AT&T turned New York's Times Square into a Wi-Fi hotzone for customers using Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones -- including the iPhone -- as well as laptops, netbooks and assorted devices.
In a pilot deployment in the north central part of Times Square, between W. 45th and W. 47th streets near 7th Avenue, AT&T customers -- be they tourists, passersby or locals -- can connect to the Wi-Fi network at no additional charge.
AT&T says many of its smartphones support auto-authentication at AT&T hotspots so customers would be automatically switched from 3G to Wi-Fi when in the new hotzone.
AT&T says Wi-Fi service, particularly on smartphones, is booming with 69% of its Wi-Fi connections made from smartphones in the first quarter of 2010. A year earlier, that number was 35%.
AT&T has been plagued with complaints about dropped calls and service problems related to its 3G network.
The company says the experiment in Times Square will "explore the use of Wi-Fi to provide an additional mobile broadband option in areas with consistently high 3G traffic and mobile data use."
AT&T says if the results of the pilot deployment are good, then it "may deploy additional hotzones in other areas of the country where more ubiquitous Wi-Fi availability may be beneficial for customers."
That may be welcome news to AT&T customers in San Francisco, another city where problems with the carrier's 3G network have been legion.