March 16, 2009, 8:16 AM — One of the loudest tangential stories coming out of the SXSW conference is about bad iPhone service. Apparently AT&T didn't anticipate just how many iPhones were suddenly going to be packed into the Austin area. (See Wired's "SXSW: AT&T's Spotty Service Frustrates iPhone Users" and Business Insider's "AT&T Fails The SXSW iPhone Test".) To their credit, AT&T apparently took the situation seriously.
Harry McCracken at Technologizer talked to an unnamed source with knowledge of the AT&T's response and said:
By 5pm yesterday [Saturday], AT&T realized it had a problem on its hands, and it spent four hours doubling capacity in downtown Austin–something it was planning to do anyhow, but over the course of a few months, not a few hours. It did so not by rolling out portable cell towers [...] but by borrowing capacity from other areas that didn’t need it as much–there’s only so much capacity to go around. [Source: iPhone Reception Problems Got You Down? You Need More Network Capacity. Now!]
I draw your attention to that number: four hours to double capacity. That's pretty impressive. I suppose they were scrambling to put a stop to a public relations nightmare, but it does make you wonder why they can't always address issues so quickly.
Business Insider shares a more official sounding, but still not cited, quote:
To accommodate unprecedented demand for mobile data and voice applications at SXSW, we are actively working this afternoon to add capacity to our cell sites serving downtown Austin. These efforts are ongoing, but we anticipate that customers should see improved network performance this evening and for the remainder of the event. We will continue to monitor network performance throughout the event, and will do everything possible to maximize network performance throughout. We apologize to customers who were inconvenienced during this surge in local network demand.[Source: AT&T Adding Capacity At SXSW To Deal With iPhone Crush]
I'm neither an iPhone owner nor at SXSW. If you're both of these, please share your experiences. Has the coverage improved for you? There still seems to be plenty of Tweets somehow escaping the confines of the conference!