updated 07:50 pm EDT, Thu April 5, 2012
ATT may replace paid Wi-Fi with free
AT&T is conducting an experiment with Wi-Fi at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport that could lead to much more ubiquitous free Wi-Fi. The project, which GigaOM understands is due to start in September, will let anyone get on to the carrier's Wi-Fi for free if they watch a 30-second ad once every 40 minutes. Normal access for those who aren't already subscribers to a qualifying AT&T service either costs $4 per use or $20 per month.
The free option is likely a test to see if the revenue from a larger number of users seeing ads can be similar to or better than what it gets from paid use. Many airport Wi-Fi services, such as those from individual carriers or from dedicated providers like Boingo, often tend to charge for too little or too much time, such as per hour or for whole days. The airports themselves increasingly offer free Wi-Fi, but the lack of incentive to maintain it can offer a poorer experience with less coverage and slower speeds.
AT&T hasn't said how likely it is to expand the ad-backed Wi-Fi beyond the Dallas area. Questions also remain as to whether or not those on AT&T cellphones and who otherwise get free access today would avoid ads in the future.