The tiger by the long tail: AT&T vs. Apple

by Carl Ford

I am a BellHead by nature. But even I can find irony in the poor business decisions made at AT&T regarding its WiFi network and Apple. While four million iPhone users complain in the blogosphere about AT&T not automatically enabling them to use the WiFi roaming agreements, its insanity is further revealed in AT&T's implementation of its Sierra Wireless AirCard Internet service.

AT&T authenticates users based on a SIM card, and if you are in a location where you can roam on its WiFi network, the AT&T software can connect you to WiFi automatically - if you have a Windows machine.  For a Mac, you have to use the Sierra Watcher software that authenticates properly on the EDGE and GSM network, but does not have an interface for the AT&T WiFi roaming solution.

So AT&T has a system that relies on knowledge of the SIM card to gain connectivity for a PC, but only supports Apple in two flavors.  It can't find the SIM in the 3G iPhone and can't connect to the AirCard SIM on a Mac.  With over a million applications written for the iPhone, AT&T did not believe that connectivity to a roaming network based on their SIM should be one of them.

What's even more ridiculous is the absurdity of the absolute reliance on the SIM card model.  If you are an AT&T Internet customer with any of the old IDs -- including ATT WorldNet, Ameritech, BellSouth, SBC, etc. -- your user id and password are supported for free roaming through the WiFi splash page.  However, if you have email service from Cingular or AT&T Wireless as a customer, there is no way to authenticate you.

A backend RADIUS (or DIAMETER) solution could be just as easy as the SIM card to authenticate.  It would be just as reliable for the wireless user as the wireline Internet user.

Instead, AT&T loses track of its wireless customers, including 2.2 million new iPhone users who are on the AT&T network for the first time.

Maybe this was understandable in the days of real structural separation between wireless and wireline business units, but read the bios of today's AT&T executives; almost all of them fall over themselves to declare them and the company Wireless visionaries who see the synergies of the combined network. 

Vision 1, Execution 0

My friend Henry would say to me, AT&T should stick to providing the dumb pipes.  But even dumb pipes need the triple A of authentication, authorization and accounting.  Obviously no one is accounting for the treasure that Apple has been to AT&T.  No one has authenticated that Apple is AT&T's newest best friend.  And as for authorization, the authorized spokesperson said, "We cannot discuss specifics, but we are investigating adding Mac support in the future."

My bellhead is ringing with pain.

Carl Ford is Strategic Advisor and Community Developer for FierceMarkets. His words of wisdom can be found at