Rather than relying on 3G connections, more users are turning to AT&T's Wi-Fi network for faster speeds and unlimited data.
Late in July AT&T released statistics on the usage of its Wi-Fi network for the second quarter of 2011. The statistics show usage is climbing rapidly.
AT&T has a Wi-Fi network across the country, with nodes in dozens of airports and thousands of Starbucks, McDonalds, and Barnes & Nobel stores. The picture is similar in Europe, Canada, and other countries around the world. You can see if there are any locations near you with the Wi-Fi locator. The connections are free for all wireless customers with qualifying data plans as well as those using AT&T High Speed Internet or U-verse services. You can also purchase monthly plans if you aren't qualified otherwise.
The real payoff here is for the wireless customers. Just about all smartphones and tablets have Wi-Fi radios and, generally, Wi-Fi beats 3G or 4G connections in speed, price, and battery consumption. What I find odd is that the AT&T 3G Microcell service consumes data from your plan while the Wi-Fi connection at Starbucks doesn't. So, using 3G, you connect to the 3G Microcell and use your ISP's bandwidth and AT&T dings your data plan. But if you use AT&T's bandwidth at Starbucks you don't consume data from your plan. No one said this program was logical.
Data consumption is going to be an issue for all AT&T customers soon. Most customers still have unlimited plans, but anyone who purchased a plan in late 2010 is limited to 200 MB, 2 GB, or 4 GB depending on the plan. However, those with unlimited plans face the prospect of being throttled.
Users are taking the hint. SlashGear has an InfoGraphic showing the rise of Wi-Fi usage. In the first quarter of 2008, there were 3.4 million connections to AT&T's Wi-Fi network. In the first quarter of 2010, that had grown to 53.1 million. This past quarter, connections were up to 246.8 million. In fact, for the first six months of 2011, there have been more connections than all of 2010.
Are you or your employees taking advantage of the Wi-Fi network rather than relying on 3G when traveling? It could be saving you money and giving the user a better experience.