Monday, November 15, 2010

Rethinking Possible with AT&T Wireless

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”
Abraham Lincoln

I was watching TV the other day and came across a new advertising campaign for AT&T Wireless. The campaign seems like a bold push to dispel the myths, and counter the myriad complaints about the poor performance of their network. A fact that has been amplified by their exclusive Apple iPhone agreement. It has been widely reported that their network has been unable to keep up with data demands of iPhone users. This AT&T advertisement uses scenarios best described as a mix of hyperbole and reality to counter these perceptions and tries to persuade us with a tagline that challenges us to “Rethink Possible.”

The funny thing about this new campaign and particularly the tagline that struck a real chord with me is that, as an AT&T wireless subscriber, I had already begun rethinking what is possible with my AT&T device and service. Perhaps, not quite in the way that AT&T and their ad agency intended.

Granted their advertising is about the data network speed but surely one can assume that if the data network transmits at light speeds, enabling us the ability to do things we could not have imagined or dreamed possible - like changing a train reservation while standing on the platform because we made eye contact with a beautiful woman on another train, and then went on to marry her and produce the 54th President of the United States of America...all because of AT&T’s magnificent network. Given that I can Rethink Possible in such an amazing way for data you would think it would also be possible to make a simple, old fashioned voice call - no problem. Well, you would be dead wrong. Forget the fact that it is impossible for me to walk down a street in Manhattan just one short block without the call dropping but I cannot even walk across my living room. For those unfamiliar with Manhattan apartments, think of the most spacious ones as small walk-in closets, and I can assure you that ours is far from spacious. It has become impossible to have a cell phone conversation unless I am standing or sitting in one place. Not only do I have to check the signal strength before I sit down but I also find that I need to restrict my movements while on the call. Any sudden moves or gestures could well lose that elusive signal and result in a dropped call. On average I make 4 calls to finish one 2 minute conversation. I remember having more freedom of movement when my phone line was tethered.

Admittedly, I am not the most technologically advanced being, but my understanding of the purpose of voicemail is that it’s similar to the answering machine. A caller can leave a message if we are unable to answer the phone for any reason. If this is also your understanding then perhaps you will be able to explain to me why AT&T’s voicemail service routinely seems to send incoming calls directly to my voicemail when I am ready and waiting eagerly for the call. Then, as if to add insult to injury, it often only alerts me up to 3 days after I received the call to tell me that I have a voicemail. By which time I have either met with the person or the issue has been resolved over email. I can tell you that AT&T is responsible for my growing reputation of tardiness when it comes to returning calls.

The other day I got an urgent text message and immediately called my friend. She texted saying she needed a babysitter on short notice. When she answered my call she sounded perfectly calm and not frantic like I expected based on the urgency of her text. I probed and she seemed confused and finally said “what are you talking about?’ When I told her I was responding to her super urgent request for a babysitter, she laughed and said that she had sent me the text on Monday morning. It was now Wednesday afternoon. Co-incidentally, she sent me another text last weekend, this time a picture of her baby. Now a week later, my AT&T wireless phone still shows the status as “retrieving” her text but will not let me cancel this rather lengthy retrieval or delete it. I must call and ask her how many million gigabytes she has sent or maybe it would be better if I emailed.

Everywhere I look I see people with smart phones. It used to be that only men in suits carried them but now its women with strollers, nannies with kids, schoolchildren on the subway, delivery men and even clergy. Apart from the fact that I often want to hit all these people when I see them walking down the street staring at their smart screens while stupidly walking into traffic and into me...I plan to get one too. My dilemma is simple – what is the point of a having a smart phone if one has to use it on a dumb network? Frankly, the only reason our family is holding out on the iPhone is because our friends at AT&T wireless are the only people offering it. Besides, since I am currently unable to make a simple phone call I have been forced to rethink what else might not be possible on my smart phone like sending pictures, streaming video, downloading music, rich media texts, IM, online gaming, emailing and video chat.

The AT&T wireless signal is another great mystery. It was somewhat explained when Apple recently announced that the “algorithm” they were using to calculate the AT&T signal bars on the iPhones was inaccurate. Assuming AT&T uses a similar algorithm on their dumber phones it might explain why I often have all 5 bars but am unable to use my AT&T wireless phone as anything more than a brick. But it does not explain why my wife’s phone, on Verizon’s network, always works no matter how few bars her phone indicates and no matter where we find ourselves. In fact she uses her phone when there are zero bars showing, and is routinely able to make and receive calls no matter where she is. Be it in the dark basements of large department stores, on desolate highways, in undersea tunnels or from the deep inner recesses of large office buildings. Meanwhile I can be found standing on the widest part of the street, away from the tallest buildings, carefully avoiding the path of the trees and the direct rays of the sun, all the while looking and praying for a signal that says I can once again communicate with the world. I would wager that if we found ourselves stuck down the shaft of the deepest mine, anywhere in the USA, her Verizon phone would have a signal and save us while my AT&T phone would allow us to take final pictures and video of ourselves while slowly running out of air.

