As iPhone users bemoan carrier, AT&T fights to improve its image

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
While the iPhone is often heralded as the "savior" of smartphones, reception of its marriage with U.S. wireless carrier AT&T has been decidedly less positive. As customers' complaints with the network have increased, AT&T, of late, has begun to fight back.



In truth, AT&T has been the proverbial whipping boy in its relationship with Apple. As the iPhone has prospered and continued to gain marketshare, numerous surveys have found the U.S. network to be the device's least-appealing aspect. "It's a P.R. nightmare," Craig Moffett, a senior analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, said in a story in last week's New York Times.



For months, as users have complained of the lack of features or the carrier's service, AT&T has remained relatively silent on the issues. Recently, though, that strategy has changed. Last week alone, the nation's second-largest wireless carrier announced improved 3G coverage, admitted network troubles the aforementioned Times report, released a video explaining the strains iPhone use places on its network, reached an agreement to allow one App Store application to transmit location data without the software running on the iPhone, and announced the long-awaited availability of multimedia messaging on Apple's phone starting Sept. 25. And that was all just in the span of a few days.



"The most important point is, we're listening to all customer feedback, and we’re acting on it," Jamie Carracher, a member of AT&T's Blogger Relations Team, said to AppleInsider when asked about the company's recent approach. "We're planning to invest between $17 billion and $18 billion this year to enhance our wired and wireless networks. We're pushing innovation across the industry to re-invent wireless network standards and equipment to stay ahead of customers' growing and changing use of smartphones and emerging devices."



AT&T has been slow to release features for iPhone users like MMS and tethering because those who use Apple's handset consume a great deal more data than any smartphone before it. Coupled with the astounding popularity of the iPhone, the situation has created network difficulties for the Texas-based wireless carrier, resulting in dropped calls and slower data connections. AT&T's growing pains have been headaches for some customers.



Much of the criticism of AT&T originates online, and particularly from Apple enthusiasts -- and even moreso in recent weeks, as the "end of summer" deadline for MMS approached without a word from the company, before last week. The Web's vocal critics are why the company has made a concerted effort to address the concerns of those communities.



Regardless of whether the message AT&T is trying to deliver is being listened to, at the very least it is being received. A new strategy in the company's public relations efforts has come in the form of "Seth the Blogger Guy." Seth Bloom, an AT&T public relations employee, has appeared in a number of videos that aim to answer questions and address concerns that originate online. A three-minute rundown of the AT&T network and MMS availability for the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS has received more than 130,000 views since it was released on Sept. 3.



"Look, we see the discussions on the Web, on blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook," Bloom began his most recent video, "so we thought it would be a good idea to take what's being said head-on."



To that end, AT&T has also set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter to not only announce news, but also dispel false rumors that crop up from time to time.



It's not surprising that AT&T would fight back against bad publicity on the Web. Even Apple, a company notorious for its tight-lipped approach to the press, recently took an alternative, almost grassroots-like approach to sway online opinion as criticism of the App Store swelled. But the volume at which the complaints directed at AT&T have been heard has been so great that the carrier, in recent weeks, directly admitted that at times their service has been substandard. The message the company has attempted to get across has, in effect, been: "We are going to do better."



While places like Facebook may be a way to reach out and communicate with customers, they also offer an outlet for customers to vent their frustrations. Recent posts to the official AT&T Facebook page feature complaints about coverage, data speeds, voicemail, and even Bloom's videos. Some of the items are given direct responses by AT&T officials.



"We've been working hard to foster healthy and ongoing dialogue, especially online where discussions are particularly passionate," Carracher told AppleInsider. "Listening is incredibly important to us. We monitor social media continuously for questions and issues that may affect our customers, and we respond as quickly as we can."



On top of the public relations issues, AT&T has paid numerous other, more literal prices for carrying the iPhone. In addition to the billions of dollars in network improvements planned for the coming years, the carrier also pays a large subsidy on each iPhone sold -- an investment that significantly impacted the company's bottom line last quarter.



