ATandT WiFi Hot Zone Pilot Project Arrives in Charlotte

AT&T's WiFi hot zone project has gone live in its second location, Charlotte, N.C. New York City's Time Square was first, and a Chicago deployment is coming in just weeks.

AT&T has deployed a WiFi hot zone in Charlotte, N.C.-the second location in a pilot project designed to gain consumer feedback about the use of WiFi to supplement the carrier's 3G mobile broadband network.

The first hot zone in the pilot went live in New York City's Time Square in June, and the third will fire up in Chicago in "the coming weeks," AT&T said in a July 26 statement.

"Our first AT&T WiFi hotzone in New York City has received praise from our customers, and we're excited to introduce this WiFi solution in Charlotte," Angie Wiskocil, AT&T senior vice president of WiFi Services, said in the statement. "WiFi plays a key role in our strategy to mobilize everything that's important to our customers-including entertainment, news, social networks and business apps. With these pilot AT&T Wi-Fi hotzones, we're examining new ways to use a combination of our WiFi and 3G networks to deliver the best possible mobile broadband experience."

AT&T is the exclusive U.S. provider of Apple's iPhones-a distinction that, while envious to other carriers, has also brought it considerable criticism, as it has strained to meet the data-heavy demands of its iPhone users, in addition to its full customer base. During AT&T's fiscal second-quarter 2010 earnings announcement July 22, it revealed that it had activated 3.2 million iPhones during the quarter-27 percent of which went to brand-new AT&T customers.

Also during its earnings call, AT&T officials addressed the progress they have made in San Francisco and New York City-the company's two most challenging coverage areas. With the WiFi hot zone pilot, AT&T is hoping to gather information, collect customer feedback and ideally, in such highly populated areas, relieve some of the burden on its 3G network.

AT&T currently offers more than 20,000 mobile hot spots (analysts have put the figure at closer to 24,000) that AT&T customers can connect to automatically and free of charge. As smartphone use in the United States has climbed, so has the number of AT&T customers finally taking advantage of the service. In the first quarter of 2010, AT&T saw 53.1 million connections made using the hot spots-which was five times more than had been made during the same quarter a year earlier. During the second quarter, that figure climbed to 68.1 million connections.

Verizon Wireless began following suit in December 2009, when it rolled out a WiFi service in certain locations in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Though, unlike the AT&T hot spots, which allow mobile phone calls, the Verizon service was limited to devices such as laptops.

The newest AT&T hot zone-which the carrier says emphasizes its commitment to investing in North Carolina-now covers an outdoor area along South Brevard Street, "from the area around the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza to East Trade Street," AT&T said in a statement. It's said to also reach customers waiting to use the city's Lynx light rail system.