AT&T Wireless Adds Windows Phone 7 Series

Microsoft is a distant third when it comes to mobile phone operating systems, but the company has a legendary marketing ability to hang tough and emerge on top. So the long-awaited announcement of Windows Mobile 7 (or “Windows Phone 7 Series,” as Microsoft now styles it) was picked over by the trade press like a leftover turkey carcass on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

It didn’t take long for the vultures to notice that Microsoft named AT&T its “premier partner” in the United States (Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone are others around the world)—nor for them to start circling the two partners with questions.

As PC World's Tony Bradley pointed out, no one really knows what a premier partnership consists of. Does it matter? Let the griping begin. AT&T already can’t handle the volume of data that iPhones are generating, and beginning in April, iPad data will only swamp it further. And now AT&T is going to take on a new data-heavy collection of smartphones from Microsoft?

Speaking as a a founding iPhone user from its initial release in June 2007, I can say that each and every complaint about AT&T is borne out by my own experience. Neither the quality of the phone nor the data connection seems related to the number of bars, and calls are dropped repeatedly and at random—it’s rare for me to complete any but the shortest conversations without redialing. And that's as true of my shiny 3GS as it was of the original phone.

I can’t count the number of people who’ve told me they’re getting an iPhone—as soon as it becomes available on their current carrier, which is inevitably Verizon.

In the 10 years or so (pre-iPhone) that Verizon was my carrier, I never experienced a dropped call that seemed random. Sure, there were occasional dead spots—the New York State Thruway a few minutes north of the Harriman toll plaza, for example—but calls were (forgive the term) reliably dropped there, and never in other frequently-travelled places. And sure, once in a while I couldn’t make a call, but whenever the carrier opened a connection, it stayed up for the duration of the call, no matter how long.

Verizon seems to have such confidence in its network that it is now allowing Skype calls on a large fraction of its smartphones.

That is, the carrier is letting subscribers use the 3G data network to make voice-over-IP calls, which cuts down on the number of minutes a user needs and loads the data network with those calls instead. That’s right: fewer billable minutes, more unbilled data. Other than a better user experience for its customers, there’s absolutely nothing good about this from Verizon’s point of view.

True, the carrier is making the best of some upcoming rule changes at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, but it says a lot that Verizon is just going ahead with the change early, and doing so in the most open and user-friendly way, while AT&T fights the rule change tooth and nail.

I don’t miss Verizon’s chaotic billing practices (the ones that are so bad they’ve inspired a Website called Verizonpathetic.com), but I do miss being able to call Customer Service late at night and on Sunday, yet another way in which AT&T's user experience falls short. Most of all, I miss Verizon’s rock-solid network.
 

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