AT&T Is Better Than You Think

Apparently, I owe AT&T (NYSE: T  ) an apology. In independent tests conducted by the tech bloggers at Gizmodo and testing firm Global Wireless Solutions, AT&T beats its major peers in delivering service.

"AT&T's data throughput is 40 to 50% higher than the competition, including Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) ," Global Wireless president Paul Carter told The New York Times in an interview.

To say this is surprising is, well, an understatement. But should it be? Earlier this year, AT&T executives said their company was investing $17 billion to upgrade its network. Hearing this, I had assumed that the company was far behind the iPhone demand curve and was privately taking grief from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) .

Now it turns out the opposite may be true. According to a source at Nielsen quoted by the Times, the iPhone's internal electronics for connecting to cell towers may be less than satisfactory.

The Times also quotes sources from Root Wireless, another tester that found AT&T to be superior. Combine these independent performance tests with reports of iPhone service troubles, such as dropped calls and disappearing voice mail, and we're left with good circumstantial evidence that reported issues are as much due to inadequacies with Apple's handsets as they are AT&T's network. Color me stunned.

Verizon, meanwhile, can't be happy about these reports or their conclusions. They cast doubt on the veracity of the company's hardball ads, which belittle AT&T's network performance and the iPhone's sometimes-troubling App Store approval process.

Among the winners are Deutsche Telekom's (NYSE: DT  ) T-Mobile, which performed admirably in Gizmodo's tests, and Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) , whose youthful Pre isn't suffering outages and which appears happy with carrier partner Sprint Nextel's (NYSE: S  ) data coverage.

Yep, I owe Ma Bell an apology. Here it is: I'm sorry, AT&T. You're better than I thought you were.

Care to disagree or add to the conversation? Post a comment below. You'll be helping a great cause as you educate, amuse, and enrich your Foolish peers.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy can't hear you. Hello? Hello? Are you there?


Read/Post Comments (38) | Recommend This Article (24)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 5:02 PM, Pastabird wrote:

    For what it's worth: I've had a 3G (non S) iphone for 16 months now & haven't had any trouble with ATTs service. Maybe 2 or 3 dropped calls in all of that time. I live in the Cincinnati area but make trips to N.Y. & Washington D.C. regularly where I haven't experienced any problems with calls. Occasionally data is a bit slow in the NY area, but not so bad as to get me griping. Before I purchased the iphone I was with Verizon. The service was good except for an area just outside of Washington D.C. - College Park MD, where I couldn't make calls from inside my hotel. I was forever going outside looking for a quiet spot! I suppose that they've solved that problem by now, but I'm curious to know.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 5:15 PM, Fool wrote:

    As has been widely stated, if there are problems with the iPhones internals then why hasn't apple addressed them in 3 models and major and minor software changes? Why does it work fine overseas or in Canada? I got dropped calls in heavy traffic spots on AT&T network, as do others who use other devices. I think the finger points one way, why has AT&T put out an iPhone app that let's you report dropped calls etc?

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 5:17 PM, Fool wrote:

    if the phone is at fault, why do other countries not have the same issues?

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 5:40 PM, Fool wrote:

    Well, third commenter, I suppose you wouldn't hear of the problems that iPhones from other countries may have because, perhaps, you don't speak the language? Just a thought. Btw, I'm posting this from my iPhone with incredible 3G coverage (25 minutes from the city) and 3 dropped calls in the history of the phone. I think AT&T is doing completely fine, and so is my phone.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 5:52 PM, marv08 wrote:

    Well, to the third commenter... The iPhone had absolutely no issues in any country I have used it (original model, 3G and 3GS) in except the US. I have used it in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Hongkong, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Dubai, South Africa and Australia... not a single dropped call in any of these places and excellent reception and call quality. In Manhattan I experienced dropped calls in at least one out of three cases (but that was in early 2008, maybe that has been improved by now).

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 6:02 PM, Fool wrote:

    If you only ever read US news / blogs /etc. you will only ever hear about US issues. For a more global perspective, check out what CNET UK had to say on the subject of the iPhone. (Issues are not unique to the US - Americans just complain more than everyone else.)

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 6:27 PM, Fool wrote:

    It's AT&T's fault, bottom line. I had Verizon for 10 years and the coverage was fantastic. I live in the Boston area. I switched to AT&T 6 mos ago to get an iPhone. The coverage is WAY worse. I get way more dropped calls and constantly the phone bounces from 3G to EDGE back to 3G.

