• AT&T: "Closing the Gap" in 3G, Can Handle iPad

    AT&T said on Thursday that it will spend between $18 billion and $19 billion US upgrading its network in 2010 to try and handle the load put on its system by 3G phones and the forthcoming iPad. According to Jon Paczkowski at the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital, the company's Chief Operating Officer John Stankey said AT&T plans to spend about $2 billion more this year than it did than last year on network improvements.

    On a conference call to investors, Stankey said AT&T will add 2,000 new cell sites and connect all its cell towers to the backhaul network with three times more fiber links than it had in 2009. With these upgrades in place, Stankey said, the company will be able to easily upgrade in the future to LTE, the same 4G technology that Verizon Wireless will be using for its 4G network. He said AT&T will starting with some commercial deployments of LTE in 2011 and more to come in 2012.

    Stankey acknowledged that AT&T has given its customers poor performance, particularly in cities like New York and San Francisco, but said the carrier is "closing the gap." He said that in some sections of Manhattan nearly 70 percent of the phones active on its network are smartphones during some period, and that the network is heavily oversubscribed. AT&T will be increasing 3G radio capacity in those areas by more than one third, and will add additional radio network controllers on existing cell sites.

    Zoning issues in San Francisco, Stankey claimed, have prevented AT&T from being able to build new cell phone towers up. He said that he has been working with the City and County of San Francisco to deal with these obstacles, and that there should be new construction in 2010, along with upgrades at trouble spots like convention centers, sports stadiums and along highways and rail corridors.

    Data usage on AT&T's network grew 200 percent in 2009, and the company says it now has more than twice the number of smartphones as its competitors. On Wednesday, Apple announced that AT&T will provide 3G wireless service to the new iPad, though not specifically stating whether that arrangement will be exclusive, as with the iPhone. Stankey said that he foresaw no problems adding that device to its lineup, adding that much of the data use on the iPad will be from WiFi hotspots, minimizing additional load on AT&T's 3G network.

    image via AT&T
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