AT&T notes huge surge in Wi-Fi usage

Access in Q1 is triple that of same period in '08

AT&T Inc. reported a huge surge in Wi-Fi usage in the first quarter based on several factors, including growth in the number of hot spots it supports and an increase in the number of its broadband users and consumers equipped with Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

For the first three months of 2009, AT&T reported 10.5 million Wi-Fi connections, more than triple the amount for the first quarter of 2008, and more than half of all the 20 million total Wi-Fi connections in all of 2008. A connection is each time a user activates a device to reach the Internet via Wi-Fi.

Last year, AT&T began supporting nearly 20,000 hot spots in the U.S., including many Starbucks locations that formerly used service from T-Mobile USA Inc. It also supports about 80,000 global hot spots through roaming agreements, a spokeswoman said. Wayport Inc., which AT&T acquired in December, began operating as AT&T Wi-Fi services in the first quarter, adding hot spots from retail, hospitality and health care facilities.

In addition to more hot spots, AT&T broadband connections through wired and wireless LaptopConnect cards grew by 471,000 in the first quarter to 16.7 million users. Wi-Fi access with AT&T is free with certain qualifying plans.

AT&T also cited growth in Wi-Fi-ready devices, such as the Sony Cybershot digital camera with a Web browser and free access to AT&T Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi embedded mini-laptops such as the Acer Aspire One, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and Mini 12, and the LG Xenia.

About 4 million connections in the first quarter came from smartphones, including the iPhone 3G and the BlackBerry Bold.

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