    I recently was in Tokyo and Hong Kong and had full 3G coverage the entire time I was there. The speed was fast and no dropped calls.

    I can't go to NYC without a handful of dropped calls per day.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 9:23 PM, Fool wrote:

    I have been an AT&T customer for years , and have had the I phone 3gs since it came out. I am very satisfied with quality and service. I travel a pretty good bit, very satisfied.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 10:09 PM, Fool wrote:

    Well I have been to Mexico Canada Portugal Italy Africa England Ireland Greenland France Germany japan Laos Vietnam Cambodia China chille Antarctica Australia new Zealand north and south Korea Iran Iraq and the planet hoth and have dropped phone calls all the time so it must be George bushs fault

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2009, at 10:35 PM, shanghaid wrote:

    I think it has taken a few weeks or AT&T to get it's PR act together. I think they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. They do need to silence some of their execs. Have they never given press conferences before? They can be their own worst enemy. I think the data based approach they are taking now in combination with adverts highlighting their strengths is their best path to maintaining their installed base. None of us will really know the damage until Motorola, Verizon, AT&T and Apple all report their next quarterly earnings. I suspect there are parts of the population who are unaware of Android and the Droid. Still, many more consumers who understand where they live AT&T is fine.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 12:02 AM, OldBlue7yrs wrote:

    I've been with Old Blue for 7 yrs and no planning of changing.

    On my way home from work in Los Angeles I get 1 dropped call always in the same area on top of a hill during my 20 miles ride. And now my work gave me a Blackberry from Verizon I get 4 dropped calls in the same road I take including the top of hill. There's even a 1/4 mile stretch that i can't place a call with verizon, maybe because I'm moving. And did a speed test on my laptop tethered to Iphone (1240Kbps) BBerry Curve 8530 (365Kbps) same spot. In my house the ATT speed jumps to 1700Kbps.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 12:45 AM, Fool wrote:

    Finnaly someone uncovers this is the iPhone's problem!

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 12:54 AM, Fool wrote:

    I love AT&T I left verizon for AT&T and it's the best decision ever ... I'm typing this on my iPhone 3g and it's running on edge speed but I can honestly say this edge speed is very compareble to verizon 3g and as dropped calls go I've only gotten 1 or 2 same with verizon when I had them and I live in Los angeles so I think AT&T is the best!

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 7:28 AM, kdarling wrote:

    Actually reading these new "reports" such as from Root Wireless, is eye opening.

    First, they deny that they point out any carrier being better. And if you look at the data, you'll see why. They're just random voluntary reports:

    No testing was formally done from the same locations, same type of phones, or same time of day.

    Moreover, the averages could be heavily skewed by a bunch of negative reports from within the same building, versus a single good report from an open air park.

    I'm always amazed that people blindly repeat other websites without actually checking into the data.

    Gizmodo also recently breathlessly reported that ATT was faster. Once you check their results, you find that yes, their upload speed is far superior to other carriers. But the download speed results were very mixed. And they only checked _two_ locations in Manhattan... which no New Yorker would consider to be anywhere near close to a comprehensive test.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 9:02 AM, TheHague wrote:

    I had the first edition of the I Phone. Went back to Sprint and my flip phone. Problems solved. No more dropped calls. No more lost voice mails. Ring tone volume loud enough to hear any where I am. Every one that claims their I Phone service is great must not use the phone side of the device very much. Getting and sending text data on my I Phone was great. No complaints there, but when I am in the middle of Phoenix AZ near a tower and can not get or receive phone calls as though I was in the boon docks then "Lucy we got a problem"! I read that the I Phone was having problems making inroads into the business phone market! Until they improve their "phone" then BlackBerry will rule the roost there!

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 9:16 AM, conradsands wrote:

    It isn't that the speed of AT&T's 3G network isn't good; rather, it's the fact that their coverage of the company's best 3G technology isn't as nearly as far and wide as Sprint's or Verizon's. It's also the fact that they have severe capacity issues on their network. This article appears to not dive into these AT&T inadequacies and simply covers some speed measurements.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 9:23 AM, conradsands wrote:

    I don't think iPhone users realize how much more a year they're spending for an unlimited plan on AT&T's network. It's about $600 more per year to be on it versus similar plans from Sprint and T-Mobile. Now AT&T can use those hefty profit margins garnered from their expensive plans to run more juvenile 3G commericials 24x7 against Verizon. Where are the articles comparing prices and value?

