The iPhone on AT&T is like putting lipstick on a pig

In fall 2009, Verizon was pummeling AT&T with a series of “map” ads, claiming that AT&T’s spotty 3G network was to blame for poor service. Even if AT&T had wanted to respond with iPhone ads, Apple would have refused. “We would have been letting them use the iPhone to put lipstick on a pig.”

Wired repeatedly tries to blame Apple for AT&T’s network problems. Steve Jobs refused to cripple YouTube on the iPhone. Apple didn’t advertise for AT&T. Apple wanted tethering. Apple used nonstandard chips. All these things caused the AT&T network to collapse under load.

AT&T: it’s your network and you need to get your shit together. Don’t blame the iPhone for your issues. The iPhone works great in other countries off your system, and you have done nothing but ruin the experience for us here.

AT&T has raised prices, killed unlimited plans, and simply not kept up with the demand on their network. These days, I actually use the Skype app to make calls when I’m at the office. My iPhone fails as a phone because of AT&T.

AT&T has become a mere toll-taker on the digital highway, an operator of dumb pipes that cost a fortune to maintain but garner no credit for innovation or customer service. Meanwhile, the likes of Apple and Google will continue to pump out products that push the limits of what the carriers can provide, training customers to use more and more data.

Oh boo hoo. This is the way it should be. Let me pay AT&T (or another company) some amount of money for a data feed and then let me do anything I want with it. The old system where carriers have all the power is coming to an end.
Decouple the devices from the service. I want to see data providers battle and innovate to bring me faster and cheaper data. And device makers innovate to use that data feed in great ways. Let innovation in phones come from companies who can innovate.
Wired: you think training customers to use more data is a bad thing? You think AT&T will have to raise prices continually to keep up? I call bullshit. Don’t try to make AT&T the good guy here.

The fact that people are using more data is a great thing. AT&T should rise to the occasion and give people what they need. They should see this as a time to get a ton of new customers and significantly increase revenue. Figure it out.
When building the iPhone, Apple innovated in every way they could and built the first true smart phone. If they had let AT&T cripple the device to keep network traffic low, they would have ended up with a dumb phone plus iPod.


  1. i’m sympathetic to your position, in general, but there are folks outside of SFBA and NYC that are happy — even ecstatically so — with AT&T’s network performance. How much of the issue is the urban zoning rules that restrict tower placement? How much of it is simply limits of the technology in a dense RF environment? It doesn’t matter how fast your underlying infrastructure is if you are physically or technically unable to handle the volume.i’m not suggesting that i have inside information. It’s just that it seems quite likely that there’s blame to be shared by many more than just AT&T and/or Apple.

  2. I also use Skype to make calls on my iPhone because AT&T is so horrible. When Skype for iOS4 came out yesterday I thought, "great, now I can actually talk to people on my iPhone".Now I’m thinking, "I don’t even need a voice plan with my phone. I’d love to just have a data plan and only use Skype". If I were AT&T, that’s the last thing I’d want my customers to think if I feared becoming a "dumb pipe".

  3. +1I think Jobs said in the press conference that it takes 3 years to get the permission for placing a cell tower in SF city.

  4. Oh wow….now why don’t you tell us how you REALLY feel. :)@Brad Don’t let the new iPod Touch be able to do FaceTime. Cause if it does… I think I’ll pass on iPhone and AT&T. I’ll get an iTouch and Skype my FaceTime off.Also.. T-Mobile…how about an HSPA+ iPhone… think you can have me one by…hmm thanksgiving? I’m just sayin…

  5. None of this would be an issue if one could select a carrier like one selects hardware. If carriers really had to compete on coverage.Apple’s decision to deal *exclusively* with AT&T cripples the user experience of the iPhone.

  6. it’s funny, i read the same article, and got a totally different take on it. i really don’t see it as wired ripping on apple…or even blaming apple. it’s more a story about how the advent of the iphone brought ATT millions of customers and in turn crippled its network. I really don’t see the article as ripping on either company (except maybe ATT who really had the chance to step up and failed)obviously, we the consumers want the networks to be dumb pipes, but you can bet the networks don’t want that….they’ve got shareholders and a bottom line to think of. If they become dumb pipes, their margins will shrink to nothing due to all the’s the same argument with comcast and net neutrality…if comcast cedes all control, they lose their sounds like you’re asking for an unlocked, unsubsidized, no contract sort of deal. so the question remains, why didn’t Apple do just that? I highly doubt that they were duped by ATT into thinking the network would be fine.

  7. When you have to forbid an iphone capability (as in tethering) to protect your bottom line, you’re in trouble. It means that you’re afraid of the competition because you really don’t have the best product.Freedom is about Choice. Even if AT&T would have offered tethering from the get-go, I still wouldn’t have let go of my home service because the iphone is still too slow on a laptop for my taste.When given the CHOICE, people will still surprise you. Because there will always be something called: differing tastes.So now they’re going to allow tethering for a price… woo-hoo <said sarcastically>. Thank God for the HTC and all the other phones running up the path that apple cleared. Competition is a wonderful technology-advancing thing.I saw the UK Apple store and verified for myself that new iphone 4G is coming out sim-free in the UK – which means you pick your own sim carrier. I’m hoping that when AT&T’s contract runs out here in the US, Apple finally understands that when you build up your entire company brand as the little David standing up against the Big-Brother-Goliath (as in their famous "1984" commercial)… well, it kind of defeats the purpose when you turn around and get in bed with them.

  8. I love reading these post. Inspiring dude, with great words. Plus starting an awesome company with ease and progressive attitudes. Keep it up!

