Customers can log in at 10,000 hotspots, including airports, McDonald's restaurants, Barnes & Noble bookstores, coffee shops, and sporting venues.
Looks like telecom carriers are warming up to the idea of Wi-Fi as an alternate way for subscribers to connect to the mobile Internet. AT&T on Monday began offering free access to its nationwide Wi-Fi network.
AT&T said subscribers with higher-speed broadband plans can now get access to about 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots at different locations across the United States, including airports, McDonald's restaurants, Barnes & Noble bookstores, coffee shops, and sporting venues.
"Providing customers with more high-speed access in more places also gives us a competitive edge because we're able to offer an on-the-go broadband experience that cable can't match," said Rick Welday, chief marketing officer of AT&T's consumer division, in a statement.
There's a catch, however. Residential and small business broadband subscribers have to have one of the following broadband packages to quality for the free service: AT&T Yahoo High Speed Internet Pro, AT&T Yahoo High Speed Internet Elite, FastAccess Xtreme, or FastAccess Xtreme 6.0.
The major U.S. telecom carriers have been reluctant to offer Wi-Fi support -- both through Wi-Fi hotspots and built-in Wi-Fi technology in phones -- for fear that it will cannibalize their cellular business. In 2005, Verizon Wireless pulled the plug on its free Wi-Fi Internet service offered in New York City. Instead the carrier decided to focus on building out its third-generation (3G) cellular network based on technology called EV-DO.
But options for mobile consumers and business professionals are growing. SBC Communications launched a Wi-Fi service in 2003 and later acquired AT&T, keeping the AT&T name. The merged company has since created a nationwide Wi-Fi network. The company's wireless arm AT&T Mobility, formerly Cingular, has been using the hotspots to offer a 3G/Wi-Fi combo plan to its subscribers, said AT&T's spokesman.
T-Mobile, the No. 4 cellular carrier in the United States, has put up more than 8,000 Wi-Fi hot spots across the country that its subscribers can use. Unlike AT&T, T-Mobile doesn't have a wireline business and has been promoting its Wi-Fi network as an advantage over the other cellular carriers.
T-Mobile last month began offering a home-based Wi-Fi calling service that seamlessly switches subscribers back and forth between cell phone calls and calls made over Wi-Fi.
AT&T's announcement signifies the carrier's efforts to add greater mobility to current broadband options by offering higher speeds and more Wi-Fi hotspots in more places, said the spokesman.
Dozens of municipalities in the United States are also building out their own Wi-Fi networks, often independently from telecom carriers, offering mobile users another option to connect to the Internet on the go.
2014 Next-Gen WAN SurveyWhile 68% say demand for WAN bandwidth will increase, just 15% are in the process of bringing new services or more capacity online now. For 26%, cost is the problem. Enter vendors from Aryaka to Cisco to Pertino, all looking to use cloud to transform how IT delivers wide-area connectivity.
The UC Infrastructure TrapWorries about subpar networks tanking unified communications programs could be valid: Thirty-one percent of respondents have rolled capabilities out to less than 10% of users vs. 21% delivering UC to 76% or more. Is low uptake a result of strained infrastructures delivering poor performance?
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 14, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.