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7/26/2010
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AT&T, A Leading Wi-Fi Network Supplier?

AT&T has decided to expand a pilot program where the company supplements its cellular services with Wi-Fi connections. The carrier green lighted such a deployment in Charlotte, NC and has plans to roll out similar services in Chicago, moves that could be precursors to changes in cellular coverage.

AT&T has decided to expand a pilot program where the company supplements its cellular services with Wi-Fi connections. The carrier green lighted such a deployment in Charlotte, NC and has plans to roll out similar services in Chicago, moves that could be precursors to changes in cellular coverage.The AT&T Wi-Fi Hotzone is geared to enhancing users' mobile broadband experiences by providing them with more bandwidth for data intensive applications. Charlotte is the second city to receive such service, the first pilot was launched in New York City's Times Square in May, and AT&T plans to add a third hotzone in Chicago in the coming weeks.

A few factors are driving the company's deployments. In November 2008, the service provide purchased Wayport, a Wi-Fi hotspot and back office supplier, for $275 million. Since that time, the carrier has been weaving Wayport's 20,000 hotspots into its cellular network and becoming a higher profile Wi-Fi network supplier.

Also, cellular networks usage has been changing. Increasingly, customers are moving away from simple voice calls to higher bandwidth data and video applications. Cellular networks deliver about 1M bps of bandwidth to users, which may not be enough to support such transmissions. In response, carriers are moving to 4G technologies, but the migration has been slow and expensive. Using Wi-Fi could help these companies solve any bandwidth shortfalls in the short term by providing users with as much as 100M bps of wireless bandwidth.

AT&T's focus could help businesses since their users often work with large files. However to take advantage of such services, small and medium businesses need to make sure that their employees are working with dual mode cell phones. Not all phones support both Wi-Fi and cellular connections. It has been differentiating feature with smartphones -- although it is becoming more common in lower cost devices. In addition, there may be new security issues as calls are handed from cellular to Wi-Fi networks, whose security historically has been scattershot. So while businesses may benefit from the new features, they also need to make sure that their employees properly secure any Wi-Fi transmissions.

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