AT&T's SXSW iPhone debacle (and do-over)

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Call it a case of iPhone-anticipation fail.

The upwardly connected attendees at the Interactive portion of this month's South by Southwest conference (SXSW) arrived in Austin, Texas, to a most unwelcome sight – iPhones with little or no signal.

The culprit: AT&T, the exclusive [official] service provider for Apple's whiz-bang wireless phone, had underestimated the demand a gathering of so many geeks – thousands of them, according to anecdotal reports – would put on the wireless network. The result was dropped calls, sluggish data services, and a steady Twitter stream of complaints.

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Wired and Silicon Alley Insider ran stories on the outages, reporting on new services being rolled out that were essentially dead in the water, because their functionality depends on wireless connectivity. But the steady stream of Twitter complaints may have been the driving force behind what happened next.

AT&T responded by doubling capacity in and around Austin Sunday, releasing this statement:

To accommodate unprecedented demand for mobile data and voice applications at SXSW, we are actively working this afternoon to add capacity to our cell sites serving downtown Austin. These efforts are ongoing, but we anticipate that customers should see improved network performance this evening and for the remainder of the event. We will continue to monitor network performance throughout the event, and will do everything possible to maximize network performance throughout. We apologize to customers who were inconvenienced during this surge in local network demand.

Harry McCracken at Technologizer points out that the company upped capacity not by rolling out the cell towers on wheels (COWs) it brought in for President Obama's inauguration, but by borrowing capacity from elsewhere in the system.

Following up:

• Remember last week's item about the California lawmaker who introduced a measure that would require online mapping sites to blur the tops of "sensitive" targets? Maybe buildings with lead roof tiles should be added to that list. A South London man has admitted to using Google Earth to look for the valuable tiles, filching them in the middle of the night, and selling the metal for scrap. Total damage: £100,000.

Hewlett Packard has begun selling laptop computers with batteries from Boston Power. We reported back in December that the Westborough, Mass.-based company had inked a deal with the computermaker, but the more efficient, longer-lasting batteries are now available for purchase.

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