Update at 10:20 p.m. PDT, Sunday, March 15: Silicon Alley Insider is reporting that AT&T will add wireless capacity in downtown Austin to deal with the "unprecedented" demand.
AUSTIN, Texas--If there's one thing that's been made clear after two full days of the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference here, it's that AT&T clearly didn't get its network up to speed for the throngs toting iPhones around.
You could hear it being talked about everywhere: it was nearly impossible to call anyone inside the Austin Convention Center because the cell service was so poor. And because it seemed like nearly everyone at the conference has an iPhone, that meant that very few phone calls were going through.
Oddly, that didn't mean people inside the convention center weren't able to Twitter or IM or use the Web on their iPhones, or their iPod Touches. That's because SXSW really got its act together this year when it came to Wi-Fi. I've been to a ton of technology conferences over the last few years, including three previous SXSW gatherings, and I've never seen a stronger, more consistent Wi-Fi setup.
Even in Saturday's SXSW Interactive festival keynote address by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, with about 2,000 people in the room, the Wi-Fi service was strong. Very impressive.
But AT&T's network has not been nearly as impressive, and that's a shame. I suppose there's a reason, but it would seem logical that the company could have put in the effort to ensure that the thousands and thousands of people at SXSW--which may constitute the highest concentration of iPhone users anywhere on Earth--could get good cell service. Alas, that wasn't the case.
Still, people seemed to be able to communicate with their friends anyway. Among what is probably the most accomplished group of interactive media professionals in the world, that shouldn't be surprising. But the grumbling about AT&T could still be heard everywhere you went.