AT&T Chief Blows U.S.'s 3G Trumpet, Conveniently Forgetting About Euroland

3g network

AT&T's chief of Mobility and Consumer Markets Ralph de la Vega, got on his soapbox today and spouted about the U.S.'s fabulous 3G networks, which are leading the World. The trouble is, de la Vega is spouting some cell-phone hogwash.

De la Vega was speaking at the CTIA Wireless show, which is no surprise since he's the industry body's current chairman. The overall theme of his talk was how great America's 3G wireless services are, and how fabulous the 4G roll out will be. To support his thesis he streamed a huge bunch of statistics at his audience. Some of them are set out below:

  • The U.S. leads World in 3G subscribers, with 117 million versus Japan's 101 million, South Korea's 40 million, and the U.K. and Italy's 36 million each.
  • 2010 smartphone sales in the U.S. will be 53 million, ahead of 25 million in China, and 20 million in Japan.
  • The U.S. has twice as many Wi-fi hotspots, at 70 million, than China with 36 million—the U.S. has more than anyone else, in fact.
  • America will be the first country to get a widespread LTE next-generation cellphone network roll-out.

These statistics, apart from being an attempt to blind the audience with science, are all impressive, and they make the U.S.'s 3G provision look extremely rosy.

But there's a problem, because of course that's not strictly true. AT&T itself has been hit with accusation after accusation of network inefficiencies and instability, possibly caused by the massive data burden of the iPhone. The CDMA 3G system that AT&T's competitor Verizon uses is not used elsewhere in the World, which places unique restrictions on Verizon's tech. And in various E.U. nations, we've had more efficient, faster 3G networks that have greater population coverage for years already.

In fact, if you take Europe as a whole entity (which you probably should, given the European Union's common laws, policies and fiscal instruments) then Europe has far more 3G subscribers than the States does. Wi-Fi hotspots are pretty common here too, but we don't actually need as many as our 3G grids tend to cover more of the populated—and unpopulated—areas of the landscape. And our 3G speeds have been faster for a while now: Even in Portugal, Western Europe's poorest nation, 3G is ubiquitous, reliable, cheap and fast—a 7.6mbps data stick for laptop 3G roaming costs just €50 to buy, for example, and there's a good 3G signal on the capital's underground metro trains.

In fact the 3G situation is so different on the two sides of the Atlantic that when we visit the U.S. it's often a surprise at how unreliable cellphone service seems to be, given that we basically take it for granted. Maybe de la Vega should pay a visit over here to see how AT&T needs to get things done properly in the future?

[Via Barrons]

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3 Comments

  • Daniel Karpantschof

    @Kit again; from a cellphone point of view the entire world is homogenous. The GSM standard won. Hooray. 3G is used worldwide. Hooray.

    International roaming was until a few years ago the most expensive zone in the world (yes, it was more expensive for me to talk on a Danish phone in France, than say from Zimbabwe). The European Commission laid out a directive to combat this, thus limiting roaming (by political means - not market, mind you) that no international roaming in the EU25 zone can exceed 1 euro per minute. Data rates are still at average 3.5 euros a megabyte.

    E.g. Vodaphone (being one of the major providers) have branches in slightly less than half the EU countries (12 of 27 to be exact).

    If you break down the spending on expanding and maintaining 3G towers and grids, the US spends far less than EU. Also on per subscriber level. And even more so when you adjust for PPP.

    I know you live here, all the more reason to get the facts straight don't you think? I used to live here. Being in Copenhagen write, not getting a decent connection on the 3G network I'm pretty excited that I left.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Daniel. Hmmm. Interesting. I, at no point, said the E.U. was "integrated." But from a cellphone point of view, everybody uses GSM, 3G is ubiquitous, and while "pan-european" services are tricky from a EU competition legality standpoint, Vodafone (for one) has a presence in nearly every country, equating to a pan-europe service by the backdoor. Most providers have agreements with networks elsewhere that mean roaming fees aren't expensive (and are under legal scrutiny anyway.) And I live here, by the way.

    Meanwhile, it's always amusing to read other commenters saying "but you must remember the USA is so big and has technical challenges not faced by Europe." Rubbish. It's all about scale: bigger nation=more subscribers=more revenue=more to spend on infrastructure.

  • Daniel Karpantschof

    It's always a pleasure reading how integrated the European Union is. Clearly Kit Eaton has no idea what the hell is the truth.

    The EU has no or very little jurisdiction on cell service markets (being illegal by the European Service Directive) which is why you don't see any pan-European service providers, as opposed to in the US, Asia or even Africa.

    It is very easy to get carried away with "oh, the EU is one block" anyone who ic up to date with current affairs or have gone to school more than seven consecutive minutes know that is is simply not true. Kit Eaton is failing once again...