AT&T Working Around 3G Issues with WiFi "Hotzones"
AT&T has announced that they've set up their second "WiFi Hotzone,"
part of a pilot project to redirect network traffic from the company's overburdened 3G network, in the downtown area of Charlotte, North Carolina. The free (for customers) network follows the first such hotzone set up in Times Square in Manhattan, with a third zone to be coming to Chicago "in the coming weeks." The carrier's plan is to ultimately be able to support as many as 68 million connections on their WiFi networks.
With upwards of 32 million customers nationwide with compatible smartphones or LaptopConnect cards, AT&T is pursuing the hotzone project in an effort to reduce data throughput demands on the 3G network in the busiest cities in the US. It's much easier and cheaper to augment WiFi coverage than it is to add more cell towers, and with higher potential throughput the carrier clearly feels its customers will appreciate the speed boost. “Our first AT&T Wi-Fi hotzone in New York City has received praise from our customers," said Angie Wiskocil, the senior vice president of AT&T Wi-Fi Services, "and we’re excited to introduce this Wi-Fi solution in Charlotte.”
One caveat for iPhone users is that allowing your phone to auto-connect to AT&T's default attwifi
SSID exposes them to a potential vulnerability
that was identified by researcher Samy Kamkar earlier this year. There is a kludge in iOS that disables MAC address checking for the attwifi SSID only
, so that iPhones can automagically connect to AT&T hotspots and hotzones wherever they may be. As a result, however, anyone can set up a malicious WiFi access point posing as an AT&T network, and a user would never know if their communications were being intercepted, or if they were being redirected to malware sites.
The Charlotte hotzone extends along South Brevard Street from the area surrounding the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza to East Trade Street. The hotzone can also be accessed by AT&T customers who are waiting at Lynx light rail stations. In addition to Chicago, AT&T has indicated that San Francisco's financial district will soon get its own hotzone as part of the rollout of the pilot program.