wanted a walled garden and absolute control]. This is a well known and very well understood problem.
posted by rr at 5:49 PM on December 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


er billions spent in the previous years to upgrade their GPRS network to EDGE and to then deploy their UMTS network.

Gee, you're right. Perhaps we could offer telecos some sort of tax deal if they promise to keep innovating at such a rapid pace?
posted by YoBananaBoy at 5:53 PM on December 16, 2009


I should add that roaming for data as a requirement (instead of just flapping the interface and tearing down connections -- leaving something for the app to work on) comes mostly from two things -- car-based usage and the desire to keep the phones completely stupid and simple. There are valid cases for the latter (esp. maps functionality, etc.) but in a lot of ways the mindset is just a telephony thing that happens over and over. WAP was a particularly glorious example.

There are a bunch of solutions for roaming. A tunnel-in-tunnel arrangement would work if you could arrange to bring up the outer tunnel quickly enough [or simultaneously, and then transition].. That's a lot of signaling though.
posted by rr at 5:53 PM on December 16, 2009


Well.

This is actually pretty well timed for me. I've finally decided to take the plunge and get a cell phone like the rest of the civilized world, and have been trying to decide which carrier I ought to go with. Nice to know I can cross AT&T off the list.
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:20 PM on December 16, 2009


It's like Critical Mass for lazy nerds.

Indeed, is there any better way to rouse nerds to action than to suggest an activity that could be accomplished by downloading porn over bittorrent?
posted by mattholomew at 7:32 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


From Operation Cuckoo
Much the same as you don't put out a fire with a gasoline shower.
y'know what? anyone building a gasoline shower... is in the wrong to begin with. This is why we don't trust stupid crazy corporations with important things like national security data~ er.*
But isn't it logical that one shouldn't roll out something as unlimited, when you in fact mean, very specifically, "strictly-limited".

Someone upthread mentioned this, but where does the intersection of our 'service providers' being in charge of duplicating the data/voice pipe, which the spy people use to keep us safe; and the ability to, well, 'monitor their strong, vociferous, well en-knowledged, Techy, opponents' intersect?
*er, I guess the question I have is, what is being done to ensure there is no "data leak", or squashing of legitimate political opposition (Net Neutrality being the political battle)
... or, are the pipes still being duplicated, do we know? wasn't the last update that they had immunity? {(getting that get out of jail free card in Monopoly is a SERIOUS assistance towards a win). metaphor, semaphore, and Stridor1} -Is at&t a fox? Are we hens? QuisCustodietIpsosCustodes? and all that.
posted by infinite intimation at 7:35 PM on December 16, 2009


All these providers throttle their internet traffic like nobody's business, why don't they just do that with phone data traffic?
posted by mattholomew at 7:42 PM on December 16, 2009


"Computer. Cross reference Chokehold members and physical locations."
"Computer. Suggest a good crime I could commit while AT&T cellphone usage is knocked offline. Maybe...rob an AT&T store?"

Man if I had a Star Trek computer I'd be a worse person overall.
posted by graventy at 8:42 PM on December 16, 2009


I have unlimted on a BlackBerry for my business from AT&T and I have not had a problem.

There was an NYT article which said the problem was actually with the iPhone but AT&T didn't want to say anything so as not to piss off Apple. I personally, with this phone haver never had any problems.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:19 PM on December 16, 2009


Ironmouth wrote: "I have unlimted on a BlackBerry for my business from AT&T and I have not had a problem.

There was an NYT article which said the problem was actually with the iPhone but AT&T didn't want to say anything so as not to piss off Apple. I personally, with this phone haver never had any problems.
"

You haven't had a problem because you're not in any of the problem markets.

What this whole at&t hate thing is about is at&t having network issues in two markets where you find both the most tech-savvy people who notice problems and use data and most of the press who report the problems.

Out here in flyover country, things are pretty decent, not that someone who lives in San Fransisco would believe that. (They would instead presume I'm a paid or unpaid shill for at&t)
posted by wierdo at 10:01 PM on December 16, 2009


heh.

