The dark side of GDC: Spotty iPhone service

AT&T was excoriated earlier this month by the technorati attending the South By Southwest conference in Austin. It seems with all the geeks attending the confab with their iPhones, the carrier’s network was overloaded. Attendees reportedly couldn’t access the Web, send text messages or even place phone calls.

The giant carrier did address the problems — two days after the conference started — by turning up the bandwidth on its existing towers.

One might think that the company would learn its lesson; i.e., a critical mass of geeks in one area at one time yields network overload. But apparently not.

This reporter, for one, experienced similar problems with his iPhone at another geekfest last week: the Game Developers Conference, which was held in the Moscone convention center in downtown San Francisco. Despite having three or more “bars” of 3G service, I often couldn’t place calls on the network. Calls I was able to make or receive got disconnected — repeatedly. Text messages I tried to send didn’t go through. And forget trying to use maps to figure out where I was going for a meeting — much less the nearest restaurant.

I wasn’t the only one having trouble. Other iPhone users randomly (and by no means scientifically) surveyed at the conference were struggling to use their devices too. Twitter users, including some who had just been at SXSW, reported similar problems.

No official word yet from AT&T on the source of the problems or their extent. No word either on whether they plan to proactively hire someone to be on the look out for large gatherings of geeks — or to provide sufficient bandwidth to accomodate such gatherings.


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