Archive for October, 2009

Not all that long ago, there was a time when our telecommunications network was the envy of rest of the world. It was a time when you were almost assured that when you picked up the handset there would be dialtone and when you placed the call it would be connected, with perhaps only a busy signal preventing this from happening. On the very rare occasion when this wasn’t the case, any kind of large-scale outage was newsworthy.

In contrast, Verizon proudly advertises that they are aggressively seeking out network shortcomings using an army of people trained to repeatedly ask, “Can you hear me now?” This is actually a good thing as Ivan Seidenberg, the chief executive of Verizon Communications announced that they have no interest in continuing to offer landline service, instead opting to focus in on a cell phone service – even though telephone will be offered as an option provided across their Fios (Fiber Optic) network.

Why would this be a problem? After all, the number of people dropping their landlines in favor of cell phones is increasing every year. And if this is what the public wants, isn’t Verizon doing what any good business should do – listening to their customers?

John Donovan, CTO/AT&T, tells The New York Times, “Overnight we’re seeing a radical shift in how people are using their phones,” later adding “There’s just no parallel for the demand.

There’s no reason to worry though, as AT&T is aggressively addressing this problem, as detailed in this press release dated, September 1, 2009 , “AT&T* today announced a substantial strengthening of its 3G mobile broadband wireless network where it has deployed spectrum in the 850 MHz band across large portions of metro New York City, Long Island and New Jersey.

John Donovan, CTO/AT&T, also candidly admitted to Fortune magazine, “3G networks were not designed effectively for this kind of usage.” This leads me to wonder if AT&T has a meaningful dialog going with Mr Donovan as it appears there may be some internal disagreement.

In a report recently released by Cisco, [pdf] we find the following statements,

  • “Globally, mobile data traffic will double every year through 2013, increasing 66x between 2008 and 2013. Mobile data traffic will grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 131 percent between 2008 and 2013, reaching over 2 exabytes per month by 2013.
  • Almost 64 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2013. Mobile video will grow at a CAGR of 150 percent between 2008 and 2013.
  • Mobile broadband handsets with higher than 3G speeds and laptop aircards will drive over 80 percent of global mobile traffic by 2013. A single high-end phone (such as an iPhone or Blackberry) generates more data traffic than 30 basic-feature cell phones. A laptop aircard generates more data traffic than 450 basic-feature cell phones.”

Businessweek adds this information about AT&T to the discussion, “Many of its 60,000 cell towers need to be upgraded. That could cost billions of dollars, and AT&T has kept a lid on capital spending during the recession—though it has made spending shifts to accommodate skyrocketing iPhone traffic. Even if the funds were available now, the process could take years due to the hassle and time needed to win approval to erect new towers and to dig the ditches that hold fiber-optic lines capable of delivering data. And time is ticking.

How bad could this problem realistically become? Perhaps understanding what occurred in Austin Texas earlier this year, as described by Fortune Magazine, can help drive the urgency home.

At the South by Southwest music, film, and interactive fest in Texas earlier this year, the iPhone was all the rage — and not in a good way.

The device proved so popular with Internet-addicted attendees that AT&T’s wireless network in the city of Austin buckled under the strain, all but shutting down both voice and data service for many customers.

The good news is that alternatives exist, AT&T says its free Wi-Fi initiative isn’t a response to a recent avalanche of complaints from iPhone users that they cannot connect via 3G. Still, Jeff Bradley, the company’s senior vice president of devices, said that if more AT&T users shifted to Wi-Fi, the performance of the 3G network should improve.”

That’s right, please continue to pay for the 3G network service but if you could find it in your heart to use a WiFi access point whenever possible it will help improve AT&T’s 3G network performance. One might assume that AT&T would appreciate it if you would use someone’s else WiFi connection, perhaps while you’re grabbing a cup of coffee somewhere.

What you need to understand is that this problem isn’t AT&T’s fault, nope, no way as John Donovan, CTO/AT&T, explains, “AT&T’s wireless data traffic has increased by more than 18 times over the past two years, and he expects this trend to continue as the company offers more smartphones and 3G netbooks.”

I mean it’s not like anyone could have predicted this increased demand in traffic, surely not a telecommunications company with a few decades of experience, right?

Perhaps the most powerful tool we have to advert this crisis is fear. As no one wants to be in charge (or holding political office) the day the communications network goes down, that fear is our strongest ally.