2 things, you iLosers:

1. Stay out of Philly
2. Don't go jumping to Sprint.

(just trying to keep a good thing going. I'm on Sprint in Philly and get really good speed on the Hero. As a test engineer, I saw the iPocalypse coming, all those users, all that data and AT&T being pretty slow on the infrastructure upgrade. )

Actually, I'm waiting for the iPhone to go one more hardware revision or go to Software Radio before I seriously consider it.
posted by djrock3k at 10:13 PM on December 16, 2009


Out here in flyover country, things are pretty decent, not that someone who lives in San Fransisco would believe that.

Datapoint: I live in Huntington, West Virginia, a town of ~40,000 people that is not exactly what you'd call similar to San Francisco, and service for my iPhone sucks ass. My calls get dropped at about about 10x the rate they did before I switched, and it's not at all uncommon for me to have to attempt a call four or five times before it actually goes through. For some unknown reason, it is almost impossible for me to call my mother in particular—a call to her goes through maybe once out of every dozen.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 10:39 PM on December 16, 2009


Yeah, I'd say given the stuff people download, maybe Critical Mass isn't the perfect analogy.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:06 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


The guy that started the Chokehold group apparently wasn't aware of Cuckoo until just a few hours ago. Are there any reliable references that state that AT&T created it, or is that just a rumor at this point?
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:17 PM on December 16, 2009


I can't wait until AT&T loses the exclusive contract, and I don't even live in the USA.

Europe has a number of countries where the carrier lock is gone, and people can buy the iPhone from more than one provider.

I've written iPhone apps (here, here).

And I can see the difference in my sales. Europe is much, much better for me than the USA.

I'm pretty sure Apple knows this and sees the same thing, not just in apps but in phones as well, and I suspect they'll move away from an exclusive AT&T deal the first chance they get.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:11 AM on December 17, 2009


Man, that NYTimes article was a PR masterstroke on AT&T's part. Evey discussion on how woeful their network is will now be punctuated by interruptions from people going "uh I heard that against all common sense this is actually Apple's fault".

Tech journalism is fucking woeful, and it's only getting worse.
posted by bonaldi at 3:04 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man, that NYTimes article was a PR masterstroke on AT&T's part. Evey discussion on how woeful their network is will now be punctuated by interruptions from people going "uh I heard that against all common sense this is actually Apple's fault".

Well, isn't it actually possible? A couple of weeks ago I was standing in line playing with My G1 and someone asked me about it. It turns out they had an iPhone that they had jailbroken and were trying to run on some provider that purchased bandwidth from t-mobile. So we were on the same network. He couldn't make calls in the area at all, but my phone worked fine.

Obviously, there could be problems with some incompatibility between the iPhone, t-mobile, and this guy's retail provider, etc, but still. If the iPhone's radio is worse then other phones, it could explain people's problems.
posted by delmoi at 3:41 AM on December 17, 2009


Yeah, the unblinking insistence that Apple's hardware couldn't possibly have problems is weird - it's not like they don't have a history of shipping dodgy hardware, and even the iPhone itself has a few acknowledged faults and compromises - the undersized battery, the crappy camera (pre-3GS), the recessed headphone jack stupidity.

It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that the radio or the antenna in the iPhone has similar design compromises.
posted by cillit bang at 5:25 AM on December 17, 2009


I'm pretty sure that the iPhone's radio isn't the best in the world -- the 1G even put the antenna underneath the user's hand. But this isn't about a difference of a few bars -- American iPhone owners are howling mad about woeful network performance.

If it was wholly the fault of the phone, you'd expect to see this globally -- or at the very least, in areas with the same sort of population density as NYC and SF. You don't get anything like these problems in London, or anywhere else for that matter. O2's data hasn't been brilliant, but they've openly admitted these are capacity problems on their end (the outages weren't iPhone-only), and have been fixing them.

The jailbroken guy is interesting: I've only seen good reports from people who've escaped AT&T in the US. Still, phones have always varied in their capabilities: that "I've got signal, don't you?" thing isn't uncommon. But for one particular (regulator-approved) handset to be so terribly out of whack that it is responsible for these huge problems, but only in the US, and pretty much only on AT&T? Occam suggests otherwise.
posted by bonaldi at 5:36 AM on December 17, 2009


You people do realize there is only one other carrier in the US even capable of supporting an iPhone: T-Mobile. And this is a network that was built out by leasing capacity from Pac Bell / SBCW / Cingular / ATT to begin with. The other major guys in the US use non-GSM family technology.

