What Happened With Operation Chokehold

So what ended up happening with “Operation Chokehold,” the plan last Friday to protest unreliable iPhone coverage by having a bunch of people simultaneously run a bunch of data-intensive apps to bring the AT&T network to its knees? We’ll tell ya.

User involvement? Check.
Media coverage? Check.
AT&T publicly responding? Check.
Network brought to its knees? Nope.

If anything, some users, myself included, noticed improved reception and download speeds since Operation Chokehold. Possible answers:

Unhappy U.S. iPhone customers can’t just switch to another network, not unless they’re willing to not be able to use an iPhone anymore. The price of the handset, the 2-year contract, and the network exclusivity are an extremely high barrier to taking their business elsewhere. AT&T already factors into their projections the number of people who are willing to do so, it’s called churn. As for complaints, they’ve designed the system to take care of those people too. They’re placed on hold, discouraged by indifferent reps , supervisors perpetually at lunch, and perhaps, if they’re really persistent, placated with a few bonus minutes or a waived fee. Lobbying, the placement of industry-friendly individuals inside regulatory agencies, and the gutting of their budgets have nerfed those government agencies; if you followup on your complaint letter through the FCC it eventually gets investigated and determined on by the mobile company itself.

The game is rigged. The house always wins. The only choice for the pro-active consumer is to alter the rules of engagement.

Fake Steve Jobs: “Go Protest At An AT&T Store Today”
Operation Chokehold: AT&T Users To Protest Slow Network By Simultaneously Running Data-Intensive Apps This Friday, 3pm Eastern


Edit Your Comment

  1. dougp26364 says:

    These things rarely, if ever work. You just can’t get enough participation for long enough to have the desired effect. But it sounds good and makes for great SPAM e-mail’s that tell you to do something.

  2. Level-Headed, Even-handed says:

    f) 4000 odd users running data intensive apps on iPhones aren’t enough to bring even a shoddy network down. (Hint: Because it was built to handle millions of users running apps)

    g) users attempting to run apps couldn’t bring the network to it’s knees because they had no coverage (or were on edge and didn’t have good enough speeds to be effective).

  3. Michael Belisle says:

    My money is on C. I imagine that literally dozens of people participated.

    You want to experience operation chokehold? Try sending a text message on New Year’s Eve. That’s the kind of volume it takes to crash the network. A few thousand people with iPhones scattered all over the country isn’t going to do it.

    • 12-inch Idongivafuck Sandwich says:

      Or try to use your phone to do anything while at a college football game. You’ll go hours without being able to call, text, or do anything with data…

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        I know! And there’s always a guy in front of you calling across the stadium: “No, I’m right above the 50 yard line. In the second tier. I’m wearing bright yellow. Just to the right of the student section. Under the press box. Look, I’m waving. No, to the right of that guy. Over here! See me?”

        SHUT UP, JACKASS, I’m trying to call all my friends who AREN’T here and mock them because I got awesome tickets to the Notre Dame game. ;)

        • RickN says:

          “I got awesome tickets to the Notre Dame game.”

          Awesome? Notre Dame must not have been playing.

          • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

            You know Jesus puts you on the naughty list every time you say that.

            No, wait, that’s Santa. Jesus puts you on the Hell list.


        • AustinTXProgrammer says:

          At Texas Motor Speedway I use text messaging. They take about 10 minutes, but a phone call isn’t going to happen. This is mostly just before and especially just after the race.

      • EarlNowak says:

        During NFL games, I can always *make* calls- its texting or data that becomes a crapshoot. Generally I can’t send or receive texts until about ten minutes after I’ve left the superdome.

  4. Ron Mexico says:

    I did my part, I fired up Pandora for some SERIOUS. NETWORK. CHOKING. ACTION.

    Of course, I do that most afternoons so it didn’t put me out too much.

  5. phonebem says:

    While admittedly my participation didn’t really change my daily phone use habits (streaming Pandora pretty-much all day with a few YouTube videos thrown in), I have to say that I found it more that a bit ironic that I seemed to experience faster than usual data transfer. I’m going to have to go with option (e) since I can’t possibly accept the notion that service just happened to be unusually fast on that day during the hour in question.

