SXSW 2012: AT&T 3G faltered at SXSW, but LTE users were well served

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Tens of thousands of geeks were in Austin, Texas, this week for the South by Southwest Interactive conference (SxSW or SxSWi if you prefer) and mobile was a big part of the event. Verizon Wireless’ network seemed to hold up well, but both the conference Wi-Fi and AT&T Mobility’s 3G network were regularly slowed to a crawl.

The LA Times took an informal poll of several dozen customers of several carriers and found AT&T Mobility 3G users quite pleased, but my experience was not good, nor was almost anyone else’s who responded to me on Twitter. LTE networks were going strong, something that could be a good sign for the future or could simply show that few people are using them yet.

Being unable to connect to mobile data in Austin meant delayed communication in a fast-paced environment, a hampered ability to promote oneself in a sea of competitive marketing and potentially, lost e-mail connections and business opportunities.

AT&T Mobility’s LTE network, however, today was “reaching ultra-fast speeds up to 10X faster than 3G here in Austin” said AT&T social media strategist Erik Larson on Twitter. Mobile bloger Jason Harris says his Nokia phone on an AT&T Mobility LTE hotspot performed fabulously. That’s cold comfort to the many iPhone owners at the event, of course.

Mobile hotspots were also found in the possession of homeless people around Austin, the result of an incredibly controversial marketing campaign by firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

AT&T is said to have put up a cellsite on wheels (COW) near the conference site, as it has for at least the past two years after facing extensive criticism for poor coverage in Austin three years ago, but given the widespread complaints it appears that whatever measures were taken this year were insufficient.

I’d love to see an option to pay a fee along with conference registration to cover more extensive wireless coverage.

AT&T did come up with a cool way to charge your phone at the conference though, it offered charging stations inside lock boxes you could leave and come back to with the key in hand. There was a certain charm to that, but battery power lasted longer than it should have due to the reduced usefulness of mobile devices.

Perhaps the next version of Apple’s iPhone will support LTE, those networks will support extensive iPhone use and this will all be water under the bridge.

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