Realizing that their customers are not keen on the idea of tiered mobile data pricing, AT&T has a new solution: offer delicious carrots instead of beating already-dissatisfied customers with sticks. Instead, AT&T Mobility President Ralph de la Vega told BusinessWeek that AT&T is looking to expand their public wi-fi network, and use access points–free or free to AT&T customers–at sites such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Barnes & Noble to help alleviate the strain on the 3G data network.
AT&T wants to craft “incentives” that would compel iPhone owners to reduce demands on the company’s overworked 3G cellular network. The most obvious solution is to get them to switch to wireless Wi-Fi networks whenever possible.
Wi-Fi access points, found everywhere from customers’ homes to coffee shops, move bits of information directly to a wired broadband Internet connection. That’s cheaper than transmitting the bits to a cell tower, as 3G does. Cell towers get swamped when as few as a dozen nearby iPhone users simultaneously try to watch a YouTube clip or play a game. “Two years ago, all the carriers thought Wi-Fi was a threat” to their cellular networks, says Marc Lowenstein, a consultant who used to run marketing for Verizon Wireless. “Now it’s a lifeline.”
de la Varga also touts femtocells, or mini cell towers that run off a home or office broadband connection, as a possible solution.
(Photo: Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten)