It’s no secret that AT&T’s under investment in infrastructure has become a major liability for the company that now wears the once proud technology leader’s logo. The iPhone has rewarded the company with steady wireless growth, enough to cover for its land based Uverse disaster. While is has been beefing up it’s wireless infrastructure recently, it has not kept pace with demand created by growth created by internet capable handsets. This could be a real chill on revenue growth as AT&T loses it’s iPhone exclusive. Needing a quick fix, the company is beefing up its WiFi network in the most congested locations.
“We’re excited to start the next phase of our hotzone program with additional Wi-Fi coverage areas in New York City and, soon, in San Francisco,” said Angie Wiskocil, senior vice president, AT&T Wi-Fi Services. “AT&T Wi-Fi will be available across a wider area for Manhattan residents, visitors and New Year’s Eve revelers during the busy holiday season and beyond. Plus, San Francisco residents are expected to soon be able to enjoy a Wi-Fi hotzone in the Embarcadero Center area as they shop, dine and work.” (ATT.com Press Release)
AT&T may have tripped over a broader wireless solution without trying. The company has hap hazzardly established a WiFi presence that nearly rivals some carriers 3G coverage. This gives the smart phone user access to decent bandwidth in select locations without burning precious monthly plan bits. Fixed line customers stuck with a slow connection at home may be enticed to stay with free access to a robust WiFi network when out and about. AT&T skates by big investments by deploying commodity, off the shelf hardware that does not need expensive tower leases and permits that can use existing infrastructure for back haul. Customers can access the network with commodity devices and use it as they please.
Switching to a broader view, I think that this calls into question how we’re managing spectrum. Using a tiny sliver of shared spectrum, AT&T is providing service to the masses quickly and cheaply. ANYONE can use that spectrum quickly and easily by plugging in an approved device. The FCC pre-certifies the devices we use and polices any bad behavior. Thanks to the chaos of an open market, new bandwidth goes on online in the blink of any eye.
Meanwhile back in Washington, carrier lobbyists are beating the drum for more exclusive spectrum to enable the chosen few to keep consumers on their exclusive plantations. I think it’s for a reboot. No more exclusive licenses to spectrum. We’ve tried the other way and it’s kept American technology behind the curve and forced us to pay the highest prices in the developed world for service. I’m not suggesting that we put the existing carriers out of business, I’m only suggesting that we stop protecting them from competition. Yes, I know the rest of the world is still doing it the old way. Staying with that model has turned us into lagging followers. It’s time to lead.