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ATT Wireless Edge Network Apple iPhone SMTP Errors


Summary. Starting around mid-June 2008, in the Iowa City area, the ATT Wireless Edge network began to exhibit intermittent problems. As of July 1, these problems continued. As a result, sending larger emails (such as those with photos attached) may result in an SMTP error indicating a problem communicating with the SMTP server. Depending on how severe the intermittent problem is, it may at times be impossible to send smaller email messages, and the same errors will be reported. When the problem becomes even more pronounced, there are errors communicating with POP email account servers. The issue also effects IMAP email services such as the Apple .Mac email service. Sometimes the quality of the Edge network is so poor that it isn’t possible to view web pages. An error indicates the server can’t be reached. This happens with sites that are known to be available such as Google.

Not a Signal Problem. The above problems may be present even with a strong signal and the Edge network active. So, it appears that it is not a signal problem.

Not a Device or Settings Problem. Sending and receiving email from various iPhones using various email service providers has worked fine for about a year. The problem described above began in June, and there were not server or settings changed. So, it is not a situation where a user is trying to do something that isn’t supported, or using the wrong settings. Even the Apple .Mac service doesn’t work on the Apple iPhone at times when the quality of the Edge network is degraded.

Not an SMTP Authentication Issue. Some users have had problems using their iPhone settings when away from home for ISP providers that use connection-based authentication for SMTP email sending. This issue is also discussed on the Apple forums as well as on the macnn forums. The website SMTP.com is a service provider offering a fee-based service that is supposed to help with outbound e-mail problems. However, the problem described above is not related to an authentication issue since the SMTP servers used don’t require authentication through a specific ISP.

Error Updating Voicemail Outgoing Message. Uploading an outgoing message requires pushing (sending) a relatively large recorded voice file from the phone to the ATT voicemail servers over the Edge network. For this reason, there is an error when trying to update the outgoing message from the phone. The phone may possibly not notified of new messages either. For this reason, it is necessary to dial into the voicemail system manually rather than using the iPhone visual voicemail functions. 

Testing. Testing has been done for about one week from numerous Apple iPhones, using numerous email accounts to identify the cause of the problem. It has been determined that it isn’t a problem with a specific phone or problem with a specific email account. It is a problem that effects all phones and all email accounts.

Support Request Ignored by ATT. It took over an hour on the phone with a second tier ATT Wireless technical support representative to explain the above problem to them. After they documented all of the above, they told me someone would call and also e-mail me with a full problem resolution report. A case number of CM20080630-3349201 was assigned to this issue. What was received the next day was a phone message stating that ATT only supports their own CWMX server for outgoing emails (SMTP). There was no explanation as to how to use their SMTP server. There was no information provided to assist in following up with ATT, no email address provided, no phone number, or contact name.

Other People Experiencing Similar Problems. The problem described above seems to be happening to other users. Examples are below.

  • ATT Wireless Forum – Other ATT Wireless customers discuss their SMTP problems.
  • SMTP.com – A service provider offering a fee-based service that is supposed to help with outbound e-mail problems.

Problem Resolution Journal. Because this issue is now continuing without resolution, we’ve established this journal to track the progress of this issue. The online feedback and service request form on the ATT Wireless website is limited to 1000 characters which isn’t sufficient to explain this issue.

  • 20080705sa2129. The Edge network is still working after two days, so it seems the problems have been resolved.
  • 20080703th1653. AT&T finally responded to a support request submitted via their website. The Edge Network issues seem to have been resolved.
  • 20080703th1406. In the past 24 hours, the mail sending and receiving errors seem to have subsided. There has still not been any email from ATT explaining what was wrong, or if they did anything to fix it, even though they repeatedly took my e-mail address and promised a follow-up e-mail. It may be that the engineers were able to resolve the issue. Further testing by the Resources for Life Technology Services Resource Group over the next few days will be performed to ensure the solution is stable and permanent. The second iPhone that hadn’t been reset, did eventually begin working with the Edge network. Speed for sending and receiving emails was improved.
  • 20080702we1800. One of the iPhones being tested consistently displayed a lower signal than the other phone. It also was unable to update the outgoing message (greeting) using the visual voicemail feature of the iPhone. This is because something wasn’t working properly (or was corrupted) with the Edge network interface. After using the Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings feature, the interaction with the Edge network was improved and the outgoing message could be saved using visual voicemail. The reset of network settings seems to be unrelated to the other issues because the other phone was exhibiting the same problems described at the top of this page. The phone that was reset, still displayed a slightly lower signal quality for the ATT Wireless network as well as any wireless networks. It is being replaced because it seems to have a permanent problem with poorer than expected reception. The new iPhones (due 11 July 2008) have a plastic back and presumably they will have better reception (since a metal enclosed phone would be shielded from incoming signals, even if a small antenna is placed near the plastic cover on the bottom of the back of the phone).
  • 20080702we1400. Within an hour after posting posting this page and notifying ATT about the unresolved issue, an ATT representative called and indicated they will forward this support request to their engineers to investigate and resolve.
  • 20080702we1302. Using the feedback form on the ATT Wireless website, left a support request with a link to this web page.
  • 20080701tu1044. An ATT representative left a phone message stating that they don’t support any other SMTP server other than CWMX.com for sending email. They suggested doing a software reset on the device. They admitted it may be a network issue, but insisted that the iPhone be reset and that the CWMX SMTP server be used for sending email.
  • 20080630mo. After five days of thorough testing, ATT was contacted and informed of the findings.
  • 20080626th. The Edge Network SMTP problem became so severe that it was necessary to begin performing testing and diagnostics to isolate the problem.

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com