The only way you'd see an iPhone on a competitor's network -- not counting T, which barely qualifies as such -- is if Apple elects to build special hardware for them. That's not inconceivable, but it's not likely at this point.

"There was an NYT article..."

That's a sack of crap. The iPhone's RF may be "eh soso" at best, but I've owned data-capable hardware on the ATT network since they were still called Pacific Bell and performance sucked donkey nuts before the iPhone existed. It improved slightly prior to the introduction of the iPhone, because ATT finally for the first time in years upgraded backhaul capacity, but they've done dick-all but tread water since then, and performance has in fact degraded continuously since that month.

Every piece of hardware I've run with an ATT connection had the exact same issues that people see today: 5 bars, radio interface happy as could be, data session established, 100% packet loss. It's not a radio thing at all. It's that the actual networking part of the network (you know, where things are networked together?) doesn't have the part of the networking that we call "working."

"Some of the issue is that the standards basically do not allow efficient dumping of internet-bound traffic before it doglegs back to a GGSN... which is stupid but basically what the carriers wanted [since they wanted a walled garden and absolute control]."

This. This explains all. Everyone go reread what rr said. The dumbasses designed a network based on an 80s and 90s understanding of what data services were, and then got steamrolled when what people actually wanted -- DUH! -- was a connection to the services of their choice and not the carrier's choice. NO SHIT, SHERLOCK! Carriers are notorious for this kind of wishful thinking of designing systems for what they want the customers to do rather than what their customers will want to do.

The iPhone is not a BlackBerry with its anemic little craptastic mostly textmode browser. The iPhone is not a Windows CE device with its anemic little craptastic mostly fail-mode browser. The iPhone is not a Treo with its anemic little craptastic almost entirely textmode browser. The iPhone is a handheld UNIX box with a real browser, a large ecosystem of network capable applications, and now also tremendous popularity. Of course more people are going to use the data services at a rate higher than owners of other hardware do, because the device makes it very, very easy to do so.
posted by majick at 5:52 AM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


you'd expect to see this globally

The Apple webosphere is very US centric, and hating AT&T is the established story. I don't think users in other countries have critical mass to be heard on this issue.

You don't get anything like these problems in London, or anywhere else for that matter

Inexplicable lack of signal? Non-existent data performance? "Could not activate cellular data network"? Yes we fucking do, all the bloody time.

But the problems are so ill-defined and anecdotal that I can't see how anyone can reliably judge how bad they are in different places.
posted by cillit bang at 6:04 AM on December 17, 2009


Inexplicable lack of signal? Non-existent data performance? "Could not activate cellular data network"? Yes we fucking do, all the bloody time.
You've been in a different London from me, then. O2 was never great -- it's why I switched to blissfully trouble-free Orange -- but I knew that going in, it's not like they have sterling service that's only bad on the iPhone.

I don't buy the US webosphere argument either. Dedicated UK sites, like the What Mobile forums especially, were desperate for the iPhone to be a dud. If its RF wasn't up to scratch, they'd be full of complaints about it. They aren't. Contrast that with iPhones on AT&T, where you can barely move in forums for buttloads of "no data service" and "calls dropped all the time" complaints.

But the problems are so ill-defined and anecdotal that I can't see how anyone can reliably judge how bad they are in different places.

Have you tried using your iPhone in the US? The problems move from "ill-defined anecdotes" to "fucking hell, this shit just doesn't work. WTF? Where can I get wifi?" before the JFK bus has even hit Manhattan.
posted by bonaldi at 6:14 AM on December 17, 2009


What I was tryignt o do was underscore the root of the problem, which I believe is a capacity problem that, frankly, has caught the industry off guard.

which is why I'll repeat that it's in everyone's interest for the world's fastest growing phone base (by which I mean iphone users) to have multiple carriers to pick from, because then it's not just AT&T being hit by the iphone's considerable data usage, and it gets spread out among the competing carriers. And that since I believe that is precisely what will happen, it's in AT&T's best interest to be the best carrier, not just the guys who got the iphone first, and that they aren't doing that. If they've invested all this money, let's be clear that their customers aren't seeing the benefit. Their network is being slammed, and as I said their solution so far has been to sell customers their own microcells so that they can offload their data traffic at home to their ISP. If anyone has the figure on how much of AT&T's network budget increase went to that particular piece of shit project, I'd love to know.