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 9:26 AM, conradsands wrote:

    It's $600 more a year to be on an AT&T unlimited plan with the iPhone versus Sprint or T-Mobile. That's money AT&T can surely use to run juvenile 3G commericals against Verizon 24x7. Oh, yea, they are doing that.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 11:25 AM, Fool wrote:

    I would hate to see Apple and AT&t get into a finger pointing contest. I have noticed more dropped calls with my iPhone in the past two years the previously and wondered why. I stopped at an AT&T store in VA after I got back from a road trip to and from GA. I seemed to be in the extended service area more then 3G and found it frustrating.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 11:35 AM, Fool wrote:

    I've had all the iPhones since they came out and live in the Houston area and have been very happy with the service I get. I join 3 conference calls a week that last at least an hour and I'm connected while I'm driving in rush hour traffic on my way to work and never drop a call. I think those people that are complaining have probably also dropped their phone on the ground at least once and that will interfere with the quality of ur service if ur not taking care of ur product. Enough said I love at&t.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 6:20 PM, Fool wrote:

    I live in San Diego and I use my IPhone all day long. AT&T has served my IPhone 3G very well and tommorrow morning my wife will be unpacking her new iPhone 3GS. I expect that there are more than a few under Christmas trees. Merry Christmas Apple and AT&T. See you in 2010.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 7:35 PM, Fool wrote:

    AT&T is improving. I travel alot in the US and have found that in general I get the best coverage in small cities like Charleston, SC and Pittsburgh. I do drop calls often on LA and NYC. I suspect this is a result of density and tower regulation. Hopefully this will change in 2010.

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2009, at 1:38 AM, Fool wrote:

    At&t Us truly the best. Excellnt Coverage Form california to Georgia. I LOVE IT NO COMPLANTS!

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2009, at 3:20 AM, Fool wrote:

    I live in a small town in the central valley of California( Delano) and I can't place or receive calls where I live. However, I love my iPhone and when I travel outside of my town and overseas I get excellent reception and service. Some of my family members have Sprint and when they come over they are not able to place or receive calls either so there is no point changing phone companies. I just hope AT& T improves it's service in my area soon.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2009, at 10:09 AM, tph785cmst wrote:

    I just switched to an iPhone 3GS, from an ATT Tilt, because my wife's new iPhone 3G was getting better reception with her iPhone. I have never had any dropped calls and never been in an area where I haven't gotten reception with AT&T

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2009, at 12:06 PM, dksig226 wrote:

    I've am currently happy with my 3G iPhone in Los Angeles. There are problems with slow data downloads especially during rush hour traffic. Call quality is not bad but not great. I personally think it is an iPhone issue but its just a guess. We will see when 4G is rolled out to see how each carrier does. AT&T current system can be upgraded but Verizon's CDMA will need to be replaced to move to 4G so there will be a huge hardware upgrade cost on Verizon network.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2009, at 1:33 PM, plange01 wrote:

    ATT is a decent stock at $20 a share no higher...

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2009, at 4:57 PM, Fool wrote:

    I work for global wireless solutions just to update you guys we collect data I have done alot of big markets since I have been with them I currently do Dallas tx I have done Nashville , Memphis , Boston , newyork , Chicago half of Texas state north Carolina and south Carolina half of Florida sterling virgina where our company is based Washington dc area . I have small things to say I'll be neutral not taking anyone side . In down town areas in NY some time there are drop calls in same specific areas and these are not releted to iPhone because regular 3g phone and 2 g phone are used too and they are in that bad that people complain so much about it just that if u go from that same spot every day ull get a drop call on that spot again . All the markets I named Att has a better data speed and in far stretch were 3g finishes ull atleast get edge in country road even . Verizon is good I give examples but it also has drop call specially when it's roaming in other networks out of big cities go Texarkana tx and ull notice alltell really messes verizon even though alltel phone won't drop but since verizon is jumping for roaming I'll someties fail or drop it's all specific to ur area where u are and how loyal you are I can assure u AT&T for uploading data is gr8 any where and verizon is gr 8 in the area they have network too but verizon cannot say they are better AT&T has a good print on the map too and 3g yes I do understAnd I have ro done west or north west coast area but I have frends who work there and they say the same thing only in north west area AT&T network is low but it roams but verizon roams more then sprint in most country roads out skirt areas it neither the phone nor the network we try to compare and comparison is not good some people love sprint some tmobile and others verizon and AT&T only problem is verizon has very loyal customers and and other carriers get customers everyday come from other networks which creates problems they start expecting u won't believ but tmobile works perfectly in city area but out side they don't have good network it just what ur paying for even metropcs has good network in city compareable to verizon and AT&T if u don't believe goto Dallas Houston for cricket Nashville it and there cheap if u live in city drop calls will happen some where or another gsm has hard time where walls come in because it's analog and CDMA verizon is digital which some times help because they'll work in low area building I guessa written alot but I'll say iPhone is revolutionary respect that because all these phones and changes started coming because of apple Steve jobs idea no one is perfect and I'll get better while the time passes.thank you

