Earlier today, AT&T Mobility sent out SMS messages to iPhone subscribers in the US reminding them that they can use free Wi-Fi provided by AT&T at locations including Starbucks shops around the country.
This free service has been a long time coming for the iPhone. The deal was originally announced back in February when Starbucks committed to partner with AT&T and kick T-Mobile to the curb. The new mobile portal started to show up on iPhones in April, but has been up and down since then. Now it appears that AT&T is ready for business.
I went through the process today at my local Starbucks just to try it out. The connection speed was definitely faster than 3G and a nice little benefit if you happen to be camped out at a Starbucks, McDonalds, etc. It should be particularly nice for those staying at hotels, if the service proves to be free to iPhone users in those locations as well.
Here’s how it works…
When you are at a Starbucks or other service location (check the AT&T map to find one nearby) you can join the network named “attwifi” and then open Safari. When you try to go to a web site outside of AT&T (more on this later) you’ll get redirected to a login page where you can enter your mobile number and agree to the AUP.
Once you do that, you’ll get an SMS message with a link that will authenticate your device and allow you access to the AT&T Wi-Fi network at that location for 24 hours.
Once you click on the link, you’ll get a confirmation screen in Safari that you have access to the AT&T Wi-Fi network.
What’s interesting is that you can browse both att.com and apple.com without going through this process. The iTunes Store also works beautifully, with the added “Now Playing at Starbucks” on your screen. Again, without any authentication.
All this free browsing begs the question, can I do any of this on my MacBook? The answer is, “kinda sorta, but not really.”
When you connect to the AT&T Wi-FI network with your laptop, you’ll be prompted to sign up for service (a 2 hour pass is $3.99 and monthly plans are $19.99 – or $9.99 if you are an AT&T DSL or Uverse subscriber).
However, the same sites that work without authentication on the iPhone work the same way on a Mac. That is, you can connect to the “attwifi” network and surf att.com and apple.com all day if you want.
You can also open iTunes and connect to the iTunes store. I was able to watch trailers and browse music, movies, etc.
This isn’t perfect, though. I got a funny message about the Starbucks Now Playing feature and I was NOT able to get to me.com, presumably because AT&T Wi-Fi filters on the URL.
Spoofing the user agent using the “Develop” menu in Safari doesn’t work to get around this. All I got was a specially formatted page that asks you to sign up for paid service.
For kicks, I tried entering the authentication URL that is sent in the text message on my Mac, but this didn’t go anywhere, perhaps because I had already used the link with my iPhone.
If you have other experiences with using the AT&T Wi-Fi service, please share details in the comments below.