What makes a successful wireless carrier? Is it the employees? Yes. Is it the device selection? Yes. Is it the competitve pricing? Sure. But the core to a wireless network is…the network. AT&T wanted the ability to show off how well they’ve been doing within the last few years and decided the best way was to throw a party at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The LTG crew received a private invite from AT&T so they could walk us through what they are so proud of. Oh and did I mention they gave us tickets to the game as well? Yeah; they did. Here’s a quick video we shot using an AT&T Samsung Galaxy S III.
The Event at AT&T Park
After the limo (yeah they sent a limo to pick us up) dropped us in front of the park, we headed over to the front entrance aka Willie Mays Plaza. We were greeted by a girl in an AT&T shirt who preceded to take out picture with a Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket. Within a few seconds, our photo was printing out on photo paper with an AT&T themed border. But that was just the beginning. They had a long table with blank orange signs. The goal, write your own sign or message to the SF Giants. This of course created team spirit, bonding and team pride. One young boy in a stroller had his grandmother write a sign that read, “This is my First Game! And It’s my Birthday!”
After getting a little lost in the crowd, we met the event coordinator and manager.
He explained to us that AT&T wanted to show their appreciation to their customers and possible new customers. They were celebrating an improved network at AT&T Park and all across the San Francisco Bay Area. He went on to say AT&T invested over $2.2 billion in the network which in turn reduced the dropped call rate by 35%. So I asked, “What are you doing to celebrate? Make signs?” Yes and no. There were 2 long lines in the inner tent and a couch surrounded with electronics.
One of the lines ended up at a table where you could design your own SF Giants sunglasses. You picked the color of the frames, the color of the arms and you put it together. Believe, the day was beautiful so getting free sunglasses was worth the wait. But the longer of the two lines was a giveaway: a pair of Beats by Dre Solo HD headphones. AT&T reps and event reps walked around explaining to people why they were there in the first place. But the best seat in the event was the white couch in front of the HDTV surrounded by Sony and AT&T products. It was another sweepstakes attempt to try to win everything you saw. The overall atmosphere was friendly, welcoming and exciting. Although I didn’t win the headphones, I learned that AT&T really wanted us to know they cared.
True, this was a fun event and the game was great (even though the Giants lost).
But as a journalist, there was something I needed answered: What did AT&T really do to improve the network? So I was pointed in the right direction and talked with AT&T’s Director of Communications, John Britton.
What Did They Do?
Britton gave me about 30 minutes of his time to explain to me AT&T goals and how they executed them. It all stems from 2007 to 2009. AT&T was the only carrier in the United States that officially carried the iPhone. He said because so many people wanted to get their hands on the newest and coolest handset of the century, this caused a problem for AT&T’s network. Then it got worse with the introduction of mobile apps.
There was so much congestion on AT&T’s network because people were downloading apps, using maps, calls, emails and texting more than expected. In fact, according to Britton, data traffic had reached 20,000% and the network capacity got overloaded. Hence, dropped calls and dropped signal. What did AT&T do? Well, like we learned at the AT&T Park event, since 2009, AT&T invested $2.2 billion back into their network. They’ve erected over 50 brand new cell sites, upgraded and optimized existing sites and most importantly, added more capacity.
In addition to adding and improving the cell sites, the wiring between the sites and the central switching facilities has been upgraded to fiber optic. Also, AT&T has changed a number of micro cell sites that pointed in one direction into macro cell sites that point in multiple directions simultaneously. All of these improvements have helped calls keep their connection between a hand off or pass off. Before, if you were travelling between cell sites and you were connected to a site that was already at capacity, your call would be dropped. Now the newer towers have added more capacity, the data speeds are faster and overall, customers seem to be much happier with the outcome. Some of the cell sites they’ve improved are hidden in plain site. For example, they have a tower hidden in a Burger King sign off of Interstate-80 in Richmond, California; just over 20 minutes north of San Francisco.
Of course, this is just the San Francisco Bay Area. AT&T is making improvements like this nationwide. It doesn’t happen overnight but like they say, “We’re not done yet.” One of our writers, Sean Wilburn, is an AT&T customer. After talking to him about carriers and their improvements, he has mentioned that AT&T’s network has gotten better over the past few years, especially with the new 4GLTE network (5-12 Mbps down). Plus, they’ve got the HSPA+ “4G” network (3-5 Mbps down) to fall back on in case you’re not in a 4GLTE area.
Plans for the Future
So what now? What does AT&T plan to do? Hopefully, the FCC will approve the acquisition of NextWave and its spectrum. This is important because more spectrum means more capacity. No matter what, AT&T will continue to push through and improve and expand their 4GLTE network. When asked about VoLTE (Voice over LTE), nothing in motion yet, but that is an emerging technology that AT&T is considering in the future. We shall see.