I never thought I'd forgive Time Warner for abominable service before I switched to FiOS—but I just might, if their plan to lease their pipes to AT&T and Verizon makes using an iPhone in NY actually tolerable. UPDATED.
AT&T's iPhone problems are two-fold. There's the wireless aspect, which is having enough towers with enough spectrum for everybody—that's probably what you're familiar with. (The problem in really crowded areas is that there's only so much wireless coverage you can provide before you run into issues like cross talk. We'll see how it goes down at SXSW this year, since AT&T's almost certainly loaded Austin after last year's implosion. In the meantime, the FCC is pushing to get more spectrum into carriers' hands to ease congestion.)
The other side is backhaul—the actual pipes carrying data. I've never been able to get AT&T to tell me how much of their backhaul is copper vs. fiber, which would tell us a lot about their backhaul capacity. (Fiber can carry a lot more data to and from towers than copper, obvs.) Supposedly, they're increasing fiber deployments alongside with their U-Verse rollouts, but I'm not sure how (or if) that's been affected by the slowdowns in U-Verse deployment. (Presumably not much, if at all.) Either way, their needs for backhaul have been exploding.
Update: Some comments from AT&T about backhaul:
• We added more than 100,000 new circuits for backhaul last year — four times our 2008 total; we've doubled the number of fiber-served cell sites we have.
• We anticipate that the majority of our mobile data traffic will be carried over the expanded fiber-based backhaul by the end of this year that we're putting in place to go with the HSPA software that's at all of our 3G cellsites already and will also be the foundation for LTE.
• We'll continue to be aggressive with fiber-to-the-cell-site deployments — 3X what we did in 2009.
What Time Warner Cable's offering is more backhaul. That is, according to BusinessWeek, they're pitching Verizon and AT&T on leasing their pipes in New York City, which is one of AT&T's two admitted problem areas, besides SF. A short-term solution, it's cheaper for carriers than installing more backhaul themselves, but would give them additional bandwidth for data-hungry iPhones.
Which, incidentally, makes me real curious about Time Warner's broadband cap trials (which haven't hit NYC, yet, because of how competitive the market is, thanks to FiOS) and how they sell capacity to customers. They'd be selling unused capacity to the carriers, so their incentive would be to sell you as much bandwidth as possible for the highest price, while getting you to use as little of it as possible. Unlike Comcast, Time Warner hasn't publicly announced they'll throttle your whole connection during periods of congestion (a net neutral way to manage traffic), but if they're making a side business out of selling whatever's not eaten by assholes like you watching tons of internet video, it's easy to see where the squeeze could come.
You will pay for your data. That's the future. But hey, at least your iPhone might work now! [BusinessWeek]