  6. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    I think, considering they knew about it before hand, AT&T technical ops were probably boosting everything beforehand in a deliberate attempt to foil the plan.

    I know that the companies have valves they can open on New Years, etc just in case. I think they opened these valves to forestall whatever event they thought Operation Chokehold could make happen.

    The only real reason you can’t get signal somewhere is because of some physical obstruction or lack of towers (meaning they’re all overloaded and you can’t get bandwidth) so they really need to just put up more towers.

    Bite the bullet AT&T!

    • ChuckECheese says:

      Are those valves you refer to possibly connected to a series of tubes?

      • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

        *giggle* yeah, probably :D
        All I’m saying is that the networks have to have some sort of reserve bandwidth they only open up for REALLY high demand times or emergencies. I’m assuming this was one of the times they deemed it necessary.

        Maybe not, I don’t know *that* much about telecom..

        • wrjohnston91283 says:

          I’ve heard commericials where companies talk about having mobile towers to bring to things like New Years parties, football games, giant conventions. I don’t think that would be something that would have been implemented on friday, as there wasn’t a single location where all iphone users congregated.

          • ChuckECheese says:

            The best part of those mobile towers is that you can hold your stadium nachos up to the microwaves to warm them.

        • RandomZero says:

          This is true. I worked for Sprint/Nextel when Katrina hit – among other things, we were advised that there were a number of short-ranged mobile towers, as well as some small ones built into sotres in the area, being fired up for first responder use. These would cost, though, being a power/fuel draw completely outside normal budget, as well as wear and tear on the vehicles and labour for the extra technical people/drivers to manage them.

    • flyingember says:

      if they could boost everything before hand then they would be doing this all the time

      • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

        Not if doing so costs some millions of dollars per minute. You fail to realize how cheapskate a lot of companies can be if no one calls them on it.
        *cough* AT&T *cough* $36 fees everywhere *cough*

        • K-Bo says:

          My guess is the cost of creating that extra capacity to begin with would be far higher than the cost of allowing it to be used.

    • Ubik2501 says:

      If that’s the case, the users need to catch them off guard next time, perhaps Wrath of Khan style:

      “If we were to plug up the network by the book, hours would seem like days…”

  7. ScottyB says:

    Here’s a novel idea: If you don’t like their service, switch to another provider.

    • tbax929 says:

      But it’s so much easier to bitch and moan about the one you have! That is, after all, the American way!

    • Mr_Human says:

      That’s a cliched and unhelpful response. Everybody already knows that this is an option. People obviously want to stay with AT&T because of the iphone. Why shouldn’t they complain and make noise if they don’t like the service?

      • ScottyB says:

        I’m not saying people should not complain. But these asinine tactics are obviously ineffective. A mass exodus to a new network would force AT&T to do better.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        They should complain. But if they keep giving AT&T money while they’re complaining, then their complaints are worthless.

        Continuing to pay AT&T informs them, absolutely, that the service you are getting is worth your money. And if the service you’re getting is worth your money, AT&T’s work is done. They stand to gain NOTHING if they improve their service – you’re paying them anyway.

        There is only one solution – stop paying them.

    • jamar0303 says:

      You act like people have a choice. 2-year contracts and all… (and don’t go off on me about “contract pricing”, “if they didn’t want a contract they could have paid full price”, I have my own phone from Japan and have never been able to get a postpaid SIM without a contract, and prepaid service locks you out of a good portion of AT&T’s coverage area).

      • TheWillow says:

        Cool beans. You wanna pay my ETF and jailbreak my phone for me?

        • Tied To The Whippin' Post says:

          You accepted that there was crappy service in your area BEFORE you purchased your phone and still made the decision to buy a subsidized iPhone – no one FORCED you to make the purchase (your bank account and YOUR spending habits were the only factor in the choice for a subsidized phone). Suck it up and pay the considerably lower ETF (half of Verizon’s); UNlock the phone (jailbreaking is something else entirely that has to do with the apps you can run); move to T-Mobile where you’re going to either pre-pay or get a new contract and supposedly better service. No more whining – easy, peasy, Janpanesey.

