Jkontherun, among others has blogged about his horrible AT&T 3G experience in Las Vegas during CES. James said:

“I found the iPhone virtually useless for calls and data coverage from day one. AT&T can say what they want about its data coverage, I am continually finding it to be poor during my road trips, and this one was as bad as ever.”

He went on to say:

“There is absolutely no question in my mind that the AT&T network cannot handle saturation during an event like the CES. The Sprint network rarely faltered during the week. I don’t know why, given its horrible reputation, AT&T wouldn’t beef up coverage for an event like this. Let’s face it, if they can’t provide service to a gathering of technology journalists who cover such things, they have a real problem.”

I vociferously seconded that emotion in the post comments with this diatribe:

“If AT&T can’t or won’t seemingly do anything to get out in front of the CES network saturation that was surely expected, then are they being lead competently? Instead of absolutely blanketing downtown LV with temporary cells to avoid further PR embarrassment by literally ALL the tech opinion makers in town, or better yet planning to spend the capital necessary to permanently blanket downtown LV with 7.2 mpbs coverage and maybe making that the center of their CES presentation with an emphasis on “we hear you and this is one example of how we’re taking aggressive action to meet your data demands”, they trumpet some nonsense about how developers are going to come build crapware for their feature phones, now on a unified BREW mobile platform – as opposed to developing for the iPhone that is surely now going to another network……Hard to imagine that Verizon could have regained the upper hand with Apple, but AT&T is now hurting Apple enough that big V’s execs must be licking their chops at the negotiating table.”

In fact to take the competency question a little further, have they forgotten to roll out the 3G Microcell? I’ve had a retail unit since July and it works brilliantly! As far as I know, you can only buy one here in Atlanta and in some North Carolina markets. At a minimum they could have finally done a full scale national launch of this device at CES and shocked the world by announcing they would charge a nominal token amount for it, like 9.99, so as to guarantee it getting multiple mentions in blogosphere coverage of CES?!

The more I think about it the more convinced I become that Apple, whether they announce a tablet device later this month or not, most definitely will be announcing a new iPhone, on a new network.

Well it actually has 3G bands that are compatible with most of the rest of the world too, but my immediate question upon seeing confirmation today that Google’s new “superphone” would only be capable of 3G data speeds on T-Mobile in the U.S., was why not a version for AT&T too? (as was rumored, especially given the surprise that Verizon will get it’s own version) 

And for that matter why weren’t 3G bands 850/1900 as opposed to 1700 (or AWS which is actually 1700 down and 2100 up) chosen for inclusion in the first place? T-Mobile has approximately 34 million subscribers (and just launched AWS utilizing Canadian carrier WIND can’t have more than a million just yet?).  Meanwhile, Canadian carriers Telus, Bell, Fido, and Rogers along with AT&T represent over 100 million potential subscribers using 850/1900?  Was AT&T unwilling to play ball with Google selling the device directly, and offering a subsidized price for 2 year contract commitments as T-Mobile is doing?  If so, then why should Google care?  There are PLENTY of SIM switching power users on AT&T (not to mention our Canadian cell phone junkie cousins?).

Of course the original scuttlebutt was Google was going to sell a device with both AT&T and T-Mobile 3G capable radios.  Never mind Motorola is the first known manufacturer to have accomplished this feat and they only just announced having done so – with a “radio module”, not a phone.  And that once again begged a question I’ve been asking myself for a while:

What is so damn difficult about including multiple 3G radios in a smartphone?  We’ve had quadband EDGE capable phones around for years, so what is the difference between pairing those radios and and pairing 3G capable radios?  The iPhone has triband HSDPA (850/1900/2100). The Nexus One has triband HSDPA (900/1700/2100).  So why don’t we already have at least quadband HSDPA in a device, like 850/1700/1900/2100? 

Tired of not hearing any definitive answers from the geeks I follow on the interwebs, I started hunting like a madman this afternoon.  I eventually Googled my way to the GSMA’s

official site specifically looking for news on potential growth in usage of AWS spectrum in places outside of North America. (so I could maybe understand why both Google and Nokia have chosen to release such high profile 3G data driven devices with just AWS support)  Sure enough I found a May 2009 report prepared for the GSMA by a research outfit called Global View Partners entitled “Momentum Building in the AWS Band”.  LOTS of good and interesting info is in the report about why AWS is such an important piece of the global spectrum allocation challenges many countries face, but by the time I reached page 21 and read the paragraph included below, I knew I had finally found an answer to the  question angrily posed from the end of the previous paragraph:

Device caveat and roaming – devices currently support only two simultaneous “high” bands. At present, devices can handle a maximum of two simultaneous high bands only (e.g., 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz), and third-generation mobile devices typically support three frequency bands total. The operator can specify two low (e.g., 800 MHz/900 MHz) and one high (e.g., 1900 MHz), or the opposite (one low, two high).”

