Unmentioned in most of the reports of the AT&T/BellSouth merger is Wi-Fi: AT&T runs one of the largest Wi-Fi networks in the country: AT&T's FreedomLink network is operated by Wayport, but branded and operated by the telecom giant. They have thousands of FreedomLink locations comprised largely of The UPS Store/Mailboxes Etc., Barnes and Noble, and Caribou Coffee.
They offer this network--along with several thousand McDonald's outlets directly under contract to Wayport--for $1.99 per month to their DSL subscribers. I haven't seen any numbers on how many DSL subscribers have taken them up on it. An extra $20 per month buys roaming locations across several networks, including Wayport's hotel and airport locations.
The question with the merger, of course, is whether FreedomLink's already national footprint becomes more intensely regional. Does AT&T push the DSL/$1.99 deal to former BellSouth customers? Likely. Does it expand locations in its larger coverage area? Almost certainly. And does Cingular's Wi-Fi plan, which relies on FreedomLink but is smaller and more expensive, become fully integrated with FreedomLink? You gotta hope so.
This could challenge T-Mobile, which currently offers a $20/month unlimited Wi-Fi plan for their over 6,700 domestic locations for existing voice subscribers (1-year commitment required). If AT&T--which will now own 100 percent of Cingular instead of 60 percent--matches or beats that deal for Cingular voice subscribers, that might cause some drainage out of the T-Mobile user pool.
With Cingular offering UMTS nationwide and HSDPA in certain markets, the combination of real 3G speeds, Wi-Fi hotspots, and voice could be a winning bundle over Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon deals. Sprint and Verizon lack good add-on plans for Wi-Fi, although Sprint has a roaming network of nearly 30,000 locations worldwide--they just don't bundle it well and domestic locations are largely FreedomLink's. T-Mobile has a great inclusive network in the US and roaming deals (single login, single bill, but fees) worldwide, but they don't have a 3G cell network.