Report: AT&T schooled Apple on iPhone issues

AT&T execs repeatedly visited Apple to instruct handset designers on wireless networking and assure Steve Jobs they were trying to resolve poor network service, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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AT&T executives, apparently feeling the heat of iPhone users' complaints about poor service, have reportedly been working with Apple to resolve the issues.

Since Apple's iPhone launched exclusively on AT&T's network more than two years ago, customers have been complaining about dropped calls and slow data connections, especially those in urban areas such as New York and San Francisco. Now, as rumors circulate that an iPhone is in the works that would be capable of running on Verizon Wireless--AT&T's biggest competitor--AT&T is reportedly schooling Apple on improving network communication.

AT&T executives, who had long denied there was a problem with their network, flew to Apple's campus last year to assure Apple CEO Steve Jobs that they were working to resolve the issues and instruct Apple handset designers on wireless networking, AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan told The Wall Street Journal.

Apple reconfigured how the phones communicate with AT&T's cell towers, eventually reducing the load on the phones place on the networks, the Journal reported.

"They're well past networking 101, 201 or 301," said Donovan told the Journal, adding that Apple designers were now "in a master's class."

AT&T executives also created a 100-day plan to improve network service in large cities where people had complained of poor coverage, the Journal reported.

Apple representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Problems with AT&T's 3G wireless have been widely reported in blogs, Twitter feeds, and publications including BusinessWeek and The New York Times. Customers across the country have complained about dropped calls and the inability to connect to the 3G network.

CNET's Elinor Mills documented her frustrating experience with her iPhone in a blog post last fall. The story hit a nerve among fellow iPhone users, and more than 400 comments were left on the story. Most of the comments corroborated the writer's plight. A follow-up story on the same issue garnered at least another 300 comments from readers.

During a speech at a CTIA trade show in October, Donovan had defended AT&T's wireless network. After the keynote, Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, acknowledged in an interview with CNET's Marguerite Reardon that they had heard the complaints. But they wouldn't go so far as to admit that there was an actual problem.

Instead, they pointed to the rapid growth of data usage on their wireless network and the change in customer usage patterns. They also said that AT&T is doing everything it can to stay ahead of customer demand.

The pressure to improve coverage is certainly building on AT&T, which currently is the exclusive service provider for iPhones. One of Apple's contract manufacturers--the companies that build the hardware according to Apple's specifications--is working on an iPhone that runs on a CDMA network, sources told the Journal.

CDMA is the cellular network that Verizon uses in the U.S. However, it could be at least five months to nearly a year before a Verizon version of the iPhone is available. The original Journal article reported that production of a CDMA version of the iPhone would not begin until September.

In general, Verizon has a wider 3G footprint. Verizon has for months been running advertisements that highlight AT&T's lack of 3G coverage in some parts of the country. But AT&T does in theory have a faster 3G network than Verizon. AT&T has upgraded its network to a new version of 3G technology called HSPA 7.2, which is faster than what is offered by Verizon's 3G technology called EV-DO.

It's long been understood that AT&T's exclusivity deal with Apple would eventually end. If that end coincides with the release of a Verizon iPhone later this year, then that gives AT&T at least six months to improve coverage and may help combat customer defections.