AT&T takes the phone out of iPhone

Three weeks ago, I got a call on a friend’s iPhone while in the middle of a desert; cell phone coverage had come to Burning Man. By contrast, several calls I made last night to my parents from my San Francisco apartment were dropped and a subsequent connection became garbled.

That happens daily when I try to converse on my first-generation iPhone in my apartment and in certain other neighborhoods. I’ve come to anticipate that if I can even make a call it’s likely to be short-lived or poor quality.

Frustrated by the numerous interrupted calls, I decided to try to find out why my iPhone service is so poor that it’s easier to have a Web video conference over AIM with my boyfriend because neither of us can use our iPhones (his is 3G) reliably inside either of our homes.

This is not a new problem. AT&T was criticized when traffic from attendees at the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, overwhelmed the network earlier this year. And there were widespread complaints about dropped calls and spotty service after the launch of the iPhone 3G a year ago.

I wondered why, a year later, the service still seemed unreliable. I called AT&T (on my reliable landline at work) to find out. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel blamed the problem on the increasing amount of data traffic iPhone users are creating, which CNET News and others wrote about earlier this month.

“We lead the industry in smart phones,” he said. “As a result, we are having to stay ahead of what is incredible and increasing demand for wireless data services.”

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