I’ve been an AT&T customer since I got my first smartphone back in 2005. Over the years I’ve had nothing but a fantastic experience with them living in a suburb of Philadelphia. I’ve experience perhaps two dropped calls in about five years, and data speeds for the most part have been high and very reliable. When I hear people say that AT&T has poor reliability, I don’t really understand what they mean because even when I travel to New York or San Francisco, areas notorious for having poor AT&T service, my phone works just fine.
Then, I got to Las Vegas for CES 2011. I landed and immediately found that my data connection wasn’t working despite having full bars. And it wasn’t just my phone, but also my tablet (also on AT&T) that didn’t work.
Not only did data not work, but most of the time I couldn’t make a voice call. If I got lucky and the call went through, it’d end about three minutes later. I’ve resorted to using Skype Out on my laptop (using Verizon’s 4G LTE laptop stick) to communicate with the outside world.
To top things off, SMS worked less than half the time. I felt a bit out of touch, to say the least, and my productivity definitely took a hit as I was unable to check email and IM with Pocketnow editors while waiting in massively long lines (characteristic of CES) and during other idle moments.
I know, I know, CES increases the population of this small city by a huge number, and it’s expected that the cell phone networks become overwhelmed. But Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile customers that I talked to all were able to use their devices just fine.
This can’t ever happen again. Both for professional and personal reasons, I must have a working cell phone at all times, and I’m sure that’s true for you too. Several times in my frustration I thought that upon returning home, I might permanently switch to another carrier. After cooling off, and remembering that my coverage at home is fantastic on AT&T, I’ve contended that it’s probably not wise to change carriers just because of this one incident. But with Verizon 4G blanketing most major cities in this country and some hot Android devices coming around to work on the higher speed network, a switch to Verizon sure is enticing. That said, there are still a lot of unanswered questions from Verizon about pricing for 4G, and which phones will be able to do simultaneous voice and data.
In the end, I still maintain that AT&T is a good carrier, but in my book, the CES 2011 network failure has left me a bit angry. How could this possibly happen? Surely AT&T could have planned for this (I mean come on, CES dates are established far in advance) by bolstering their network or even by creating “fake” cell phone towers at or near the convention hall.