AT&T Wireless is making a significant change to its network that should increase the coverage for many of its customers. However, as part of this process, it is forcing many of its users to downgrade their smart phones.
According to engadget, AT&T's GSM network initially used the 1900 MHz portion of the spectrum, while it used 850 MHz for older networking standards. As the older standards are being phased out, AT&T is starting to use the 850 MHz part of the spectrum for GSM. This will mean increased coverage for phones that support both 1900 MHz and 850 MHz.
The problem is, most of the smart phones AT&T offers don't support 850 MHz. This includes the Sony Ericsson T68i and Nokia 3650. It also includes the Motorola MPx200, the first Windows Powered smart phone to be released in the U.S. The lone exception is the palmOne Treo 600, which supports both frequencies.
AT&T's solution for this is to offer free replacement models, but many customers are unhappy about this plan because the new devices are regarded as a step down. For example, T68i users are being sent a Sony Ericsson T226. As many people bought the T68i because it offers Bluetooth, switching to a Bluetoothless T226 is not seen as a positive change.
However, users aren't being given any options. They aren't being asked if they want to change phones and they aren't allowed to pick the phone they are sent. AT&T Wireless is simply shipping a replacement phone to thousands of its customers along with a box for them to ship back their current phone.
The reason this is extra frustrating to many AT&T customers is the company isn't going to stop offering GSM service on the 1900 MHz band, so people's current phones will continue to work exactly as they always have. The coverage just won't be as good as it would be if they switched to a phone that supports both 1900 MHz and 850 MHz.
This situation is still developing and not all the facts are clear at this point. There have been some unconfirmed reports that AT&T will allow people to send back their replacement phones and keep their current ones. Not surprisingly, there have also been calls for a class action lawsuit.
Update: Reportedly, AT&T isn't requiring customers to send back their current phone. Those who call and ask AT&T are told they have the option of keeping both phones. However, this isn't mentioned anywhere in the packets being sent out.
Brighthand will continue to follow this developing story.
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