Giant Telco, meet Demanding Customers (Or: AT&T and the iPhone)

I'm no expert on telephone company management, nor the iPhone itself, nor the internal AT&T wireless-side organization. But I have been around numerous telephone companies, and have some ideas about AT&T and the iPhone.

At the time of this post, lots of people are complaining of trouble activating the iPhone. My guesses about some sources of trouble:

  • The iPhone doesn't have an external SIM slot (from what I've read), even though AT&T customer reps have been trained that all GSM phones have a SIM slot.
  • The iTunes-based activation system is, in part, a front-end to AT&T wireless' provisioning platform. It's really hard to test provisioning software under load without doing it a lot; after all, who wants to load up their dozens of multi-million dollar telephone switches with a bunch of bogus subscribers? It's really hard to test any software under load without doing it a lot.
  • It doesn't help that they started this on Friday evening. Most telcos avoid even disconnecting non-paying customers on Friday because they (the telco) doesn't intend to be around on the weekend to fix things. So while customer-service call centers were up and operational, I suspect a lot of the back-end provisioning and switch-management staff were hoping to actually get the Independence-Day weekend off.
  • The iPhone itself might have some bugs.

Giant Telcos like to control the whole thing: the network, your device, etc. Why, up to a few years ago (in telco history terms), the American telco owned every thing connected to its network -- you couldn't even plug in your own telephone.