AT&T Beefs Up Network, Answers Critics

Apple iPhone 4
Emmanuel Dunand | AFP | Getty Images
Apple iPhone 4

AT&T is racing to expand its network.

The Dallas-based company is coping with surging demand for its mobile services, thanks to popular products such as Apple's iPhone and iPad. AT&T is the exclusive service provider for those devices.

"It's a daunting task," said John Donovan, AT&T's chief technology officer.

Donovan said data traffic on AT&T's network is up 5,000 percent in just three years. The company currently supports roughly half of all mobile data traffic in the United States.

(Watch video report here, including more details from John Donovan and a tour of the biggest AT&T cell site in the world.)

Critics say AT&T hasn't done enough to keep up. "Clearly, they never anticipated the demand," said Jerry Kaufman of Alexander Resources, a wireless industry consulting group.

Donovan is candid about AT&T's challenge. "We are not where we'd like to be," he said.

However, Donovan is quick to point out that AT&T will spend up to $19 billion this year to expand its network. Among the improvements:

  • More fiber-optic cable to support faster 3G speeds
  • About 2,000 new cell sites
  • Expanded Wi-Fi service

The goal is to keep up with consumers who can't seem to get enough of mobile services. "It's become a never-ending circle of trying to play catch-up," Kaufman said.

But AT&T is vowing to get ahead of the curve. "We're building as much and as fast as we can," Donovan said.