The telecom originally announced the service in February, and had premature rollouts earlier this year that were canceled. But the company said Thursday the service is finally ready to go.
In order to gain access, users must go the hotspot they want to use, enter their 10-digit cell phone number, and agree the AT&T's terms of service. A text message is then sent to the handset with a link to the hotspot, and once that link is open the user gets 24 hours of free wireless access. The user is not charged for the text, and customers have to redo the process for access to a different hotspot.
AT&T has more than 17,000 wireless hotspots at airports, bookstores, hotels, restaurants, Starbucks, and other public places. Officials from AT&T said customers may prefer Wi-Fi to 3G because of increased Internet speeds and possible battery life savings. For the wireless operator, the move also potentially puts less stress on its mobile broadband network, which has been a source of complaint for some iPhone owners.
The mobile carrier is rolling out the highly anticipated BlackBerry Bold next week, and it also will be capable of accessing free Wi-Fi. Other AT&T smartphones like the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 and BlackBerry 8820 will be able to have free Wi-Fi access.
The move may give AT&T an advantage over rival Verizon, which soon will release the high-profile BlackBerry Storm. The Storm is Research In Motion's first touch-screen smartphone, but its lack of Wi-Fi may make some customers lean toward the Bold.