iPhone Users Overwhelm AT&T’s 3G Network at SXSW

At the South By Southwest conference, mobile innovators announced custom versions of nightlife games and iPhone applications to dazzle the tech-savvy crowd. Unfortunately, many attendees haven’t been able to get a signal on their phones to try out the new applications.

For the majority of the five-day digital conference, AT&T 3G users in Austin have been experiencing dropped calls, sluggish data services, and unavailable service because of an overload on AT&T’s network. It appears that AT&T wasn’t prepared for the number of iPhone-carrying users that would be attending the conference and using their phone’s data capabilities. Thousands of attendees have been affected.

As you can imagine, many users have been quite frustrated with the lack of connectivity. Users who have been able to withstand the network have been uploading complaints on Twitter. Others have ditched their iPhones in favor of laptops to get their daily email, Facebook, and Twitter fix. The lack of phone functionality has become a running joke on Twitter. Kenyatta Cheese, a producer at Rocketboom, wrote “This new ‘Call Failed’ feature that AT&T launched at #sxsw works flawlessly!”

According to Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T, the company increased capacity to cellular sites in Austin on Sunday night in response to the prolonged outages. Customers should already see significant improvements, Siegel said. To improve the signal, AT&T engineers turned up the 850Mhz spectrum of its towers in Austin. Those waves penetrate buildings better than the 1900Mhz waves which AT&T has traditionally used for its 3G and 2G data networks. The company plans to move its entire 3G network to 850Mhz in the coming months.

With roughly two days remaining in the conference, however, many are saying AT&T missed an opportunity to provide service at one of the more popular gatherings of tech users.