AT&T chief: Operators aren't prepared for onslaught of data traffic

AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told the Wall Street Journal that wireless operators aren't prepared for the onslaught of data traffic coming from smartphones, and that the deluge is beginning to clog their networks aka AT&T Mobility's.

However, the chief defended AT&T's wireless network performance in light of the traffic coming from iPhone users. Early on, the operator was criticized for being unprepared. He said AT&T has begun to nearly double the speed of its network in certain areas and he pointed out the operator's low churn rate. The operator also announced plans to upgrade its HSPA network to higher data speeds as well as increase bandwidth.

"I feel like we are closing the gap on this, but we're not there yet," he said, at the D: All Things Digital conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal. "We are about to see these issues manifest themselves industry wide."

AT&T appears to be combating the problem by imposing strict data caps with punitive overage charges. More recently, AT&T has found itself defending its network policy that prompted content place shifting technology developer Sling Media to remove 3G access from the iPhone edition of its SlingPlayer Mobile video application. AT&T said the application would take up too much network capacity. SlingPlayer for iPhone enables users to stream live and recorded television content from their home entertainment system to their mobile device. In order to earn approval for the application, Sling Media was forced to disable 3G streaming capabilities, meaning iPhone users can only view content over WiFi. The same is true for Skype's iPhone application. It only works over WiFi.

Interestingly, Verizon Wireless recently lifted its data usage limit from 50 MB to 250 MB for its $40 plan.

Yesterday, I moderated a webinar on this very issue. John Jackson of CCS Insight, Larry Socher from Accenture and Adrian Hall from Bytemobile discussed how operators effectively manage the deluge of data traffic. You can check it out here.

For more:
- see the WSJ (sub. req.)

Related articles:
AT&T's mobile broadband house of cards
Verizon Wireless offers relief on data caps
How long can mobile operators institute data usage caps?
T-Mobile USA jettisons 3G data usage cap