AT&T released its fourth quarter 2009 Wi-Fi connection numbers: AT&T says that its customers made 85.5m connections via its 20,000-strong hotspot network in 2009, with more than a third--35.3m--made in 2009 Q4 alone. The 2009 usage is four times that of usage in 2008, although a far smaller number of AT&T fixed and mobile broadband subscribers had free Wi-Fi access in 2008 than in 2009.
If customers on average downloaded 1 MB of data for each 2009 connection, that's 85 terabytes of information shifted over the network--but that could be quite low. I'm sure I download 10s of megabytes when I fire up a laptop, but I might only retrieve hundreds of kilobytes with my iPhone. AT&T says that 72 percent of Q4 connections were via smartphone.
These numbers will completely explode in 2010 Q1, I predict, with 11,500 McDonald's in the US switching from for-fee to free service. While AT&T customers already paid nothing to use Wi-Fi at McDonald's, this move opens up the network to a vastly larger audience that might otherwise have balked at paying even the $2.95 for two hours access that was the previous rate.