Trip to AT&T Labs Reveals: More Spectrum, Better Wireless Service

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Recently, I was fortunate to receive an invitation to join other consumer representatives from around the country to tour the AT&T Labs in Austin, Texas – home state to the telecommunications company. As an advocate for consumer issues, and consumer of a variety of telecommunications services and devices myself, I was interested in getting a first-hand view of the devices and technologies that this innovative company is developing to simplify our lives.

This particular location, which happens to be one of AT&T’s larger centers nationwide, serves as a research lab for developers and engineers to test consumer products, upgrade technologies to make life easier, and ensure that its customers receive the best possible experience from their AT&T services and devices.

The most important visit of the day was the opportunity to experience the Human Factors Lab, where actual consumers test the latest mobile devices before they go to market.  Here, they are really put to the test.  I was able to observe consumers testing the features of a new wireless device to determine if it effectively meets their needs. 

Today’s wireless devices are more than just phones; consumers are using them for data, video streaming, and games.  So, the demands and expectations are great.  At the AT&T Lab, there’s an opportunity to test to see if these device meets consumers expectations.  AT&T really puts their mobile products to the tests to ensure consumers are getting the highest quality products possible.

These devices and equipment serve a larger purpose than just being “cool new products.” These pieces have the potential of helping to conquer common consumer issues by making these devices more intuitive and easier to use.  But upgrading the devices is just half the battle to customer satisfaction.

The fact of the matter is that there is currently a ‘spectrum crunch,’ and no matter how efficient these devices are, if the current infrastructure can’t accommodate these new and innovative technologies, they will not be able to fully realize their potential. In order to make certain that consumers are able to use new devices requiring high-speed wireless broadband, we need to allow for the expansion and affordable pricing of these services. 

As consumers of these wireless devices, by calling for action that allows for the expansion of available wireless spectrum, we can encourage policies that do just that. I believed that this is what AT&T engineers and researchers, and I assume every other telecommunications company as well, are trying to do.  Bottom-line: if there is not enough spectrum available, service for wireless devices that we rely on every day can be unreliable.

The visit to AT&T’s Lab was both informative and enlightening.  I look forward to having new, more consumer-friendly and efficient devices enter the marketplace that will be able to operate on networks that have the full capacity to accommodate the growing capabilities of these mobile devices that are able to offer so many benefits for consumers.

Debra Berlyn is President of Consumer Policy Solutions and director of the Consumer Awareness project, an effort dedicated to educating and informing consumers about online issues. She maintains a website and blog at


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