AT&T (NYS: T) said the number of connections to its Wi-Fi network nearly tripled year over year in the third quarter to 301.9 million. AT&T also said that the amount of data on its Wi-Fi network in the quarter more than doubled from the year-ago period.
The statistics reflect not only AT&T's growing use of Wi-Fi offloading for its cellular networks but also the wider trend within the industry to use Wi-Fi as a tool to manage mobile data traffic. Indeed, AT&T said that users are now making around 100 million Wi-Fi connections per month, more than the total number of connections made in all of 2009 and five times the total number of connections made in 2008. For now at least, neither AT&T nor any other U.S carrier counts Wi-Fi usage toward a subscriber's monthly data allotment.
AT&T's Wi-Fi hotspots now number 29,000 across the country, and AT&T said hotel locations account for approximately 40 percent of the carrier's total Wi-Fi network traffic. Starting last year, AT&T designated several areas in key markets as Wi-Fi hotzones, where AT&T has focused Wi-Fi coverage to augment its macro cellular network. The hotzones are in Palo Alto, Calif., Austin's Sixth Street, Chicago's Wrigleyville, downtown Charlotte, N.C., New York's Times Square and San Francisco's Embarcadero district.
However, AT&T is not the only carrier using Wi-Fi offloading. Verizon (NYS: VZ) Wireless committed earlier this year to using Wi-Fi offloading techniques to handle increased data traffic on its EV-DO and LTE networks in homes as well as crowded hotspots such as hotels, airports and stadiums. And Wi-Fi connectivity firm iPass recently said that the company's research indicates that flat-rate player MetroPCS (NAS: PCS) may be offloading as much as 20 percent of its cellular traffic onto Wi-Fi networks. Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) has also added Wi-Fi offloading to its repertoire of network management tools this quarter.
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