∞ Is AT&T afraid of iPhone users, MMS and tethering?

Users have been upset with AT&T since the iPhone 3G S and its ability to send MMS (multimedia messages) was unveiled last week at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Tethering was also a big hit at the show, but again AT&T was nowhere to be found. iPhone 3G SThe answer seems quite simple: AT&T is afraid of what will happen to its network once millions of iPhone users start sending MMS and connecting their computer to the network.

There is history behind the theory. Remember the South by Southwest debacle? Throngs of 3G users descended on Austin, Texas and completely overwhelmed AT&T’s network. That was only three months ago. What has AT&T been able to do since March to significantly balance the foundation of its network?

The bigger question is what will happen when millions of people across the U.S. start using MMS and tethering all at once? At this point, I think you would see the network crumble like a house of cards.

It’s true that AT&T supports MMS and tethering on other devices in its network, but let’s be honest, they are not the iPhone. I’ve purchased so many phones over the years from Nokia, Motorola, Sony and none of them were as easy to use as the iPhone. And that’s just what AT&T counts on.

It’s easy to offer tethering and MMS support if only a small percentage of its users can figure out how to use it. It will be an entirely different picture when iPhone users decide to start hooking up their computers.

It’s also true that AT&T should have been planning for WWDC well in advance, so support could be announced for the new features.

Sadly, that wasn’t how things went down.

What happened instead was that during the keynote, Apple’s Scott Forstall stood in front of a large screen of carriers supporting the features and AT&T was not on the list. It was the only time during the keynote that attendees were visibly upset.

And rightfully so. That is just terrible for AT&T, no matter how you look at it. It took a full day for the company to acknowledge MMS and tethering were coming on the iPhone and that they would be supported.

Realistically, AT&T had little option but to respond. They were being raked over the coals by the media and hopefully recognized the shot across the bow that Apple fired at the keynote.

AT&T now says that MMS will be available later this summer at no extra cost to customers with a text messaging bundle. That was definitely unexpected, but pleasant news. Tethering is listed as being sometime “in the future.”

It’s no wonder Apple and Verizon are reportedly in talks to bring the iPhone to those users. Verizon is in the process of upgrading its network to 4G, which will be head and shoulders above where we are now.

It also means that Apple could release one iPhone and have it work on all of the GSM-compatible networks. Seems like a win-win for Apple.

I’ve been an AT&T user for 10 years and I have to admit that I’ve had very few issues. Overall, I’m satisfied. However, I won’t be satisfied for long if Apple enables features on the iPhone that I can’t use because AT&T can’t get it’s act together.