At least Motorola has now apparently cleared this engineering hurdle, and unlocked quintuple banded 3G devices will soon be a reality……just not soon enough for me!

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It seems us Apple fanatics all agree on 2 things of late: thing the first – Apple needs to partner with Verizon and offer the iPhone on their supposedly best in class network; thing the second – Apple seems poised to finally offer a tablet computer.

On the latter issue, Jon Gruber has written the most cogent conjecture I’ve yet read about what the tablet might actually be, but he doesn’t speculate as to which wireless radios “The Tablet” might include.  So, I’ll jump into that vacuum and riff accordingly.

Given that it appears Verizon and Apple are on the outs: Verizon’s “there’s a map for that” and Droid versus iPhone ad campaigns appear to be just as directed at Apple as they are AT&T.  And when addressing the possibility of an iPhone on Verizon, their CEO said: “This is a decision that is exclusively in Apple’s court”.  Consequently, one can’t not speculate that someone walked away from the table, and it doesn’t sound like it was Apple?  Steve Jobs can’t be pleased with Verizon’s marketing angle and if AT&T’s network versus Verizon’s, or at least the perception of their network (which is all that matters as Apple well knows) is eating away his leverage with big V, what can he do?

Remember that Sprint’s CEO during an interview with Charlie Rose was I thought effusive in his praise for the iPhone – WHILE he was being asked about how their best competitive device the Palm Pre had not really challenged it as Sprint must have hoped: “But you’ve got to almost put the iPhone, to be fair, in a separate category”. 

If Apple partnered with Sprint on the iPhone (or “The Tablet”, and I’ll get to that later), it would obviously finally stop the subscriber bleeding for Sprint, so they would likely be amenable to most any terms Apple required.  Additionally, it would obviously require Apple to create an EVDO capable iPhone (and if I hear another person argue how that doesn’t make sense for Apple to manufacture, then could they please explain to me why it makes and has made so much sense for HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Palm, etc. to do so?). 

So, an iPhone EVDO would be in mass production on a network other than Verizon’s, and an iPhone would be available in the US on a network other than AT&T’s.  I think Sprint would stand to make some serious money, and regain some precious market momentum, and suddenly whatever leverage Apple may have lost to Verizon, such that Verizon wasn’t willing to bend to their demands, would be thereby eradicated.

Now would Sprint apparently be making a big deal of a WIMAX capable windows mobile device at CES next week and then joining Apple on stage January 26th to announce the next iPhone?  I doubt it, unless said iPhone has not only EVDO, but also WIMAX?  And other than a Fox News report that the not officially confirmed Apple event is in fact confirmed, and “will focus on the mobility space”, most have assumed it would be only about “The Tablet”. 

We all know Apple likes to tell stories with their presentations, and what if the story started with how their exclusivity agreement with AT&T has ended (wild standing ovation will almost certainly ensue).  Steve will try to tamp down the response and give cursory defense to AT&T, and possibly even state what most people think: the iPhone is too big for any one network in one country to handle.  Then he’ll launch into why they’ve chosen to partner with Sprint (to initial boos probably), and how great their network supposedly is (I don’t have fond memories of it myself), blah, blah, blah, maybe even joined by Dan Hesse (Sprint’s impressive CEO) on stage briefly where they then both pull the thinner, sleeker 4th iPhone model out of their pockets (Hesse might even wear jeans too). 

A general spec run down will follow to explain how this iPhone EVDO out does even the 3GS, and then Steve will drop the WIMAX bomb (again to a wild standing O), call it the iPhone 4G, and discuss the device cost, plans, availability (that Friday Jan. 29), etc.  And then to continue weaving the WIMAX thread through the story he will breathlessly proclaim the mother of all “but there’s one more thing”s:  “The Tablet”

“The Tablet” will have wifi, bluetooth, EVDO, and of course WIMAX, and assuming Gruber’s ideas are correct, it will change everything we thought we knew about personal computing.  WIMAX will forever be defined by it’s inclusion in this device and the 4th generation iPhone, and my dream of global 4G network standards fragmentation will begin to be realized.  It’s entirely possible that video conferencing on “The Tablet” will be one of the killer features Apple shows off in the remainder of their presentation and of course news coverage will focus on this and essentially involuntarily communicate that Apple has finally “invented” useful video conferencing. 

When it’s all over, AT&T’s execs will almost certainly feel conflicted: nauseated they weren’t good enough to remain Apple’s exclusive partner through such a huge development; joyous the focus and pressure on their network might finally subside.

Sprint’s execs will obviously already be praying they don’t screw this once in a decade opportunity up (they probably will). 

Verizon’s execs?  If they’re smart, they’ll be calling Steve Jobs and begging him for a 3rd chance. (they probably won’t)