          • TheWillow says:

            For the record, when I got my iPhone, AT&T’s service in NYC didn’t suck. So…. yes, I made an educated decision that at the time, the AT&T service (Well, the AT&T and then Cingular and then AT&T) I’d had for 6+ years was adequate. But thanks for judging me.

          • TheWillow says:

            For the record, when I got my iPhone, AT&T’s service in NYC didn’t suck. So…. yes, I made an educated decision that at the time, the AT&T service (Well, the AT&T and then Cingular and then AT&T) I’d had for 6+ years was adequate. I apologize, I didn’t anticipate that AT&T would decide that with the massive popularity and profit from the iPhone, they didn’t have to actually pay any attention to maintaining their quality of service.

            Oh wait, I guess it is my fault, after I could have been psychic if I just tried a little harder.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Don’t have a choice? I don’t recall seeing any Apple/AT&T thugs putting guns to consumers’ heads and forcing them to buy iPhones and therefore sign AT&T contracts.

        Buy a different phone and use a different network.

        *wah, but I wants teh ifone!*

        Fine…and if putting up with these kinds of issues is worth it to you in order to have an iPhone, then clearly you aren’t sufficiently bothered by these issues – and you’ve accepted to live with them.

        Stop trying to have your cake and eat it too. Either you don’t like AT&T/Apple products/services and you don’t use them, or you accept the eminently well-known issues and sign up for AT&T/Apple usage.

        • jamar0303 says:

          On the other hand, I have been told with an unlocked iPhone (for someone else) that I can get a contract or nothing. Not even prepaid. T-Mobile wouldn’t give me a plan without a contract either (something about FlexPay requiring me to buy one of their phones at “full” price- when I have a nicer phone and prepaid doesn’t include internet).

          • YouDidWhatNow? says:

            …if jailbreaking an iPhone won’t work for you, for whatever reason, you choices are either put up with AT&T, or don’t use an iPhone. No one says you have to use an iPhone. If you *want* to use an iPhone, you have to abide by AT&T – and if you can’t abide by AT&T, then you don’t *want* to use an iPhone sufficiently. Then you use something else.

      • jerrycomo says:

        Does your Japanese phone make all North-American smartphones look like outdated, technological chumps?

      • BridgetPentheus says:

        Thank you for a voice of reason. And what are we to switch to, technology that only the United States and a few small countries around the world use? I want to use my phone when I travel and because of lobbyists here we are stuck with old technology.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      And if your car acts up, do you switch to a new car?

      Perhaps people expect that the thing you paid for and the performance you were told to expect in the advertisements is what you should be getting. Companies are spending untold MILLIONS to hire actors and put out ads and sue other companies when they should be putting it into their infrastructure. How many cell towers could be built/upgraded for the cost of renting Luke Wilson?

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Despite what anyone else says, this is correct. People seem to think they have some divine right to the JesusPhone, and therefore they are predestined to have one and have it work the way they want it to.

      You know what? Knock it off with the entitlement crap. You don’t like something about the iPhone, or the AT&T network, STOP PAYING THEM. Paying Apple and/or AT&T only perpetuates the issues that you don’t like. PAYING SOMEONE FOR SERVICE/PRODUCT YOU DON’T LIKE INFORMS THEM THAT IT’S ACTUALLY OK TO YOU. Get that through your heads.

      Stop your AT&T service, and either jailbreak your iPhone or sell it and buy something better (or at least different) and run on a different network. PROBLEM SOLVED.

      …there is one way, and only one way, that AT&T and/or Apple (or really, any company) will change a product or service that is irritating it’s consumers…when that irritation is actually enough for them to lose business over it.

      If you’re irritated by anything Apple/AT&T is doing, but are still a paying customer of theirs, then quite frankly you aren’t irritated enough, and you are informing Apple/AT&T that you accept what they are doing to you. So as far as they’re concerned, everything’s fine.

    • dg says:

      That’d be a great suggestion except for the fact that the iPhone is exclusive to the AT&T network, so you can’t move an iPhone on to some other provider.

      Yeah, there’s the whole ‘Jailbreak’ the iPhone and move it, but that’s an entirely different argument…

      • Tied To The Whippin' Post says:

        Jailbreaking doesn’t let you move the iPhone to a different carrier – it allows you to run non-Apple approved apps on the phone (apps bought from someplace other than the AppStore). Unlocking the phone allows you to move it to another carrier, but in the US there aren’t too many SIM card using carriers out there (T-Mobile is across the nation, and then there’s small local carriers like IMMIX that use SIM cards that you could go to).

        Since AT&T didn’t jack the cost of the ETF (it’s still $175), those that are really upset about the service should just bite the bullet and pay and move to T-Mobile. Knowing that they have problems in large metro areas (NYC, SFBay area, etc), isn’t too hard to miss if you did your homework BEFORE purchasing the phone on subsidy. If you can’t afford to buy an unlocked or unsubsidized iPhone, then suck it up, wait out the 2 years and then move to T-Mobile. If enough whiners move to T-Mobile, then their network can get bogged down and they can whine about shitty service with them. I say you get what you paid for when you leap without looking what you’re going to land in……….

        • BridgetPentheus says:

          and you can’t get 3g on T-mobile unless you shell out for a phone useless around the world, T-mobile coverage around me is actually worse than AT&T (we tried it out) so I really don’t have much choice voting with my dollar because the US lacks decent infrastructure and lack of GSM. Furthermore I had fine coverage with my old phone until they introduced the Iphone 3g which is when my service went bad even though I didn’t have an iphone and was still in a contract so I had done my homework first. So the answer switch providers is not a cover all nor does it excuse problems AT&T has with its network when before it worked ok in a spot.

    • Optimus says:

      Yeah, it’s not like hacking the iPhone is difficult.

      “Oh! But it voids Apple’s warranty!” Have you SEEN their warranty? It covers only like half the phone and only for a year. After a year, you have to pay the original price for a refurbished phone. It’s terrible. That warranty is useless to you anyway.

    • coym says:

      I agree. I love my iPhone and AT&T. I have no issues at all with either. I’m in a large metropolitian area in Texas and no issues what so ever with speed or dropped calls.

      I had T-Mobile before, loved my phone! But couldn’t get service inside anywhere near my place. So I dropped and switch to AT&T (before the iPhone). Because they had crappy coverage T-Mobile lost a customer. If AT&T sucked I would have dropped them too. Vote with you $$. It’s that easy.

      @SteveDave, yes, if my car was a crappy car over and over I would get a new one. It just makes since.

    • Thorzdad says:

      Sooo…Is it your belief, then, that consumers have no right whatsoever to express their displeasure with a company other than by simply taking their business elsewhere?

      • Optimus says:

        Good Point.

        How are they supposed to know that what’s wrong unless you tell them. You leaving just tells them that something is wrong, not what they need to fix to keep you.

        • YouDidWhatNow? says:

          If you’re a paying customer complaining about something, and you remain a paying customer…the vendor has not the slightest reason to fix anything you’re complaining about. Obviously, the product/service you’re getting is still good enough for you to pay for, so why would the vendor give a rat’s ass about your complaints?

          Leaving that vendor, and telling them why you’re taking your business elsewhere, has great power – whereas remaining a customer but complaining has no power. Likewise, declining to buy the product/service in the first place is an action that has great power – even better if you mention to that vendor why you’re opting for a competing option.

          Under no circumstances should you ever think that remaining a paying customer while complaining is going to get much, if anything, done.

  8. Scamazon says:

    actually i assume that ATT allocated bandwidth to prevent the overload and sacrificed bandwidth for other uses. I wonder what suffered when they did that…

  9. rwalford79 says:

    I run Pandora, Slacker, or Sprint TV all the time, all day and night, just so I can run up my data usage and see if Sprint does anything… Oh, wait, I have Sprint… Our network doesnt have capacity, or congestion issues. Sure its 30 Million shy of AT&T but even still…

  10. Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

    SNL should have mocked this as well.

  11. endless says:

    I only lightly dabble in cellphone technology…

    but i imagine running high bandwidth apps would affect the backhaul more than the wireless network, and i am no genius, but i dont think backhaul is what would be causing dropped calls.

    any UMTS/HSDPA geeks out there know any more about that?

  12. what+the_smack says:

    AT&T sitting on their exclusive iPhone contract is analogous to the Middle East sitting on billions of barrels of oil. What happens to AT&T when their exclusive contract ends? The same thing that happens to the middle east when their oil runs out.

  13. supernova87a says:

    it’s not that hard to understand. The network engineers simply preemptively placed bandwidth caps on all usage during that period to prevent overload, something they should have been doing all along… And that’s why the network did even better afterwards.

  14. vastrightwing says:

    The theory I have is that perhaps the main data channel isn’t the problem. Perhaps it’s the small control channel that is the real problem. I’ve heard that text messages are not treated as internet traffic, but use a low bandwidth channel called a control channel. This would be very limited in its ability to move data. This could explain why at a football game, no one can text, but voice calls would work. Different data paths. The iPhone probably uses this control channel inneficiently and is why iPhone users are having difficulties, but also could explain why this massive data attack didn’t work. What should have happened was to encourage everyone to use SMS texting rather than making a voice call and to send billions of text message to each other, leaving the main data channel alone. I think there is a real problem, but AT&T won’t explain it officially, so it leave a bunch of Sunday quarter backs to make up stuff. Who knows.

  15. phonebem says:

    OK I’m sick of everyone saying “Just because you want the iPhone…” does anyone recall that AT&T requires the unlimited data plan on ALL smart phones? Don’t want to take my word for it, try reading this;
    still don’t believe me, try this;
    want one a little more recent, OK then go ahead and read this from yesterday;
    So… It looks like its not only the iPhone “babies” that are getting screwed, try another one…

  16. Quatre707 says:

    My phone dropped to edge 2:45, than to no data-voice only from 3:00 until 3:15 on Friday. I’m always on 5 bars of 3G at work… I felt the affects.

  17. drjayphd says:

    What happened with Operation Chokehold? The ref made ’em break it at a four-count, but Bryan Danielson reminded him that HE HAS UNTIL FIIIIIIVE.

    (crickets chirping)

  18. imryanrey says:

    I noticed about 2 weeks after the verizon commercials hit, my small town started getting 3g (after being told for 2 years we were getting it). I think verizon put at&t in a chokehold, and that has been the reason for improvement.

  19. soj4life says:

    F) Organizer was threatened by DHS, told users to just picket at&t stores instead.

  20. willthetech says:

    i have at&t for years now and never had an issue with data or voice service, i had the 3g phone for a year and it worked fine for me. i got rid of it because my job required me to have a blackberry. my upgrade is coming up now in december and i am getting the 3gs. not sure what the issue really is…

  21. rickatnight11 says:

    How about: the network can actually handle this much usage just fine….there’s another problem, possibly related to the iPhone or how AT&T’s network interacts specifically with it.

    • majortom1981 says:

      I think your right. My att fuze wich can use just as much data has no rpoblems in the same area that my iphone does. ITs attt and apple fans not wanting to admit that the iphone has a problem.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        That’s actually a pretty good theory at this point…if they did actually manage to mobilize wads of iPhones to try to break the network, and obviously the network was fine, then that’s probably just more evidence that the iPhone itself is even crappier than we thought.

        …if it’s evidence of much of anything at all.

  22. SweetMeef says:

    I bet the online petition, like all online petitions, was a success got AT&T to kick it into high gear, place a few thousand miles of backbone fiber, add bandwidth to the most threatening areas, and make liars out of those pesky Verizon ads. Given these results, I guess we can consider the network “fixed” and find something else to whine about. AT&T must be thrilled that their customers are now all satisfied.

  23. Rena says:

    “If anything, some users, myself included, noticed improved reception and download speeds since Operation Chokehold.”
    Probably the tubes were just clogged, and this high-pressure blast of data flushed them out.

  24. trujunglist says:

    Wait, what?

    I don’t know how you guys were getting such great speeds and what not, but I was getting 0 bars on 3G. 0, as in, it couldn’t do ANYTHING. I could barely receive any calls. The network WAS fucked up for me, where it usually was not that bad. It actually screwed me over several different times that day. Thanks a lot AT&T and chokehold!