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AT&T ramping up public Wi-Fi access in NY, SF

Carrier will expand its Wi-Fi hot zone in New York's Times Square and launch one in San Francisco's Embarcadero district as an alternative to its overtaxed cell network.

AT&T is expanding Wi-Fi access in New York and San Francisco where customers have run into trouble with the carrier's overcrowded celluar network, according to the Associated Press.

The company is due to announce today that it will expand its Wi-Fi hot zone this week in New York City's Times Square, which launched in May. "Hot zone" is a term for a large, outdoor, public area covered by multiple hot spots.

AT&T is also eyeing new hot zones around New York's Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral areas, according to AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan, who was quoted by AP.

AT&T customers in San Francisco will also be able to tap into their city's first public, outdoor hot zone in the Embarcadero waterfront district.

Many AT&T subscribers in New York, San Francisco, and other major cities have been vocal about their problems accessing the carrier's 3G network, complaining of dropped calls and slow speeds. This past summer, the company upgraded its 3G network in New York in an attempt to alleviate the congestion. But the continuing torrent of data-hungry iPhone users continue to put a strain on the network.

AT&T has been rolling out Wi-Fi hot zones in various cities this year to give customers another option. These zones are similar to traditional Wi-Fi hot spots except that they cover much larger outdoor, public areas by aggregating several access points.

Donovan said that the pilot deployments have been successful and that AT&T is planning to launch additional zones, the AP said.

The Wi-Fi hot zones are available free to AT&T wireless and broadband customers using smartphones, laptops, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices.