updated 11:10 am EST, Thu January 28, 2010
ATT factoring in Apple device in 3G rollout
AT&T has already factored in the iPad to its 3G network upgrade strategies for the year, the carrier said during its quarterly results call for the fall. It said it has a "good read" on the iPad's usage characteristics before it was announced and that many of its 2010 network plans factor the tablet into capacity. It expects usage to hover between the iPhone and other devices as it's much more likely to sit on Wi-Fi.
The carrier also stressed that it's "not subsidizing" the iPad in any way, downplaying speculation that a discounted version might be available. It's a "substantially different model;" users pay with a credit card in advance and aren't locked in. That makes usage forecasts difficult, AT&T explained, as they can start and stop usage quickly.
Apple's deal for $30 unlimited, data-only service is a hint at an evolution towards lower-cost data as a whole.
It also stressed that it's planning to tackle both iPad and iPhone usage in the feature through dramatic upgrades in capacity over the next 90 days, particularly in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. The former should get third and fourth cell site controllers at key areas as well as 33 percent more radio spectrum. San Francisco's upgrades are more targeted but will focus on the Financial District as well as key areas like convention centers and stadiums, where usage is often concentrated.
On a more national level, AT&T expects to add about 1,000 new cell sites, 10 times more Ethernet than it added last year and about twice as much extra capacity than in 2009's upgrades. Most 3G data should be carried on AT&T's fiber optics instead of its legacy network.
The carrier further defended its recent performance and noted that its New York City 3G performance improved consecutively with each month of the fall, especially in the overwhelmed Manhattan borough. As many as 70 percent of the actively used devices on the local network at peak periods are data-intensive devices like iPhones and BlackBerries. Fluctuations may actually have been caused by radio upgrades that temporarily diminished capacity.
Many of AT&T's problems are expected to ease once it starts deploying LTE-based 4G, which begins regular service in 2011. It runs entirely on IP-based networking and is considerably cheaper to run than 3G despite being faster. Two cities are expected to trial LTE in 2010.