AT&T CTO defends mobile broadband network

SAN DIEGO--AT&T CTO John Donovan came out swinging during last week's CTIA IT & Entertainment keynote, telling the audience that AT&T understands the needs of data users more than any other carrier and that it is working hard to meet the needs of data users who are creating a capacity crunch on the operator's network.

The challenge for AT&T, he said, is trying to predict where and when data might be consumed. It's easy to assume that the iPhone is the sole culprit for the increased data traffic, but integrated devices, which include smartphones and quick messaging devices, made up about 36 percent of the devices on the operator's network at the end of the third quarter. He noted that wireless data traffic grew nearly 5,000 percent over 12 quarters, from the third quarter 2006 to the second quarter 2009.

"If you are thinking the iPhone is creating all this traffic, you are partially right," Donovan said. He also noted that smart devices, such as ereaders and netbooks combined with the increased use of mobile email and the desire to access Facebook and Twitter on the go are also reasons for the huge growth in data traffic. And he offered some interesting stats: "The Pandora and XM applications on the iPhone are two of the highest traffic drivers on our network." iPhone users have been complaining about poor network quality.

 AT&T is migrating to a higher speed version of HSPA (high speed packet access) technology that will enable peak rates of 7.2 Mbps. Six cities will have this capability by the end of 2009, while 25 markets will be upgraded in 2010 with 90 percent coverage by 2011. At the same time, the operator is opening up more of its spectrum for HSPA as well as adding more capacity in its backhaul network. By 2011, Donovan said AT&T will be rolling out Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, otherwise known as 4G.

Donovan said AT&T will be hitting the sweet spot when it launches LTE in 2011. Such a move will ensure a suitable number of devices available for the network technology. Donovan also said that a 2011 LTE deployment will guarantee that the carrier's network and available devices will adhere to the 3GPP's official LTE standard, implying that Verizon's deployment would not. Verizon is aiming to launch 25-30 commercial LTE markets next year.

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