Time will tell whether AT&T's campaign and ongoing investments prove effective. The company's agreement with the handset maker is set to expire in 2010, though officials are reportedly working to extend that contract through 2011. Some expect that the iPhone could jump to another U.S. carrier, most likely Verizon, within a year. And undoubtedly there are those who might wait for an alternative carrier -- but the effect an influx of iPhone customers might have on the performance of another network remains to be seen.



No matter what happens, AT&T hopes it will be able to satisfy its current crop of customers, as it continues to attract new iPhone users. And with its current outreach efforts, the company hopes its customers hear the message it has to share.



"Ultimately, we want customers to understand our strategy and our commitment to honing a new-generation AT&T network that is ready to meet continued growth in data demand, new devices and applications for the years ahead," Carracher said.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 81
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Yet another thread devoted to AT&T's whines? So they bit off much than they can chew- like we're supposed to feel sorry for them now? How many 3G phones did they add to their portfolio in addition to the iPhone over the last 2 years and relentlessly advertise for them. They only have themselves to blame. Greedy ba$tard$!
  • Reply 2 of 81
    My first thought is that AT&T may not that soon the iPhone will no longer be exclusively their phone. So, they go into PR recovery mode.



    This is fine by me. They've haven't performed great in the past, but I'll stick with them if they prove they're working at it.
  • Reply 3 of 81
    We have been very pleased with AT&T, after switching to them from Sprint. AT&T has been soooo much better for us than Sprint. Their customer service reps are better, their service & reliability is better, and their communication is so much better. We are very happy with our iPhone/AT&T experience.
  • Reply 4 of 81
    at&t sucks
  • Reply 5 of 81
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    "Ultimately, we want customers to understand our strategy and our commitment to honing a new-generation AT&T network that is ready to meet continued growth in data demand, new devices and applications for the years ahead," Carracher said.



    Ultimately, I want AT&T to understand that my reception sucks.
  • Reply 6 of 81
    Their goal should be nothing short of zero attrition when the iPhone hits other U.S. carriers. Deliver a service people WANT to switch to, not one customers are forced to switch to for the iPhone.



    It's ridiculous how far-fetched that sounds.
  • Reply 7 of 81
    Sorry AT&T, i am a customer, and i feel the holes in your network each and every day. and i live in a major city... Los Angeles.



    Even when ATT wireless promises consumers the ability to get home Femtocells, they fall over a half year behind. even today, ATT Microcell isn't available to consumers, just a small beta group with NO news on it.



    So ATT won't even allow customers to fix the crappy coverage map ATT has holes in.
  • Reply 8 of 81
    It's too late. After another dropped call today on another AT&T hotspot. No tethering anounced yet? Verizon here we come. Let the cusomers tell you what network works.
  • Reply 9 of 81
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    A friend of mine bought an iPhone case from them in June (iFrogz) in which a piece chipped off. They replaced it without a receipt. They're trying!
  • Reply 10 of 81
    ATT's shareholders should take steps to fire the Board of Directors and the CEO for such a mishandling of the introduction of one of the greatest technologies in recent memory.



    With the loss of exclusivity ATT's only way back is to offer more than Verizon is willing to offer....and unfortunately in the cell business everything revolves around cost! (unless you have an exclusive 'game changer' like the iPhone. Then by all means 'screw it up, ATT!'



    ATT will have to include tethering and MMS in their data plans and halve the cost of said data plans.



    All businesses have 'growth' challenges and ATT is no exception with the 'Hummer iPhone' consuming bandwidth and I agree you can't upgrade/expand your cell tower network overnight.



    But, come on, you must acknowledge it to your customer base and you give your current customers allowances. And by 'allowances' I don't mean overcharging for subpar coverage!
  • Reply 11 of 81
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by erybovic View Post


    It's too late. After another dropped call today on another AT&T hotspot. No tethering anounced yet? Verizon here we come. Let the cusomers tell you what network works.



    Again- how exactly does your AT&T GSM phone intend to work on Verizon's CDMA network?
  • Reply 12 of 81
    Let's get this straight, AT&T charges a premium for service with the iPhone, it delivers substandard service and has an exclusive contract here in the US. Now, they want you to know after years into the contract that they are starting to do something about it. The teams are using facebook and twitter to get the message out... this only confirms my philosophy, twitter is the new PR firm for knuckle heads. How about making the price comparable to the service that you deliver? I will pay you $19.99 for unlimited dropped calls and $$9.99 for the incomplete data plan.
  • Reply 13 of 81
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by walshbj View Post


    Their goal should be nothing short of zero attrition when the iPhone hits other U.S. carriers.



