In an effort to provide better service to its 3G (particularly iPhone) users, AT&T is building an experimental Wi-Fi hotzone in New York’s Times Square. If successful, it would roll out similar networks in three other locations to offload traffic from its overburdened 3G network.

“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi.

I included that quote because I was bemused by AT&T’s announcement that it’s building a giant Wi-Fi hotspot in Times Square as a way to offload traffic from its pokey and overcrowded 3G network.

Times Square may not be the only massive, public hotspot effort by Ma Bell — if the pilot works then AT&T plans to roll out in three other locations. I bet those places will be in New York and San Francisco, where AT&T performs like a 300-pound man running up a 60-degree incline. In 2008 AT&T bought Wayport for $275 million and with it 21,000 hotspots in places such as the Starbucks coffee chain, but the carrier never effectively used that network to boost its Wi-Fi capabilities.

AT&T, for as long as I can remember, was what I would call a Wi-Fi hater: using its immense lobbying powers to kill municipal Wi-Fi and other such efforts. Its executives often joked about Wi-Fi not being a carrier-class technology. Good to see them learning from those they mocked.

But they should also be reaching out to cable companies, which have Wi-Fi initiatives of their own and lease capacity on their Wi-Fi networks in order to accommodate their 3G customers. Cablevision in Long Island, N.Y. would be a good place to start.

Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub req’d): How AT&T Will Deal With iPad Data Traffic

Image courtesy Flickr user Adventures in Librarianship.

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  1. I completely agree that ATT should be more aggressive in deploying wifi. To me it seems a classic application of the “breakage” model deployed by companies such as netflix and gift cards. (http://wkontech.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/wi-fi-capable-smartphones-vs-ipad/)

  2. I believe the current iPhones only have 2.4Ghz capable WiFi radios. These crowded areas will have VERY crowded 2.4Ghz (like conferences always do). If they build out a network that also uses 5Ghz (802.11a) then iPad owners rejoice. Hopefully the next iPhone will have a dual-band WiFi radio as well.

  3. Wrong title, it should read AT&T Building a Wi-Fi HACKERZONE in Times Square for You.

  4. who cares. iPhone’s boring, tired and trying to catch up to Android

  5. Raymond Padilla Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Great post Om. I wrote something similar on my site…but not as smart…and with a silly joke thrown in. Ha! I also noted that I know hundreds of people in San Francisco that would be happy with a similar stopgap solution.

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