  9. So, on the one hand, we complain that AT&T’s network clearly can’t handle the load, but on the other we complain that they’re not allowing more load on the network….In the USA, there really isn’t much choice, because even if phones were sold unlocked, you generally can’t use them on other networks. This is at least because we have incompatible, competing technologies (predominantly CDMA/CDMA2000-based and GSM/UMTS-based), because carriers work with equipment manufacturers to customize the software for their network, and also in part because of limited resources (frequency allocations). As a result, you can’t simply move your AT&T phone to T-Mobile, or your Sprint phone to Verizon, and expect everything to work properly. To talk about this in terms of Freedom and Choice is to grossly oversimplify the problem. It’s not clear that it’s even possible to create a common technical infrastructure where carriers could compete on coverage, service and features, alone.Regarding tethering on other networks, Verizon has some incentive to look the other way, at the moment. You can bet that they’re not happy about it and will start to charge for it as soon as they feel that either (a) the load is starting to impact network performance and/or profits, or (b) they can get away with it. (In my experience with wireless carriers, there is likely already a contract clause the prevents you from tethering unless you have a business data plan, even if they don’t technically prevent you from doing it on other plans. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

  10. @Evan – simultaneous voice and data are impossible on current CDMA2000 networks (like Verizon’s). You might want to consider how this applies to the iPhone experience.

  11. @Scott – are you suggesting that AT&T’s decision to block tethering in the US was due to limited technology or to avoid overloading their current network?And yet, unlocked iphones (regardless of whether or not they are factory unlocked or jailbroken) CAN tether on the T-Mobile network, and may I add, at no additional cost…If the network issue were the case, then it would prove my point (I did have one hidden in there), about Apple’s mistaken decision to limit the iphone to just one carrier.I’m not Apple, but if I were, I’d had granted the iphone license to the top 2 networks who could handle the technology. Then sit back and watch them compete their little hearts out to improve their own infrastructures in order to stay on top of their game – it’s better business for me, and better service to the consumers.That’s what I mean by Freedom of Choice. If I’m the only one running the race… why spend a single energy more than I have to? I could walk to the finish line and still get the cup.That’s bad in sports and bad in business. Period.What Apple never predicted, per say, was the phenomenon that took off around the product.They never needed AT&T. AT&T needed them.

  12. @Gloria – In a purely hypothetical sense, you have a good argument. However, it doesn’t line up well with practical reality. For instance:The iPhone is seriously impaired on T-Mobile’s network. It doesn’t work at all with their 3G service. This really has nothing to do with AT&T; it’s a frequency band issue, since T-Mobile decided to virtually go it alone with deploying 3G service on UMTS band IV. Sure, Apple could have made the iPhone use that band, but they would have been fools to ignore the bands that both AT&T (in the US) and international carriers commonly use for 3G service.To say that Apple never needed AT&T is accurate as far as it goes. At the same time, they certainly did need to support as much geography as they could in order to have a chance at success. AT&T happens to own the rights in those frequency bands. It was precisely smart business that led Apple to select AT&T even in spite of any misgivings they may have had.Incidentally, with the new quad-band UMTS radio in the iPhone 4, Apple has clearly chosen to support more international carriers rather than accommodate another US carrier (which is to say, T-Mobile). I can’t say that I know whether supporting band IV on-chip is more or less difficult than band VIII. Even assuming that’s not an issue, though, it does make a certain amount of sense to set your sights on a larger international market than to add the #4 US carrier.

  13. Well stated Sachin AT&T and SF don’t mix well. I live in cole valley, and my towers are "degraded" according to AT&T, and since I haven’t moved in the last 4 years, I really cant use 3G in my house, so I always have 3G disabled. I least I can make calls on the Edge.@scott: nice arguments, learned a little too.@Parth: Yes, it takes 3 years to get it approved, whereas Texas takes 3 weeks 😦

  14. This is an amazingly short-sighted argument. The last thing you would do, if you ran a cell-phone provider (not you personally, since if someone cut open your skull they’d probably find the Apple logo imprinted on your cerebral cortex, but the royal you) would be to make yourself a commodity. No for-profit enterprise in their right mind would do that, and contrary to popular belief, the guys running the mobile networks (even AT&T) are not idiots.They will not decouple devices from services. Customers don’t want them to either, because the market for smart phones would drastically drop without the price subsidies that result from contracts. They are not losing power to device manufacturers either, the success of Android proves that. People still overwhelmingly chose their carrier and then their device. We’ll never get to a European-style market without government intervention, and that seems unlikely.Training people to use more data is a great thing, so long as you can purchase the spectrum needed to provide it and charge more for it. More data use means higher marginal costs. It’s econ 101 that they have to charge more as a result. Our regulatory framework and market forces make things very difficult for AT&T. It’s not as simple as "hey we have more customers now and each one is using 5x as much bandwidth as before, lets build 5x more towers." I’m not saying they’re doing a great job, or couldn’t be doing better, but it’s a very difficult task.

  15. Matthew, was a bit combative (as was Sachin) but his point is valid. It’s not necessarily as simple as you’d like it to be. Bandwidth and towers do cost money to deploy in the real world. That said, I do think they could be doing a better job.Also, none of the carriers offer truly unlimited service. Verizon even intentionally drops your connection intermittently when you’re running a streaming app like stock quotes even though it’s a low data application compared to video.plan comparisons: bugs me as much, perhaps more, than the data coverage and limits is when they intentionally cripple your phone or decide you must pay extra for the service. Verizon is terrible about this. They make you pay extra to use the GPS in your phone despite the fact the GPS doesn’t require any of their bandwith.And don’t even get me started on these usurious contract termination fees. Outrageous.

  16. OMG, so true! I’m using the device on Mexico’s Telcel and I never experience dropped calls or low data rates, I’ve visited -more- densely populated cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Monterrey, etc. and my service is still intact; When I go to the US, as soon as I’m in roaming, the dropped calls come, followed by signal drops

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s