All wireless providers struggle to provide congestion-free coverage to customers in certain areas, though some are more notorious for it than others. While the true solution would be for the carriers to invest in their networks, the solutions being offered by providers appear to be more like band aids on broken bones.

I've written before about femtocells, but for the uninitiated, it's a technology that allows users' mobile devices to connect to an access point inside their home or their place of business which will then connect phone calls via the customer's Internet connection. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T all have femtocell technology available while T-mobile accomplishes the same result via wifi. But why should customers have to compensate for their carrier's poor coverage by offloading it onto their broadband connection and using up their precious bandwidth? Net neutrality conversations aside, I'm sure the broadband giants are asking the same question.

Recently, AT&T has been rolling out metro wifi in regions where 3G congestion and network availability have been issues. Times Square, Charlotte NC, and Chicago have been targeted areas for the service. Whether the wifi will have any significant, positive impact on user experience remains to been seen. However, again, the bigger issue is network congestion and whether or not AT&T's network can handle the traffic its heavy users (iPhone, primarily) are throwing at it. It might just be that AT&T is opening up its network with faster wifi links further stressing its backbone.

Finally, rather than bolstering the core networks, giants AT&T and Verizon have instead turned to restructuring data plans in an attempt to stymie usage and relieve congestion. AT&T implemented its changes in June, eliminating unlimited plans. Verizon, expected to follow suit, has not yet announced an official change but has indicated that changes are forthcoming.

The underlying issue in all three scenarios is that the providers are stubbornly avoiding investing in their own networks and instead employing workarounds to address issues. Rather than embracing the growth in the mobile world, they're effectively slowing it. It's only a matter of time before something gives, especially with 4G on the horizon. The first provider to take meaningful steps towards improving its core network and expanding coverage will quickly gain a significant edge over its competitors.
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David Pastore

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