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AT&T Beefs Up Wi-Fi Support For iPhone

A side benefit of the 3.0 software lets iPhone users seamlessly switch from 3G networks to AT&T's Wi-Fi hotspots without going through a cumbersome log-in process.

Apple iPhone 3G S
(click image for larger view)
Apple iPhone 3G S
AT&T is trying to make it easier for iPhone users to switch between 3G networks and public Wi-Fi hotspots by including auto-authentication with the 3.0 software.

Current iPhone users get free access to AT&T's 20,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots at Starbucks, McDonald's, and other public locations. But the process for logging in was considered tedious by many, as a user had to enter the phone number, receive a text message, and then click on a link in that SMS to get access to the Wi-Fi.

With the 3.0 software, iPhone handsets can detect a hotspot and automatically log in without the two-step authentication process. The service is free for iPhone and iPhone 3G users with the latest firmware, and it will be baked into the upcoming iPhone 3G S.

"Auto-authentication makes it even easier for iPhone customers to stay connected on the nation's fastest 3G network and the nation's largest Wi-Fi network," said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, in a statement. "With access to our U.S. hotspots, customers are receiving a great value, with a fast, reliable broadband connection virtually anywhere, through 3G or Wi-Fi."

The move comes as the carrier is seeing increased interest in mobile Wi-Fi access, and it said more than 4 million connections at AT&T hotspots were made with smartphones. The company does also allow some Research In Motion BlackBerry smartphones to connect for free as well, but most industry watchers estimate the iPhone accounts for a majority of those hotspot connections. The move also has the potential benefit of easing demand on AT&T's mobile data network, which has been a source of complaint for some iPhone users.

The iPhone may be your next full-function computer. InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).

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