AT&T has added a second location in its outdoor hotzone pilot program: Charlotte, NC's downtown is the second area to get an AT&T hotzone designed to offload network traffic from the company's 3G network and boost performance for customers. The first such hotzone was lit up in Times Square in Manhattan; a third zone is coming to Chicago soon.
The idea of a hotzone makes perfect sense for a firm that's getting criticism for being unable to meet the data needs of subscribers in some cities and neighborhoods. Wi-Fi cells can be quite small, and have much higher capacity than cell channels, while being enormously cheaper to run, partly because there's no opportunity cost related to expensive cellular spectrum licenses.
These AT&T hotzones differ from municipal Wi-Fi efforts started in 2005 and mostly abandoned by 2007. Municipal networks were typically designed to require private investment by firms to provide indoor and outdoor network coverage to 90–95 percent of a city.
AT&T hotzones will cover outdoor areas of high traffic, and work only for customers. There's no specific municipal benefit involved, and AT&T will control its deployments entirely.
It's a smart move. AT&T could likely spend less a tenth as much in high-traffic areas to add Wi-Fi as to beef up cellular. And there's only so much spectrum available, meaning that in many areas there may be no real way to enhance the 3G data side.
This is Wi-Fi as a 3G network heat sink.