iNatives are Getting Restless (Against AT&T)

by Dave Michels

Grass roots rebellions in the telecom world are rare. Normally, when service is an issue people just switch carriers (at least since divestiture). But cell phones are far too emotional and personal to just switch, instead it appears there’s another choice; unite and grieve together.

This is the situation with AT&T; Wireless and the cultlike group ofiPhonefans. Kind of nice to see so much emotion in the telecom space.

Last weekend, local startup mentor and investor Brad Feld blogged that after playing with the Droid over the weekend, he prefers his iPhone despite the “abysmal” service. Then yesterday he blogged that his frustrations about AT&T; were heard by none other than Thaddeus Arroyo, the CIO of AT&T; Services – who evidently was shocked to hear his firm’s rendered services were unsatisfactory. [He tried to call Brad but couldn’t get a signal, so promptly wrote instead].

Thaddeus offered to assist, and asked Brad for information to identify the alleged problem [it’s the network, stupid]. This resulted with another post from Brad asking for input on trouble areas in Boulder and constructive advice for AT&T.; Evidently there were quite a few suggestions.

Apple fans generally agree bad service on aniPhoneis better than good service on any other phone, so rather than change service, they think it is better to change the service.

Now there is even a new Facebook group with about 200 members called “The People of Boulder County vs. AT&T;“.

But it isn’t just a Boulder thing.

AT&T; also intends to offer two levels of unlimited data service, one for people that use more data. [“All animals are created equal, just some are more equal than others”]. So nowiPhone users are doubly upset, their service sucks and they need to pony up more for what AT&T; can’t deliver (despite the two year agreements). But other than the two year agreement, the network, and the network carrier’s policies, it’s a great phone.

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs has a fantastic rant on Fake Steve’s conversation with AT&T; executives regarding their approach to “incentives” that will encourage people to stop using the data network so much. Here is a sample line:

“Dude, if you ever use the word incentivize around me again I swear I will get in my Gulfstream and fly to wherever you are and I will smash you in the face with a rock.” – Fake Steve Jobs

Even better, now Fake Steve is calling for Operation Chokehold: an open effort to organizeiPhone users in a united attempt to break AT&T;’s network on Friday. [That will teach them].

Mashable also has a call to arms iPhone Users Urged to Take Down AT&T;.

Last October, I published a prediction around theiPhone suggesting the mass exodus from AT&T; (once there is a choice) will contribute to a huge improvement in its network. The exodus is coming. But until then, a revolt is forming.

A few bitter pills to swallow from all this:

  • Telecom is not a product, it is a solution involving hardware, software, and services. It is only as good as its weakest link – regardless of how strong another component is.
  • There is no such thing as unlimited. My wired Comcast unlimited Internet has an upper limit and I must confess I’ve been asked to leave an all-you-can-eat establishment (college days). Unlimited plans are based on averages andiPhoneusers, the first to experience a real mobile Internet device, did not adhere to the known consumption patterns of (prior) smart phone users.
  • AT&T; clearly can’t meet the demands of their current base. While it is fun to blame AT&T; and sacrilege to blame Apple – the fact is Apple is at fault. Apple selected AT&T; and provided them an exclusive (first mistake) with no performance guarantees (second mistake) to maintain exclusivity.
  • AT&T; knows its exclusive has likely run its course and can’t possibly justify upgrades with so many users likely to defect in the near future.
  • There are choices beyond theiPhone. If you select theiPhone, then you accept its weaknesses – stop bitchin about it.
  • Even if AT&T; was fully committed to being a better carrier, it takes time. The problem is complex and spread across the country (and world). It will be take a decade and billions of dollars to correct. Facebook page or not.
  • If you really want to send AT&T; (and Apple) a message, get an Android or RIM phone.
  • On my Droid, I’ve been making numerous IP calls over 3G and it works well – even better over wifi. Everything is going IP – videos, pictures, voice, and other applications. The concept of metered voice and unlimited data is going to flip-flop very soon. Probably before widespread 4G.

Final Thought: The whole iPhone/AT&T; thing reminds me of the old joke “Doctor, it hurts when I raise my arms” and the doctor responds with “Then don’t raise your arms”. Badaboom