Summit-AT&T says NY network remains a challenge

May 16, 2011

One upside toAT&T”s John Stankey decision to attend the Reuters Technology, Media and Telecommunications Summit in New York two years in a row: we could check how far he’s progressed in improving services here.

In May 2010, the CEO told us his infamously patchy network in New York would be running well by the end of the summer. He spent part of that trip to New York running around midtown and and testing the network with an iPhone app.

 So what’s happened since?

“It’s better than when I saw you last year and it’s not good enough … We haven’t gotten as far as I would’ve liked to have gotten in this year.”

 Stankey said the company is working as fast as it can to reduce dropped calls and to make the switch more smooth when a customer moves outside the range of one wireless broadcast tower and into another.

“We’re making progress on all those fronts but we’re not quite where we want to be yet,” he said. 

Take this reporter. Covering the AT&T/ T-Mobile USA acquisition announcement one Sunday in March, her calls to an iPhone-toting editor kept cutting out. While hardly a scientific test, we couldn’t help but point out the irony to Stankey.

While he didn’t want to make excuses, the exec did mention that data traffic was growing faster than expected. In New York city alone, AT&T saw wireless data traffic increase 50 percent from October 2010 to April 2011.

“We continue to build. We continue to throw as much investment as we can possibly muster,” he said. But upgrades are often slowed by factors like obstructionist landlords and the time it takes to procure permits.

And he blamed the success of hot services like Pandora and Netflix.

“Should I have known a year ago that Netflix was going to change their subscription model? I’m good, but I’m not that omniscient” he said. “Everybody all of a sudden started watching TV episodes on their mobile because they had a Netflix subscription and they could stream them.”

Stankey says AT&T would have about 30 percent more airwaves in New York if its T-Mobile USA deal is approved. 

But if data traffic is increasing 50 percent every six months, will that really be enough to make a difference?

(Photo: Reuters from Stankey’s Summit appearance  in 2010)

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