AT&T Adds 20,000 Wi-Fi Hotspots

AT&T must be determined to get its subscribers online. First, we heard just yesterday that iPhone tethering is officially in the queue from CEO Ralph De La Vega. Now, there’s more good news for users of Apple’s little smartphone-that-could. Wireless hotspot provider Wayport, one of the largest in the U.S., has been acquired by AT&T.

Wayport, Inc., an Austin, Texas-based company, opened its doors in 1996. They initially focused on bringing Wi-Fi access to business┬átravelers, and their early clientele included hotels and airports. In 2004, they became a provider of choice for McDonald’s, which resulted in the creation of 10,000 hotspots at the chain’s fast food restaurants in the U.S. A recent deal saw Wayport extending access at all their locations to Nintendo DS users, and it’ll be interesting to see if AT&T maintains this relationship.

The acquisition is great news for iPhone subscribers, since AT&T recently announced that all their Wi-Fi hotspots would be accessible to iPhone users free of charge. AT&T subscribers now have access to more than 80,000 access points.

It’s also an indication that the telecom giant is serious about building out their wireless infrastructure. The demand placed on their existing network by the influx of iPhone 3G users has provided headaches for AT&T in the past, and their are a couple fixes available to them. First, they can spend on new build. More 3G towers in more places, providing wider and deeper coverage. Second, they can alleviate the burden to their existing hi-speed network. Encouraging iPhone users to switch off 3G and switch on Wi-Fi eases their overall bandwidth load. And acquisitions like Wayport are a smart move in tough economic times, when companies with cash on hand can pick up smaller firms at deep discounts. If AT&T is serious about providing true blanket Wi-Fi coverage, look for them to make a move on bigger players like Boingo as the slump continues.

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