Tag Archives | Wireless Service

AT&T and Google at Odds Over Google Voice–This Time For Realz

Rock 'Em Rock 'Em RobotsAT&T may have played no part in Apple’s rejection infinite pondering of Google’s Google Voice app for iPhone, but that doesn’t mean that the phone carrier is a Google Voice fan. Far from it, apparently–the company has written a letter to the FTC complaining about Google Voice’s blocking of certain phone numbers operated by rural carriers (including adult services) for which it would otherwise have to pay unusually high fees to the rural phone companies. As a common carrier, AT&T is required to put these calls through even though they cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Here’s AT&T’s letter in its entirety:

AT&T argues that (A) Google Voice is essentially similar to traditional phone service and so should play by the same rules; (B) even if you consider it to be an application rather than phone service, FCC policy says that consumers are entitled to competition among networks, applications and services, and it’s not fair competition if Google Voice has an advantage; and (C) by blocking certain calls that would cost it a lot of money to connect, Google is violating the philosophy of net neutrality which it’s famous for enthusiastically supporting.

Google has speedily published a blog post responding to AT&T’s complaints. The gist: (A) Google Voice is a free application and therefore not required to follow common-carrier rules or basically listen to the FCC at all; (B) it’s not a replacement for a traditional phone service such as that offered by AT&T; and (C) it’s still in private beta.

I’m no expert on telecommunications policy. But to my layman’s ears, neither company’s argument is instantly compelling. AT&T’s letter is dripping with needless, grating snark (it’s not often that you see one large company accuse another of being “noisome” in a public venue). It doesn’t explain why it thinks its services and Google Voice are largely similar given that Google Voice is a sort of overlay for traditional phone service rather than a replacement for it. And wasn’t AT&T just insisting that net neutrality policy shouldn’t apply to wireless service, thereby undercutting its new stance that if there’s going to be net neutrality, it must be observed uniformly?

Google, meanwhile, doesn’t actually explain why it’s reasonable that Google Voice should play by different rules than AT&T–it just says that it does. Nor does it spell out why it thinks that the fact that Google Voice is free and (currently) only available in a limited fashion are germane to the discussion at hand.

Google does extend an olive branch of sorts by stating that it thinks the FCC rules that leave AT&T and other common carriers paying through the nose for these rural phone company services should be reformed. Maybe that’s the ultimate solution here: Prevent the little phone companies from gouging the big ones for porn calls. As a customer of AT&T who uses Google Voice, I know where my self-interest lies: I want the two companies’ services to work well together, and for Google Voice to retain its attractive current price ($0.00 a month).

Are you taking sides in this squabble?


Take Back the Beep!

My friend David Pogue of the New York Times is a man on a mission. He’s become irate over the time that cell phone company voicemail systems spend playing a recorded message telling you to leave a message, explaining how to send a page, and suggesting that you hang up when you’re done leaving the message. The messages are pointless little annoyances every time you hear them–and since they take fifteen seconds or so to play, they eat up the monthly minutes of the person who called.

David is trying to rally phone users to bury carriers in such a surging sea of complaints that they enter the 21st century by ditching these obsolete recorded messages. It’s a great idea. His post about all this includes instructions on how to tell your carrier you’re part of the crusade.

Of course, it’s not just that 15-second message that’s irritating–voicemail systems in general tend to sport the most aggravating user interfaces this side of automated supermarket checkouts. One of the nice things about using an iPhone and/or Google Voice is getting to avoid those convoluted menus…and David says that Apple insisted that AT&T eliminate the 15-second message for iPhone voicemail. Which proves it can be done–you know of anyone who’s called an iPhone owner, been bounced into voicemail, and gotten confused by the lack of instructions?


Take Wired.com’s 3G Phone Speed Test

Wired Speed TestsWired.com, which published an eye-opening survey of iPhone 3G users’ experiences with data last August, is doing it all over again–but this time, it’s expanding its scope to test the 3G networks of all the major U.S. wireless carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. It’s a public service, and whatever the results are, they’ll be interesting. This article explains how to participate, which you do by running interactive tests on your smartphone.

I’m going to do just that on my iPhone–hope you do, too.

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iPhone Reception Problems Got You Down? You Need More Network Capacity. Now!

AT&T LogoI’m having a very good time at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, where most everybody seems to be thoroughly enjoying themselves and the principal complaints seem to involve the weather (which finally cleared up this afternoon) and the quality of AT&T’s wireless service in and around the convention center.

The latter is an significant point, because there are legions of iPhone users here–I wouldn’t be startled if iPhones-per-capacita here are higher than anywhere on the planet, with the possible exception of whatever Zip Code Cupertino is in–and Twitter is as important a communications channel at the show as, well, you know, walking up to people and talking to them. The contrarian in me is not 100% empathetic with the folks here who have been traumatized by spotty service. 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999% of the humans who ever walked the earth managed to fare okay without working iPhones, and multiple issues remain more serious issues for mankind than spotty AT&T service (famine and brain cancer, to name but two). And I got the sense that moaning about AT&T had become trendy here. I saw one guy brandish his iPhone, jab at it with his forefinger, and say something unrepeatable about AT&T’s service. In an elevator.

Still, the fact remains that my own iPhone basically had no working wireless service inside the convention center yesterday afternoon. (I made do with my notebook and its EVDO card, which is on the Verizon network. It was fine.)

This morning, however, I tried my iPhone again, and data service worked, Actually, it worked great–it was snappier than it usually is back home in the Bay Area. I chalked it up to random good fortune–in general, I never know whether my iPhone is going to perform like a champ or fail to connect at all, and I’m never sure whether to blame Apple, AT&T, or both.

Tonight, however, I had a chance to talk with someone with knowledge of AT&T’s response to the SxSW Crisis of 2009. He told me that the company hadn’t anticipated that SxSW would be bursting at the seams with iPhones. (You’d hope that it was aware it’s sold a heck of a lot of iPhones since the last conference, but perhaps SxSW wasn’t on its corporate radar screen, or it didn’t realize that everyone would be Tweeting up such a storm.)

By 5pm yesterday, AT&T realized it had a problem on its hands, and it spent four hours doubling capacity in downtown Austin–something it was planning to do anyhow, but over the course of a few months, not a few hours. It did so not by rolling out portable cell towers (also known as Cells on Wheels, or by the wonderful acronym COW) but by borrowing capacity from other areas that didn’t need it as much–there’s only so much capacity to go around.

The person I spoke with said that the whole experience was a wake-up call for AT&T, and that it plans to monitor tech conferences and other gatherings that are likely to spur heavy use of 3G phones on its network from now on, and plan accordingly.

AT&T’s response didn’t turn every SxSW attendee into a happy camper–over at Cnet, Andrew Mager has blogged about folks who were still disgruntled as of Sunday. But as a guy who knows very little about the nuts and bolts of wireless phone service, it was news to me that a provider could do anything at all to improve the situation in a few hours. I look forward to the day when wireless capacity isn’t stretched thin anywhere. And I’m curious how my iPhone will fare in a couple of weeks when I visit the CTIA Wireless trade show in Las Vegas. It may have somewhat fewer ardent Twitter users than SxSw is seeing this year, but it’s surely be rife with heavy-duty phone users…