Why did AT&T really ditch its Android plans? [Speculation]

September 4, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka

AT&T, Featured post

Why did AT&T really ditch its Android plans? [Speculation]

AT&T has reportedly scrapped its Android plans because the carrier fears its upcoming models would be “out of date” by the time of release. Could that just be a nice excuse for their inability to deal with more customers? I’m not saying that AT&T is flat-out lying; however, their sudden realization that the Lancaster wouldn’t meet its standards makes me go hmmm. I’m merely thinking out loud wondering if there could be something else at work here based on recent news regarding AT&T’s network issues.


AT&T largely ignored Android from its launch date but eventually changed course and said it would offer an Android phone at some point. Then it reverse-reversed and nixed that idea. Some suggested it was an iPhone protectionist move but I think it’s more likely that AT&T just isn’t ready to take on the hassles of adding another big-ticket, data-centric device to its line of products.

Consider these three likelihoods:

  • AT&T’s network is weaker than its rivals
  • AT&T data usage will increase because of MMS & plan changes
  • AT&T isn’t ready for an Android invasion

AT&T’s network is weaker than its rivals

BusinessWeek recently published an article including this quote from CTO John Donovan:

“Nobody is in the same boat we’re in. We’re shaping the landscape for the whole industry, and I relish the opportunity to be the first to figure it out.”

AT&T has a bad reputation for dropping calls and delivering slow speeds in several markets, including major hubs like New York City and San Francisco. A Novarum/PC World test found that AT&T trailed both Verizon and Sprint in 3G speeds. In fact, Verizon and Sprint download speeds were TWICE as fast as AT&T in New York City.

AT&T has acknowledged that keeping up with the demands of iPhone customers is challenging. The company’s network is believed to carry almost twice as much traffic as any carrier in the U.S., which leads to the buckling of service. This puts AT&T in a troublesome situation: it wants to keep signing new customers, but every new smartphone user adds more stress to an already strained network.

AT&T data usage will increase because of MMS & plan changes

AT&T recently announced that it has boosted 3G speeds in the NYC metro area. They pretty much had to now that the iPhone will finally be able to deliver MMS messaging. AT&T’s decision to force all smartphone owners to buy a data plan will also lead to more traffic. If I’m paying for a service, you better believe I’m going to be more inclined to get my money’s worth and start using the Internet more often just like everybody else.

AT&T isn’t ready for an Android invasion

If AT&T has already struggled to keep up with the demands of its bread and butter product, increasing its consumer base with an Android device may not be the brightest idea right now. There are plenty of Android-interested consumers who don’t like the G1/myTouch/T-Mobile and would flock to AT&T for the right device. Then there are the current AT&T subscribers who don’t want an iPhone but may embrace Android. If people thought things were bad because of iPhone users, they’d be even more upset dealing with the addition of another attention-grabbing device.


I’ve heard from/read about people who ditch the iPhone because AT&T is comically poor in their local market. What’s the point of having a cool phone if the largest network in the country can’t deliver reliable service? It may actually be a smart move for AT&T to postpone its Android plans.

AT&T doesn’t need an Android phone right now in the wake of what’s sure to be an increase in network traffic. They cannot afford to be viewed as a carrier incapable of keeping pace with Verizon and Sprint, so adding to its network demands with a crowd-drawing device may not be in their best interests yet. For now, Android at AT&T will have to remain an afterthought.