I mean, I know you said a lot of stuff after that about how the industry wasn't prepared, etc... and that unlimited data plans were never meant to exist, but it's all entirely beside the point. The point is that AT&T's network IS NOT as robust as verizon's. I don't care how much money they've put into improving it, they haven't done enough in 3 years, and Verizon's has consistently been better, even before the iphone came out. And it's not just data. I just straight up get 1 or 0 bars at my apt (in Queens), at my office (in manhattan), on location (various tournaments and video shoots around the country, but repeatedly in Dallas TX, Bristol CT, and Los Angeles, CA.) and pretty much everywhere I go.

Remember, this is the company that had phone manufacturers put 5 network bars onto their phones (instead of the standard 4) as part of a campaign to fool people into thinking that AT&T had better service. Do you understand what I'm saying? They might as well have said their network went up to 11. This is wrong. It is the wrong way to do things, and their business model is wasteful, deceitful and lazy.

Apple can gripe all they want and point fingers at AT&T, but the fact is that they need the carrier subsidy,

which is an odd statement to make at this point because every phone in the world is subsidized by its carrier. they can get a carrier subsidy anywhere they shop around, and it still has nothing to do with why at&t's network sucks. no, the reason apple is ponting fingers at at&t is that it's at&t's fault. all apple did was make a product people wanted to use. at&t promised the backbone for that functionality, and failed to deliver. just because they fucked up doesn't mean it's not their fault. it rather specifically means it IS their fault, because supporting the functionality of the iphone was specifically what they promised to do from day one.
posted by shmegegge at 8:33 AM on December 17, 2009


"Only a fool pays for that which he does not intend on using."

For those who do not have iPhones, you may be surprised to know that there is a "special" data plan just for the iPhone, which is both significantly more expensive (as much as a residential DSL line) than the data choices for other handsets, and also mandatory. If you have the iPhone, you must pay for the single, expensive data choice, or you cannot even activate the phone.

And, this Cadillac data plan does not even include text messaging or MMS. That's extra. You know, because the few kilobytes a month you use for texting should somehow count differently from the data plan.

So, even if iPhone users are using the lion's share of the bandwidth, they are paying for it quite dearly, and specifically.

I love my iPhone, and currently there is no other phone on the market that has even approached what would be necessary to get me to switch. The iPhone truly is a little computer you carry around with you, and you very quickly become quite dependent on it, and other phones, even other smartphones, seem like toys or worse by comparison.

Note that I will be re-evaluating if the Google Nexus One turns out to more than just hype.

So again, I love my iPhone, and feel it is quite literally in a class all by itself, but I understand very clearly that I am paying a hell of a premium for this device, so yes I expect exemplary service.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


For those who do not have iPhones, you may be surprised to know that there is a "special" data plan just for the iPhone, which is both significantly more expensive (as much as a residential DSL line) than the data choices for other handsets, and also mandatory. If you have the iPhone, you must pay for the single, expensive data choice, or you cannot even activate the phone.

my bill with the iphone is the same as it was when I had a winmo smartphone with the same features on At&t before i got it. it comes out to about the same. I just had the option not to have unlimited data on the old phone if I didn't want it.
posted by shmegegge at 10:26 AM on December 17, 2009


Note that I will be re-evaluating if the Google Nexus One turns out to more than just hype.

As a religious movement, the Nexus One will come nowhere close to the iPhone.

As a phone, it's fantastic.

You just need to decide whether you're buying a movement or a phone.
posted by GuyZero at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


majick wrote: "This. This explains all. Everyone go reread what rr said. The dumbasses designed a network based on an 80s and 90s understanding of what data services were, and then got steamrolled when what people actually wanted -- DUH! -- was a connection to the services of their choice and not the carrier's choice."

The design of the data backend makes perfect sense if you're supporting Blackberries and devices of that nature, which still make up the vast majority of data-capable phones that actually use it. But hey, iPhone users are special little snowflakes that should get everything their little hearts desire. And oddly enough, Verizon's network works very nearly the same way, although the parts have different names.