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2009, at 5:03 PM, Fool wrote:

    Sorry there were spelling mistakes on my post please disregard my mistakes lol I did not read before posting thanks you

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2009, at 1:41 PM, SteveTheInvestor wrote:

    I don't own an iPhone or smart phone of any kind so I can't comment. All I know is that for every month that passes, I have about $100 in my pocket that the rest of you don't. I'll have to be happy with that I guess.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2009, at 7:11 PM, Fool wrote:

    I can not remember the last dropped call I have had with my iPhone, nor a problem with the data service. It gets the job done even in rural areas. From my perspective the service is first rate.

    Bill C.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2009, at 10:23 PM, GenChaos wrote:

    I think the key here is general public perception. Verizon is winning that war.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2009, at 6:59 AM, nmwando wrote:

    verizon has the best service hands down .. i used to be with them but i am willing to take a dropped call or two versus getting overcharged like theres no tommorow i mean.. lord.. i had a bill for 190 with some stupid download charge.. its sad ill say.

    Who even gets on the phone these days with skype, gmail on the iphone and safari. :)

    thanks all you need and if you sprinkle google voice on there.. yumm. :)

    Nick

    creditcardchargebacks.org

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2009, at 10:25 AM, sas912 wrote:

    I have had ATT, Verizon, T-Mobile, and at least one other service and I travel a lot. I have had the best, most consistent coverage and quality with ATT. In addition, I recently switched my cable service at home to bundle the ATT U-Verse package, and not only do I have great DSL speed (6.0), the quality and reliability of the cable is superior to what I had with Dish, DirectTV, or Atlantic Broadband, at a fraction of the price. The VoIP phone service takes a little getting used to because there is a slight delay in the dialtone, but so what? I bought ATT after my experience with U-Verse.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2009, at 1:12 PM, Fool wrote:

    I had ATT for 2.5 years and good service in Miami and Piedmont NC. Then mega dropped calls in Oak Park, IL but service there has improved. Still dropped calls and no service in rather populated areas of Chicagoland.

    I travel to more rural less populated areas with no ATT service and the person beside me is fine on Verizon.

    When it came time to upgrade to iPhone, I switched to Verizon Droid simply because I need phone/data service where ever I go. Too bed cause I miss my rollover minutes and ATT's superior customer service. But I do like androids' integration with Google apps.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2009, at 2:35 PM, steveballmer wrote:

    Wait for the Verizon ZunePhone people!

    http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com

  • Report this Comment On January 01, 2010, at 12:03 AM, Fool wrote:

    I am typing this from my iPhone 3G and I can say that I have not had any problems at all with service or hardware failure. The only problem I have with the iPhone is cosmetics, but that varies based in the individual. I have never had verizon but all my friends do, and I can easily make a judgement call and say that AT&T's data service is much better than verizons. Allow me to explain. AT&T's network is GSM compared to verizons CDMA, thus making AT&T much more profitable to invest in because they will have to do much less than verizon to upgrade to 3GPP LTE (basically tweaked 3G antennae technology that can transmit HD television, and meets the uplink and download requirements for 4G Internet). CDMA can only attain certain speeds of data transmition because it uses different ways of sending packets of information than GSM that are faster and can be improved yo become much faster. Verizon will have to build a whole GSM network from scratch while all AT&T will have to do is upgrade their network. 2+2=4 people.

    As you can tell, I'm a big fanboy of AT&T because I think they have a greater worth than verizon.

    One more thing. Those infamous map commercials that verizon shows are AT&T's hdspa network. Or in other words, they're lying to you about how big AT&T's 3G network is. Hdspa is very capable of attaining 4G speeds; it's almost mobile DSL. So that's AT&T's basic 4G network right there folks. And yet most of my peers are too dumb to realize this, and are more than eager to hop on the verizon bandwagon. But that's another sad story so we won't go there.

    Happy new year everybody.

  • Report this Comment On January 01, 2010, at 8:36 PM, steveballmer wrote:

    ... ignore that man!

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