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AT&T Wireless turns to Wi-Fi

The cell phone carrier announces a pact with a Wi-Fi network provider to give its subscribers wireless access at more than 485 venues around the country.

AT&T Wireless, one of the country's largest cellular phone carriers, said Tuesday that it would team with a privately-held Wi-Fi network provider to give its subscribers wireless access to some 485 venues in the United States.

For a daily or monthly fee, AT&T subscribers will have access to Austin, Texas-based Wayport's "Wi-Fi" network, available in more than 475 hotels and 10 airports around the nation. Wi-Fi is an increasingly popular standard for wireless technologies.

The wireless carrier's new service, GoPort, is aimed at business travelers who want to retrieve or share information with their offices while on the road.

Wi-Fi has been the one bright spot for the telecommunications industry, which has been rattled by overcapacity and weak demand. Companies such as T-Mobile are offering subscription-based Wi-Fi service at more than 2,000 Starbuck's cafes and, later in the spring, at Borders Books.

AT&T's agreement with Wayport may indicate a shift in the carrier's wireless data services strategy, which revolved around next-generation or "3G" networks. Despite hype about 3G services, connection speeds are comparable to those of dial-up services. Although Wi-Fi radio signals travel about 300 feet from their antennas, the technology offers faster connection speeds at a drastically lower cost.

Carriers are attracted to Wi-Fi because the spectrum it occupies is unregulated by the Federal Communications Commission. This translates into fewer fees paid to the government and lower costs. Other technologies using the spectrum include cordless phones, ham radio and baby monitors.

AT&T's customers will have to pay for Wi-Fi access regardless of whether they already subscribe the company's wireless data services. The price for Wi-Fi services will range from $69.99 for unlimited monthly access to $9.99 for unlimited connections at a single location for a 24-hour period.