I don't know why, but I'm still surprised that people can't grasp the fact that some phones are worse than others when it comes to RF, that some phones are better at not dropping calls during handovers, and all that. (which only exacerbates network issues in areas with lots and lots of sites)

I guess if a person hasn't used as many of them as I have, they probably wouldn't have noticed the variation between handsets for themselves.
posted by wierdo at 10:44 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


So again, I love my iPhone, and feel it is quite literally in a class all by itself, but I understand very clearly that I am paying a hell of a premium for this device, so yes I expect exemplary service.

This part.

Signed,
special little snowflake
posted by fixedgear at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2009


The iPhone is a handheld UNIX box with a real browser

Not yet. At least not the "real browser" part.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:31 AM on December 17, 2009


> For those who do not have iPhones, you may be surprised to know that there is a "special" data plan just for the iPhone, which is both significantly more expensive (as much as a residential DSL line) than the data choices for other handsets...

All AT&T customers pay $30/month for 3G access, regardless of the phone they use. Similarly SMS/MMS and other services are only available as extra charges on all AT&T mobile phones. The monthly cost of operating an iPhone in the US doesn't cost significantly more or less than competing smartphones on the same network.

The confusion stems from the first generation of iPhones costing considerably less for data access, because they were using EDGE rather than 3G.
posted by ardgedee at 11:33 AM on December 17, 2009


"But hey, iPhone users are special little snowflakes..."

No. You miss my point. Internet users are special little snowflakes. And more so than corporate-market shovelware phones, iPhone users are Internet users. Building a walled-garden closed services back end to support BES/Gateway or other light messaging devices.

The iPhone is not a light messaging device. It's a very small UNIX workstation, with use cases that demand a higher volume of data transfer. That does, in a way, make iPhone users special in that they're not using crapbox phones to do the tiny rinkydink things that crapbox phones have always done with fair-to-middling success and awkward design. The users instead want to use the iPhone like an iPhone, which, yeah, that's different from the turdy email-phone-workleash your corporate IT guys hand out. Different use cases, different target market, different network requirements.

Any carrier that didn't see a demand for full blown Internet access over their infrastructure -- HERE IN THE 21st CENTURY -- was being willfully blind. Any carrier that build infrastructure designed in such a way -- HERE IN THE 21st CENTURY -- that specifically precludes high quality Internet connectivity is foot-shootingly stupid.
posted by majick at 2:26 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I should finish that thought.

"Building a walled-garden closed services back end to support BES/Gateway or other light messaging devices..."

...in this day and age is stupid.
posted by majick at 2:28 PM on December 17, 2009


But hey, iPhone users are special little snowflakes that should get everything their little hearts desire.

ach, this drives me crazy. I just hate hate hate this type of shit. I really start to wonder if there's any point in trying to reason with someone who will say this with a straight face. but in the interest of good faith, I'll try.

to repeat: this is not just about iphones, though the iphone's rapidly growing userbase has made a significantly larger number of people notice the problem. this is about any smartphone, or really any phone that makes use of 3g data. hell, since there's a significant problem with dropped calls of any variety on the network as well, it's about basically any phone on the network. do not mistake the fact that more people have turned to their phones for data traffic with the fact that many of them are iphone users. I've been on AT&T since they bought cingular. I've had multiple phones on their service, both before and after the merger, and service connections - be it for voice or data - have been a problem the entire time. That I stayed with them as long as I have is my own stubbornness or stupidity, but the problem exists.

Sure, the cult of apple exists, but membership therein is absolutely not a requirement for noticing how godawful at&t's service has been for years.
posted by shmegegge at 2:37 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The iPhone is not a light messaging device. It's a very small UNIX workstation, with use cases that demand a higher volume of data transfer.

A "Unix Workstation" that doesn't let the user open a shell, execute root commands or even run software that hasn't been "approved". Lots of ordinary cellphones run Linux, even the non-smart ones (which are called 'feature phones' now)
posted by delmoi at 3:07 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really? I haven't had any problem with that. I mean, obviously it's not a feature everyone wants, so it takes a few extra minutes to push the "Jailbreak" button and put down a more featureful userland, but yeah, I haven't had any trouble popping open a shell or running as root. It's about 10 minutes work to set up the phone for it -- less time than it took to fill the thing full of music and movies.

Most of the common use cases don't require it, though, so they don't ship it.
posted by majick at 3:26 PM on December 17, 2009


shmegegge wrote: Sure, the cult of apple exists, but membership therein is absolutely not a requirement for noticing how godawful at&t's service has been for years.

