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Breaking News: AT&T to Deploy Some Wifi Routers

Just in case they take a little longer than mid 2011 to deploy LTE with a magically firm backhaul supporting it and at least one phone with a compatible radio to make their customers happy in the event of Verizon failing to absorb enough iPhone defectors, AT&T, which among other superlative things calls themselves the largest wifi network, announced today that they intend to deploy a bunch of public wifi routers, which for whatever reason they call hotzones, into major markets starting with midtown Manhattan and Embarcadero Center in San Francisco to make whoever it occurs to turn on wifi and connect to such routers less frustrated with the utter failure of AT&T to deliver adequate cellular data service on a typical day in such areas and presumably Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

I’m I the only one who thinks this situation has switched from being awful to a joke to pathetic to not funny anymore to being a bright sign to try another carrier?

Hotzones, baby; hotzones. Sounds like a new super-range wifi, right? Surely it’s not the same equipment you have behind the TV to cover not just a spot but a super hot zone? What, because there are a series of them overlapping each other’s range you can glide from one to the next? Don’t count on it, your phone won’t be transmitting any louder first of all to somehow take advantage of better range to a single router, and do you happen to have a phone that will hop onto the nearest available unencrypted wifi network (oh yeah, that’s another issue with this over cellular, no encryption)? I don’t, never did, and for a good reason. Better hope those pesky Google Street View cars aren’t on patrol in these zones from the sound of it. If there’s any way this switches gears to strong encryption it must involve a schlep on the users’ end or some dopey application. Correct me if I’m wrong, AT&T. I sure wouldn’t want to blog about you sucking even slightly more than you actually suck.

So for those AT&T customers with wifi-enabled phones who join these presumably unencrypted networks over and over as they move around an area with a bunch of buildings and other thick obstacles to radio waves with wifi draining their phones even faster, sounds like their problems are over (especially if they use Google Voice for SMS as that would go over wifi, and for free I might add), though now might not be the worst time for AT&T to encourage Google to unleash Google Voice VoIP over wifi. Scratch that, AT&T has more or less kept their distance from Android because, in spite of what pretty much every other carrier in the world believes, it’s better for business to focus almost exclusively on the Blackberry Torch.

AT&T claims that the wifi routers they’ve deployed thus far have been pretty popular, as if that’s something for the fastest 3G network people to brag about, though they stop short of directly suggesting that by offloading some would-have-theoretically-been cellular data traffic to a completely separate arrays of short-range networks will make their data and at times voice and also SMS over cellular services usable in places like midtown Manhattan (my favorite example). And you can bet your last dollar that it won’t.

You know, if I were still an AT&T customer, what I’d appreciate instead of these grand announcements, which dodge acknowledging that calling themselves the fastest this and the largest that might not have been the right wording when declaring that they’re working on wrapping the gunshot wound that is their abysmal densely-populated service with a little more gauze, is delivering the noticeable improvements first and then telling people about it. Or letting people discover it on their own and let the web rejoice on its own about it, no press release required. On the other hand, I guess I’m just the type of guy who at an airport would rather hear an honest time estimate announced of my plane being delayed and rather than hearing “Another forty minutes or so folks” every hour. You?

To AT&T’s credit, Verizon, who has more subscribers using, and google this all you want if you don’t believe me, more data hungry phones and subscribers than AT&T does by a huge margin, does not claim to have the nation’s largest wifi network. What’s up with that, Big Red? What, those “thirty  NFL cities” you claimed to have blanketed with LTE by the end of the year with your already LTE-capable HTC Thunderbolt to be announced in a week at the CES, you’re gonna pass that off as wifi hotzone technology because LTE’s IP-based and might be faster than your existing network? Please. With all those subscribers and data flying around, not having the nation’s largest wifi hotzone network, that’s just damn irresponsible. Instead you’re pushing mini hotspot devices that drain your network’s resources. That’s cellular suicide, by AT&T’s model at least.

By the way, even though this sounds dumb versus saving wifi surfers a few steps by opening it up to everyone at least on New Year’s Eve, you’ll be needing a “qualifying wireless data, LaptopConnect and AT&T High Speed Internet” plans if you want to connect to these things which I assume means that there is some sort of authentication procedure before you get on the network and I doubt AT&T has everyone’s MAC address to do that automatically. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to rely on what I’m paying T-Mobile to deliver as advertised and as demonstrated.

Tl;dr? Judging by their most recent press release, AT&T will continue to suck at least in Manhattan and Frisco with equal or greater force well beyond mid 2011.

Doug Simmons