AT&T gives iPhone owners free Wi-Fi ... really, this time

Unlimited wireless access finally looks like the real deal

After several false starts earlier this year, AT&T Inc. today rolled out unlimited free wireless access for iPhone users.

AT&T customers who own an Apple iPhone began receiving text messages Wednesday that told them of the free access and directed them to a page on the AT&T Web site. That link led users to instructions for enabling the free access, which involves entering the iPhone's phone number and then waiting for an activation text message.

AT&T operates nearly 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots at Starbucks coffee shops, McDonald's restaurants, Barnes & Noble bookstores and other locations in the U.S.

The announcement was not the first time that AT&T has appeared to unveil free access for iPhone users. In May, the carrier posted information about the deal on its site, but within hours yanked the page and scrubbed all evidence. Two months later, AT&T again published information on its Web site, then pulled the offer.

At that time, an AT&T representative declined to say when iPhone owners would be able to use the carrier's hot spots. "Wi-Fi is a real differentiator for AT&T, and it is our intention to make it available to as many customers as possible, but we have no announcement at this time," the spokesman said then.

In June, Starbucks Corp. launched free Wi-Fi for iPhone owners, but tied the deal to its in-store card program and required users to accept AT&T marketing e-mail. The access was limited to two hours per day.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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