Move intended to ease mobile spectrum congestion in large cities.
Reacting in large part to complaints of dropped calls from cell phone customers in the New York City and San Francisco areas, AT&T said Tuesday that it will deploy additional Wi-Fi hotzones in both areas.
Consumers using AT&T's Wi-Fi connections are not charged additional fees for their cell phones. Mobile phone spectrum has been becoming more congested with the advent of smartphones and is expected to worsen as the devices become more common. AT&T has been particularly hard hit due to the success of Apple's iPhone, for which it has been the exclusive U.S carrier.
Last week, AT&T agreed to acquire a large swath of valuable 700-MHz spectrum from Qualcomm for $1.925 billion; the deal is expected to close in the second half of 2011.
More immediately, AT&T will beef up its Times Square hotzone in time to serve New Year's Eve revelers. The company already has tested a Wi-Fi zone there and, according to Tuesday's announcement, additional Wi-Fi hotzones will be created near Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral.
The company reported that it will also launch a Wi-Fi hotzone in San Francisco's Embarcadero Center.
"Our initial AT&T Wi-Fi hotzones have received great customer response and supported high data traffic," said AT&T's CTO John Donovan in a statement. "The pilot demonstrated the clear benefits of having fast and readily available Wi-Fi options for our customers and our network, and so we have decided to deploy hotzones in more locations."
To date, AT&T has some 23,000 U.S. Wi-Fi hotspots placed in a variety of locations ranging from coffee shops and retail stores to hotels and airports. Many AT&T mobile phones and 3G-equipped laptops automatically connect to the firm's Wi-Fi connections.
AT&T has also established Wi-Fi hotzones in Charlotte, N.C.'s center city, and in Chicago's Wrigleyville. Citing the popularity of its Wi-Fi locations, AT&T noted that in this year's third quarter alone, 106.9 million Wi-Fi connections were handled by its networks, outnumbering the more than 85 million connections that were made during the entire previous year.