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AT&T Wireless owns up: We drop calls

The wireless carrier comes clean on dropped calls, admitting not only that it loses some connections but also that it doesn't always meet its own quality goals.

AT&T Wireless executives made a rare admission Monday: A portion of the carrier's wireless telephone network not only drops calls, but drops them at a rate below the quality standards the company sets for itself.

AT&T Wireless Vice President Greg Slemons said the dropped-call rates during peak hours--right after 5 p.m., for example--were below acceptable levels in New York and in one other market, which the company declined to name. He said AT&T Wireless missed its goal of completing 99 percent of calls in the two cities by less than one percentage point.

"New York continues to be a challenge," Slemons told analysts during a conference call Monday.

Carriers don't often talk about dropped calls, a big issue for customers and usually the top complaint made to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), according to the FCC. Consumer groups generally say that at least two percent of all callers can expect to lose their connection at any given time of day.

"A lot of carriers aren't being as frank as we are," said AT&T Wireless spokesman Ritch Blasi.

The portion of AT&T's wireless network that doesn't meet the company's quality standards uses a technology known as TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access), which is among the oldest of the cell phone standards. It also is part of more than half of AT&T Wireless' current telephone network.

Slemons said the carrier has no plans to remove TDMA from its network despite its under-achieving dropped-call rates. Other carriers, like Cingular Wireless, plan to replace TDMA portions of their networks, saying the time has come for it to be replaced by better technology.

"There is no plan afoot to move away from TDMA; (we) have a high degree of confidence in it," Slemons said. "The TDMA network is still strong and will be in the future."