Outrageous Outrages Shedding logical light on ridiculous and annoying things

Looks like a great place to start a cellular service provider!

Posted on March 27, 2010
Cell phone tower

Now really, how hard can that be?

We've been talking on cell phones for a long time.  Most people have one, and many use them exclusively.  I haven't had a home phone line in years, instead opting to use my iPhone as my primary means of communication.  I do a lot of travel, so it is an added bonus to have a phone line that goes where I go rather than return home to a dozen voice mails.  In today's world, being tethered to anything physical is rather difficult.  That's why we have cell phones,  that's why there's a 3G version of the iPad, and that's why many people use portable 3G routers and devices for their laptops.  Given all this, and the evolution of cell phones over the past 20 years, you'd think cell phone networks would make similar advancements.  Not only do they seem to be failing miserably, but the near future for quality of service seems to be in question.

I saw an ad recently by AT&T for a promotion they are doing.  For $150 you can put a 3G MicroCell in your own home to dramatically boost your 3G signal strength.  They began test marketing this in Charlotte, North Carolina, and are working toward a nationwide roll out.  If building your own mini cell tower isn't enough, for $20/month you can be your own phone provider, meaning the minutes you use talking through your MicroCell won't count against your monthly allocation.  That's right, for the low low price of $150 down and $20 monthly you can save AT&T the trouble of having to build quality towers in your area!  Outragous?  It gets worse.  The MicroCell actually routes your cell phone and 3G activity over your home WiFi connection.  In other words, if you have poor signal strength where you live thanks to insufficient or overloaded towers, paying for your cell phone service plan isn't enough.  You now have to pay them for equipment, pay a monthly fee, and pay for a good quality internet connection at home.  And have WiFi.  I sure hope you're not using TW Roadrunner in La Jolla, or good luck carrying on a conversation without being dropped every 90 seconds.

Is that the future for carriers?  Are they hoping we'll all buy their devices and sign up for home 3G plans so they can dump our 3G traffic out over our WiFi connections?  I don't mean to pick on AT&T too much--the only reason I tend to mention them is that I'm a loyal customer and like to stick to what I know.  I give them kudos for investing in their San Francisco area infrastructure ($65 million+ between 2008 and 2009) as well as taking on the iPhone single handed.  However, I think it is outrageous for them to charge customers so they can charge customers, because they didn't build to proper capacity.  I can only imagine what would happen at ServInt if we tried this.  "Sure, you get 5 TB bandwidth with that, but if you want to push more than 1 Mbps you have to pay extra fees.  Yeah, I know 1 Mbps doesn't let you use what you pay for, but we don't have capacity on your switch."  We'd be fired.  Repeatedly.  If I tell a customer they can use 5 TB/month bandwidth, you can be damn sure the server is capable of pushing it, the network is capable of handling it, and the bandwidth is available to do it without a hint of slowdown.  So what lets the phone companies get away with it?

Verizon and AT&T have been fighting in the media lately with their TV commercials.  AT&T is all about 5 bars.  Verizon is all about having a Rorschach-like network map covering every nook and cranny they can.  Meanwhile providers in countries around the world including France, Germany, and Vietnam are entering into infrastructure sharing agreements.  They're not too proud to realize that the customer is the most important piece of the puzzle, and they are willing to do what it takes to provide the best quality service.  The American way, unfortunately, seems to be reinventing the wheel and charging double for it.  Kudos to Sprint for realizing that they can maximize ARPU by charging a flat rate for unlimited usage, and it won't really change the consumption profiles of their customers.  Now if only they could carry the iPhone...

Its sad really.  It is 2010 and I live in a relatively populated area.  I can see cell towers from my office window and I generally do get 5 bars.  Why then do my downloads slow down and my calls get dropped?  I was talking on the phone with ServInt's COO recently.  The whole call lasted about 45 minutes, and we got dropped half a dozen times.  The worst part is the timing of it all.  You know the part of your call where you realize you're done talking and its time to wrap up and say goodbye?  Yeah, we got dropped.  I don't want to be rude, so I called back to say it was a good talk, we got lots done, and we'll talk again later.  Unfortunately during this, we got dropped again!  Now I call him back "one last time" to say goodbye, taking pause to comment about how silly it is, pondering whether it is considered impolite if your call is dropped just before saying goodbye.  And the call drops again.  So I gave up and texted "bye" with a laugh of frustration and understanding.

Maybe that's AT&T's way of marketing the MicroCell to me, although conversely the existence of the MicroCell in populated areas validates my complaint.  I'm certainly curious to know if people experience more and more dropped calls over time, and how your quality of service compares now to 2-3 years ago.  Is your 3G faster now than the 3G then?  Do your calls drop more now than before?  Let me know.  I don't think I'm the only one who can rant about cell phone service quality...

Posted by Reed

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