In October 2007, AT&T acquired Wayport for $275m, and its national footprint of 20,000 Hot Spots in such high-profile locations as Starbucks and McDonalds. For many of us in the industry, this was a seminal event, as it was the first time that a major licensed spectrum holder embraced Wi-Fi (and unlicensed spectrum) as a major piece of its service offering.
Since then, AT&T has continued to be the poster child for its use of Wi-Fi for 3G data offload in areas of cellular congestion. Generally speaking, these locations can be described as areas where people eat, shop and congregate, and includes not only traditional Hot Spot locations, but also high capacity venues, college campuses, special events, and high-foot traffic urban centres.
Today’s announcement of 106.9m connections shows impressive, historic year-over-year growth, but it’s interesting to project forward.
- With over 90m subscribers, this number translates into 1.2 connections/subscriber/quarter.
- With around 30m smartphone users, this number translates into ~1.1 connection/smartphone user/month.
And keep in mind that, with free Wi-Fi at venues like Starbucks, some of these connections are from non-AT&T subscribers, so the number of connections/subscriber is going to be lower.
The following chart shows the number of AT&T Wi-Fi connections, as reported over the past 11 quarters. It’s interesting to note that AT&T has been able to materially impact the slope of the curve. When AT&T and Apple enabled seamless, transparent auto log-on for the iPhone in July 2008, the slope clearly changed. In July 2010, AT&T opened up its Starbucks locations to free Wi-Fi, the slope changed once again.
So how big can it get?
Clearly, one can imagine an AT&T quarterly report touting 1 billion connections (PREDICTION: Q3/2011), a 9X increase from today.
IMO, the biggest obstacle is subscriber mindshare and user intervention. People walk into a Starbucks today, and they know there’s Wi-Fi, so they’ll turn it on. But unless they know there’s Wi-Fi in the football stadium, rocking out at the concert, or walking around Times Square, users are far less likely to have their Wi-Fi radios turned on.
Maybe iOS v5 will be able to sense (or know via GPS) that there is an AT&T SSID nearby, and automatically turn on Wi-Fi, removing user intervention from the Wi-Fi equation totally. Now that would be cool, and welcomed by service providers the world over.
Wi-Fi for service providers? Onwards, and upwards!
One billion connections? Here we come!
That’s my .02!