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AT&T relieving stress on network by offering NYC customers free Wi-Fi

AT&T's free Wi-Fi in NYC is a good thing, but it may lure some customers into a false sense of security.

It's no secret that AT&T's coverage in NYC has been called out as being unreliable in the past. Now the company is apparently doing something about it with the launch of a pilot program that will bring free Wi-Fi to AT&T wireless and broadband customers. According to AT&T, users of smartphones, laptops and other Wi-Fi enabled devices (iPad, of course) will enjoy free Wi-Fi access via the company's "hotzone" on the north side of Times Square on Seventh Avenue between 45th and 47th streets.

AT&T says that it's offering the "hotzone" to test new ways of combining its Wi-Fi and 3G networks to ensure that its customers have a fast mobile broadband connection. My thought is that the pilot program will test how the Wi-Fi access can relieve some of the stress on AT&T's data network. Regardless, AT&T says that if it's successful, you may see more "hotzones" in Manhattan and other parts of the country.

I think this is a great move by AT&T and one that I'd like to see rolled out in other cities. I'm not sure what it costs the company to put together a "hotzone", but I can imagine that it's a lot cheaper for AT&T to route data requests over Wi-Fi instead of its 3G network, not to mention that the experience is better for AT&T users.

It's unclear if this is a seamless experience from the user's perspective, but I would guess it is. For example, if you wander into a Starbucks in Manhattan, your iPhone already starts using the Wi-Fi without asking for you to login to the Wi-Fi or accept the terms and conditions.

Speaking of connecting without logging in, you can bet that a number of individuals will setup free wireless access points around that area in hopes of luring some unsuspecting users into connecting up to their free wireless access. At that point the key logging begins and the rest is identity theft history.

Aside from the possible scam scenarios, I'm loving that AT&T is trying this out.