Thanks to its growing number of Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones, AT&T said Friday it had a record number of wireless hotspot connections in the third quarter.
The telecommunications company said its customers made 25.5 million connections to AT&T's wireless hotspots for the third quarter. To put this in perspective, the figure outpaces the 20 million connections made for all of 2008, and is nearly equal to the 25.6 million connections made in the first half of 2009.
For the first time, the connections made by smartphones and other integrated devices surpassed the connections made by laptops, AT&T said. The company gives iPhone, BlackBerry, and certain Windows Mobile devices free access to its domestic hotspots in places like McDonalds, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, and other public venues.
The company saw a big boost in connections when the iPhone 3.0 software came out because it included an easier way to connect to hotspots. Prior to this version, iPhone users had to enter their phone number, receive a text, and then click on a link in that message to log into a Wi-Fi hotspot. The 3.0 software enabled the phone to automatically detect a hotspot and log in without the two-step authentication process.
AT&T is taking multiple steps to handle the increased interest in its Wi-Fi hotspots, as it enables the company to have a value-added service with its other offerings, and it has the additional benefit of offloading data traffic from its 3G network. The company has more than 125,000 Wi-Fi hotspots around the globe, and it has increased its global footprint about 30% since the beginning of the year. AT&T also spent about $275 million last year to buy Wayport to bolster its Wi-Fi footprint and back-office management capabilities.
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