Verizon Launches Free Wi-Fi Service for Customers

Some Verizon subscribers can now access Wi-Fi hot spots in the United States, Canada and Mexico, using Verizon's Wi-Fi service. Verizon's Wi-Fi service is similar to what AT&T offers its customers. These services also allow carriers to offload PC traffic from their networks to free up space for smartphones.

Verizon Wireless gave some of its customers another way to connect with the introduction of the Verizon Wi-Fi service on Dec. 15.

Customers with monthly subscriptions to Verizon's Mobile Broadband or GlobalAccess plans, as well as supported devices-and here's the bummer: no smartphones are included-can now access the carrier's Wi-Fi hot spots, at no additional charge, in locations such as airports, bookstores, hotels and cafes. In addition to the United States, the service is available in Canada and Mexico, which can help to lower data roaming charges.

Customers can locate a hot spot at and then use the carrier's VZAccess Manager to switch their device from Verizon's 3G service to a Wi-Fi connection.

"When they are ready to move, but want to remain connected, or if they want the added security of the Verizon Wireless network, customers can simply switch back to Verizon Wireless' 3G wireless network," according to a Verizon statement. "These choices can help them manage their monthly data allowance by potentially preventing overage charges and saving the allowance for when mobility is needed."

A full list of supported devices is available here. In addition to the latter, customers must have a "Mobile Broadband USB modem, PC Card, ExpressCard, Verizon Wireless MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot, or a notebook or netbook with Mobile Broadband Built-In running Windows 7, 2000, XP or Vista," according to the Verizon release. They'll also need VZ Access Manager 7.2 or higher.

Verizon competitor AT&T offers customers access to more than 24,000 hot spots, including in Starbucks cafes-and including to smartphones. While an added convenience for customers, it also works to lighten the load on the carrier's data network. As Verizon increases its smartphone offerings-most notably, the newly launched Motorola Droid-it's clearly learning early a lesson that AT&T picked up the hard way.

An August report from researcher Ovum named Wi-Fi connectivity a "hot" smartphone feature that customers now expect on nearly all smartphones, not just high-end models. Customers were also expecting GPS, while fewer of them expected widgets and a TV-out port.

According to a Verizon spokesperson, the number of available hot spots is approximately 10,000.