I also noticed a rather curious claim on their new advertising campaign: “AT&T Covers 97% of Americans.” I had to stop and think about this one. It’s an ingenious way to be quite disingenuous (leave it to those brilliant admen) because the brain thinks it just read and registered that AT&T’s network covers 97% of America. Which seems rather impressive but hard to believe given my personal experience. It also slyly says nothing about the quality of their coverage or what those lucky 9 million people left without AT&T coverage do. From first-hand experience in New York, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Erie, Memphis, New Orleans, San Francisco, Buffalo, Boston, most of Rhode Island and Menlo Park, to name just a few places, I can tell you that their coverage quality is unequivocally and equally crap everywhere. My advice to AT&T is to take the hundreds of millions dollars they are currently spending on advertising trying to convince people that their network actually works, and spend it on upgrading their network so it that does actually work.

As for me, a loyal 10 year veteran of AT&T wireless, this new advertising campaign has finally made me rethink the possibilities, and decide to become Verizon’s newest customer. Who says advertising does not work!
  
CHECK OUT: The Daily Show bringing my words to life!

14 comments:

  1. What? So are u giving up your iphone?

    On another note, my phone seems fine...but then i text more than i talk and use more apps than internet. We'll see what happens when i go the other way.

    And on a sad note, it is so sad that we had to come up with dumb taglines and concepts for AT&T back in the mLife days. Really. Sad.

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  2. Read below another rant by an iPhone prisoner trapped on the AT&T network:
    http://blindinfluence.com/2010/09/att-is-to-iphone-what-ice-cream-trucks-with-no-air-conditioning-are-to-delivery-in-the-sahara-desert-2/

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  3. Agreed! While AT&T undoubtedly has trouble handling a large number of people simultaneously using their network in a concentrated area, such as in a metropolitan area, they also have crap coverage in the middle of nowhere as well. I moved from Dallas, where snail-speed 3G connectivity is amply available, to a smallish town in Kansas where they eagerly sell the same 3G enabled phones in their glacier-speed Edge networking area. The cool and “smart” features of my “smart phone” are now completely useless without WiFi, which is not hard to come by in a single location, but is inaccessible if traveling at speeds over 1 mph. BULLpoop is what I say! My real theory is that there is no best wireless phone service provider; it all boils down to the question, “Which provider is the lesser of the evils?” They either have a crappy network with mediocre customer service, an acceptable network with horrendous customer service, or a nasty combination both. All at the convenient price of everything in your wallet, plus your soul.

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  4. It depends on the phone I had an lg and had the worst service ever now I have the blackberry torch and have no issues or dropped calls

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  5. Do this test: Download Speedtest.net on an ATT iPhone and a Verizon Android and check the data speeds.

    I've done this multiple times and find ATT to be 2 to 3 times faster than Verizon. ATT usually runs around 1.4 to 1.8 Mbps while Verizon is usually 0.4 to 0.8 Mbps.

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  6. Experiencing the complete opposite, drrjv. My AT&T iPhone is running closer to 0.5-0.6 Mbps while my work Verizon Droid is running no less than 1.7 Mbps.

    It's unreasonable to think that based on one area, one provider is thus more capable than the other. Verizon is faster more often than AT&T, not always, but far, far more often, across the country.

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  7. I had a friend call AT&T to complain about lack of signal in their apartment, and they were informed "AT&T does not guarantee coverage indoors." So maybe if we took away all the buildings and lived outside in tents, AT&T customers could get a signal at least once in awhile. But then again, they never said that they guarantee coverage outside either...

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  8. My AT&T phone works fine, but then I don't expect wireless signal to move through a multitude of brick and concrete buildings in an over populated urban environment. If you refuse to keep a land line, then get a 3gMicroCell for your Manhattan apartment, problem solved.

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  9. AT&T at some point put up a billboard by the San Francisco Caltrain saying something like "AT&T covers 80% of Americans!". The thing that's funny about this is that the billboard was put where you could only see it if you were in an approaching or leaving train, and that entire area-- the football-sized area where trains approach and enter the station-- is an AT&T coverage gap. Maybe this is because of all the big metal trains, but for whatever reason, my AT&T service cuts out and returns as I leave and enter that specific area where that billboard was visible. It sent a fun little unintentional message-- "Welcome to San Francisco-- AT&T covers 80% of America, but not here"

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  10. gettin a lot of hits with this att post. I guess it is a huge issue. Almost feel bad for them

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  11. Besides some app problems here and there (that don't majorly affect my iPhone experience), my phone's fine. I don't get dropped calls often and my internet works great. I think it's due to the area you live in. I live in Brooklyn, NY.

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  12. You do realize your own hypocrisy, don't you? you are trashing a network because of your bad experiences even while you say one or two areas can't be used to judge a network. You claim to have dropped calls and poor service but offer no definition. And when you said your wife's phone gets great service in an undersea tunnel ... I find that very hard to believe.

    And, the bottom of this page has an advertisement for none other than AT&T. So what is it, really? Bad network, bad customer, or just someone who wants to bait people into visiting a site so you make ad revenue from AT&T.

    Hilarious.

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  13. My AT&T phone also works fine, maybe you should contact CS

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    ReplyDelete