Can AT&T's Network Handle Millions of Data-Hogging 3G iPhones?

We're ready for the 3G iPhone, but are AT&T's 3G networks ready for it? Om Malik raises the scary possibility that AT&T's complete HSDPA network might be newly strengthened, but still might not be robust enough to handle the onslaught of 3G traffic, rendering 3G barely more nimble than EDGE. After a year of waiting for 3G, that's kind of a nut shot right? Consider this: Even last year, iPhone users chugged nearly five times the data of an average AT&T subscriber, and twice as much as other smartphone owners.

It wasn't so harsh on the network, because 55 percent of the data was over Wi-Fi. But with 3G, why wait for a Wi-Fi hotspot, especially since AT&T's 3G is, at least in the NYC area, as blazing as AT&T claims. New iPhone users are going to get on 3G en masse, and pull a lot of data over the air, especially with unlimited data plans. And it's fair to assume iPhone users are going to slurp even more than before since they won't have to hit up Wi-Fi to do data-intensive stuff.

The standard increase in usage from unlimited plans with more run-of-the-mill phones has already been posing problems for operators, forcing a serious need to upgrade the backend.

While that report doesn't focus on AT&T, it's worth noting that two major Korean operators-vaunted for their magical networks-were experiencing degraded voice quality from the data hammer. And AT&T's network didn't have a stellar track record to begin with. So a $199 3G iPhone that moves millions of data-whoring units could be the worst thing ever, at least if you're buying that 3G iPhone for, well, 3G data access. The ball's in your court, AT&T. [GigaOM]