I'm sorry you live in a market where at&t's network is not up to snuff. I've been burning through over a gig a month of data (and a mere 1400 voice minutes a month) most months since 2004, so don't tell me how my experience has been. I'm not trying to tell you that there are indeed markets where at&t's network blows chunks.

And iPhone users in general aren't special little snowflakes, but some seem to have the attitude that they are and that their precious couldn't possibly be at fault for any of the problems they're having. (In most cases, it's equal parts network and phone..where I live, it's mostly phone..in Oakland, it's mostly network, but again, a better phone improves the experience)
posted by wierdo at 4:59 PM on December 17, 2009


Damnit, I meant "I'm not trying to tell you that at&t's network blows chunks in some markets"
posted by wierdo at 5:00 PM on December 17, 2009


Really? I haven't had any problem with that. I mean, obviously it's not a feature everyone wants

No, but calling it a "Unix Workstation" is a little ridiculous, when you have to go through all that trouble, essentially hack it, in order to get those features.
posted by delmoi at 7:33 PM on December 17, 2009


A little ridiculous, perhaps, I'll admit, but it's not "all that trouble." You download a utility from a well known location, plug in the device, hold down a button, you wait 10 minutes or so, the thing reboots and it's ready. Anyone who wants a shell and root access (Change your root passwords, people! Default passwords are not secure!) isn't going to consider that "trouble" by any reasonable definition of the word, and anyone who doesn't want them, well, they didn't have to follow the procedure in the first place.

It was harder -- the work of a couple of days of occasional fiddling with settings and making up dummy contact directories and so on -- to get all my PIM stuff properly synced without duplication than it was to get a root shell on my phone. It was harder to figure out how to see the scrollback in the tty application than it was to get a root prompt in the first place.

So yeah, "all that trouble" definitely overstates the case in terms of jailbreaking difficulty and getting the UNIX userland installed. It was harder to figure out the assumed use case for iTunes music sync (which to me are all very weird and awkward, because I'm not a playlist person at all, I'm an album person) than it was to jailbreak.
posted by majick at 8:20 AM on December 18, 2009


I'm sorry you live in a market where at&t's network is not up to snuff. I've been burning through over a gig a month of data (and a mere 1400 voice minutes a month) most months since 2004, so don't tell me how my experience has been.

woah woah woah. let me back up a second and explain myself: I am sincerely not trying to tell you how your experience has been.

What I'm trying to say is that, whether one or a thousand or a million subscribers have a fine experience in their market, there are enough people having enough trouble in THEIR markets to demand change. whether at&t meets their needs is their choice, but the choice of those subscribers will be whether to stay with a carrier that doesn't value them unless at&t changes their minds.

all of which is ultimately to say that, no, I still don't think this is an iphone problem. especially since, if experiences in your market are fine and dandy, it would seem that the iphone works just fine in a well addressed market.
posted by shmegegge at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2009


It begins, apparently.
posted by desjardins at 12:04 PM on December 18, 2009


shmegegge wrote: "all of which is ultimately to say that, no, I still don't think this is an iphone problem. especially since, if experiences in your market are fine and dandy, it would seem that the iphone works just fine in a well addressed market."

Firstly, I don't use an iPhone. Secondly, of course an iPhone will work well in an excellent market. Even bottom of the barrel phones will work well if the network is overbuilt. In a situation where there are weak spots, the less well performing phones will have issues where the better performing phones have more problems. I'd call that an issue with both the network and the phone.

The nature of radio technology is that there will always be weak spots. Even million watt TV stations have weak areas where reception is difficult, after all. (And similarly, different TV sets have different tuners which have wildly varying performance) A good radio will have acceptable performance even in those weak spots.

Maybe I expect more out of the part that goes in my hand than most people, but it really is essential to a good user experience.

And FWIW, I fully agree that people whose needs are not met by at&t should absolutely switch to a company that provides them with the coverage they require. I think at&t has made their own bed by not refusing to sell phones that have subpar RF performance. I also think that Apple should bear significant blame for refusing to sell unlocked phones in the US. There is no shortage of annoyance with all parties here, I'm just interested in seeing it go to the right companies for the right issues.

(Sorry for the delay, I've been trying to stay away from the computer while I'm on vacation)
posted by wierdo at 12:01 AM on December 27, 2009


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