    Brilliant! That is exactly what I wanted to say!



    Only I had to use a lot more words!
  • Reply 14 of 81
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by scotty321 View Post


    We have been very pleased with AT&T, after switching to them from Sprint. AT&T has been soooo much better for us than Sprint. Their customer service reps are better, their service & reliability is better, and their communication is so much better. We are very happy with our iPhone/AT&T experience.



    I would agree. I know exactly what I'm paying for with AT&T. The communication has been great for the most part. Service is still spotty when I travel, but the same case could be made against any carrier.



    However, I feel like a lot of the iPhone capabilities have been crippled because AT&T wasn't ready to go. Slingbox was destroyed. I don't see any tethering or MMS yet. It's sort of a let down when you think about all the excitement that came with the original iPhone announcement. It has been a very slow progression.
  • Reply 15 of 81
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,123member
    I guess I am lucky that in the Detroit area, my AT&T coverage is pretty good. I didn't have a dropped call, until I was on the road on the interstate out on I-69 in Indiana and I lost all bars. I thought cell towers were supposed to cover the Interstates thoroughly, but there's bound to be dead zones.



    I really have no complaints except for the high cost of service. I love the phone and the 3G works great in my area. I don't care about MMS, but would like to have tethering included with my "unlimited" service.
  • Reply 16 of 81
    There is no excuse for this. AT&T was vastly under-prepared for the launch/growth of the entire product line (from Gen 1 to 3Gs). They tarnished their own reputation...I am sick of everyone pinning this on iPhone users...what? because we actually have a phone that makes you WANT to use the data connection? A phone with a USEABLE web browser...not the stripped down mobile browsers still commonplace on virtually all blackberry models. Did nobody expect that our data connections would actually be transmitting anything with a PAYLOAD!
  • Reply 17 of 81
    Oh and I'm also getting a little sick of these cowardly Twitter/Facebook/YouTube updates...how about somebody from AT&T hit the podium and issue a press release...I'd love to hear them respond to some questions from the media.
  • Reply 18 of 81
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by teckstud View Post


    Again- how exactly does your AT&T GSM phone intend to work on Verizon's CDMA network?



    Agreed! But if Verizon had said to Apple, 'make us a CDMA iPhone as an interim measure until we complete our infrastructure to the new world standard, GSM and we (Verizon) will pay you (Apple) a fee for each iPhone to offset the increased manufacturing costs.' Verizon would have made a ton of cash, not lost any customers and gained a boat load of customers from ATT.



    A bit of hindsight there, but nevertheless Verizon knew ATT had a hit three months into the iPhone introduction and could have proposed that scenario.





    Thoughts!
  • Reply 19 of 81
    big kcbig kc Posts: 117member
    I recently checked a map of all the cell tower sites in the area. AT&T has FAR fewer than any of the other carriers. T-Mobile has 3-4 that are much closer to the nearest one to my GF's house, and it's right in the middle of a 400k-population city. Trying to get on the internet via AT&T at an AZ Cardinals game is a complete joke. You go from no signal, to a lousy EDGE signal, to 5 bars of 3G, back to zippo, all game long. When you do have signal, you can't get on the web, presumably because of the insufficient backhaul capacity.



    I love my phone, but loathe AT&T for their failure to build out their network sufficiently to support their iPhone monopoly.
  • Reply 20 of 81
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by christopher126 View Post


    Agreed! But if Verizon had said to Apple, 'make us a CDMA iPhone as an interim measure until we complete our infrastructure to the new world standard, GSM and we (Verizon) will pay you (Apple) a fee for each iPhone to offset the increased manufacturing costs.' Verizon would have made a ton of cash, not lost any customers and gained a boat load of customers from ATT.



    A bit of hindsight there, but nevertheless Verizon knew ATT had a hit three months into the iPhone introduction and could have proposed that scenario.





    Thoughts!



    Wait til Verizon gets a phone that is so data intensive like the iphone and we'll see how they do. Your thoughts?
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