updated 09:40 am EST, Tue December 28, 2010
ATT Wi-Fi goes live in San Francisco and expands
AT&T on Tuesday brought its outdoor Wi-Fi zones to San Francisco for the first time as well as expanding into other areas. The access point will give AT&T subscribers data access in the Embarcadero waterfront area near Rincon Park. New York City's Times Square zone is also expanding and will be joined by spots near Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral.
The extra area is the result of the success of the earlier tests, which were pilot projects. It plans to expand to include sports arenas and other areas where a large number of smartphone users tend to congregate.
An initial San Francisco deployment might be critical to preserving some of AT&T's subscriber base before the anticipated Verizon iPhone arrives. While the downtown area's 3G coverage has seen significant upgrades since it collapsed almost completely after the iPhone 3G launched in 2008, many users in the core and in other parts of the Bay Area still have frequent problems making calls or using data without switching to 2G or relying on Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi should reduce the load and create a better impression of service.
The company still plans to upgrade 3G and doesn't consider Wi-Fi a substitute for faster cellular access. It has already been adding 21Mbps HSPA+ service to much of its service area, for the few modems that can support it, and hopes to add LTE-based 4G starting from around mid-2011.