For all practical purposes, the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, is a de factoiPhone convention. People who don’t have the white-hot Apple device often feel left out.
But not this year. With so many iPhone users descending on Austin, the convention center has become an almost impossible place to make a call or get a data connection — on AT&T, the only U.S. network providing service to iPhones. People with Sprint and Verizon Wireless won’t stop gloating.
Scott Beale is owner of Laughing Squid, a Web hosting company in San Francisco, as well as a blogger and photographer who’s popular with the Web 2.0 crowd that populates SXSW. He says he tried updating his status on Twitter and Foursquare (a new mobile service), but he couldn’t connect to the network. He had to walk a mile back to his hotel to get onto the Wi-Fi network there.
“If AT&T was smart, they would come in with a big antenna. It would be a huge PR opportunity,” Beale said. “Some day, we will have choice on our iPhones. And will we choose AT&T?”
AT&T actually heard the complaints, and it’s seizing the opportunity.
“We apologize to customers who have been inconvenienced due to this surge in local demand,” AT&T Mobility spokesman Mark Siegel said. “To accommodate this demand for mobile data and voice communications at SXSW, we’re actually working [Sunday] afternoon to add capacity to our cell sites in downtown Austin. We anticipate that customers should see improved performance this evening and for the remainder of the event.”