View 'good job AT&T' on Flickr.comLast week the city of Austin, Texas transformed as tens of thousands of mobile data hungry individuals descended upon the downtown area for the annual South by Southwest (SxSW) conference. The time frame of this surge in mobile data use as well as mobile voice calls and text was sustained from March 12 to March 21. This same time last year, the iPhone and other data enabled mobile devices on the AT&T wireless network appeared to have serious issues with even basic functionality. AT&T wireless coverage as well as the backhaul network for data was a large portion of SxSW attendee complaints in 2009. This year for SxSW however, AT&T pulled out all the stops and fundamentally changed the way their service is perceived… at least in the denser downtown Austin metro.

Early reports indicated while AT&T 3G coverage at the the Austin airport (AUS) was spotty, as you moved towards downtown the AT&T experience began to shine. So what did AT&T do differently? To name a few items covered elsewhere:

  • added dozens of temporary cell sites and nodes
  • added CoWs to place in parking lots near crowds
  • added 850 MHz spectrum
  • upgraded HSPA software on all cell sites
  • added significant backhaul capacity **

In effect, what AT&T did was care about customer and subscriber perception for the SxSW event. As a result, many SxSW attendees are begging AT&T to do whatever they did in Austin in their own home cities where AT&T service is decidedly not yet up to SxSW 2010 quality.

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** Note: I was at SxSW from the 11th to the 21st and anecdotally the only AT&T issues I had were related to backhaul but I always had full signal and my iPhone battery life has never been better.

So here’s a question for the audience and readers of Telecompetitor: What would you do differently if your city became host to an event that might draw thousands of folks with data enabled mobile devices?

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2 thoughts on “A Year Later: AT&T Shines at SxSW

  1. Nice summary. It's pretty crazy to think that Austin normally has "only" eight AT&T cell sites, though UT's DAS probably helps a bit with load. Glad to hear that the CoWs fixed the load issues that made AT&T in Austin a total crapfest last year. I'm guessing all those iPhone data plan dollars were put to good use…finally…at SxSW :p

    1. Thanks. There are a few other good summaries out there of how AT&T did (anecdotal) at SxSW and the most common refrain was shock..

      The Rocketboom tour of the CoW was the one across from the Hilton in Carmelo's parking lot if that helps to understand that placement. The other CoW sightings included the parking lot across from Six at Colorado and West 4th.

      Other reports on backhaul (i.e. timeouts, popup errors) varied and moving between locations as foot traffic or by bicycle rickshaw. Regarding the DAS, I saw references elsewhere to rooftop temp sites as well. My experiences were uniform inside buildings and outside on foot.

      One of the obvious considerations for CoWs is where you can park and establish uplink and/or power access. So, the strategic placement can often give way to availability and cooperation or lack thereof.

      Also, the SXSW2010 SSID contracted by the organizers of SxSW had flawless performance.

      http://my.sxsw.com/tools/wifi/

      While the SxSW2010 WiFi was not an AT&T function… it meant the masses of laptops and phones with wifi enabled were able to place calls via Skype, stream video, upload, and generally not think about getting it to work — it just did.

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