AT&T's customers generate 80% of smartphone, tablet connections on its Wi-Fi hotspots

AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) disclosure of key performance indicators from its thriving Wi-Fi business shed little light on just how much the operator's smartphone customers use its public Wi-Fi networks for offloading data traffic from the cellular network. But a company executive claims AT&T mobile device customers are active users of the company's Wi-Fi hotspots.

"All of our smartphones are sold with Wi-Fi capability. We know that our users are aware of the Wi-Fi availability and the AT&T brand on our hotspots. We know demand is coming from our customers. They appreciate just being able to connect everywhere," Aaron Coleman, director of product management, for AT&T Wi-Fi Services, told FierceBroadbandWireless.

AT&T provides Wi-Fi hotspots in over 100 countries around the world.

Last week, AT&T announced that it recorded more than 2.7 billion connections to its Wi-Fi network during 2012, more than double the number recorded in 2011. The operator also reported three times more mobile device traffic, over 5.2 billion MB, was exchanged on its Wi-Fi network in 2012.

Further, the carrier said 40 percent more Wi-Fi network connections were made in 2012's fourth quarter by smartphone and tablet devices compared with the same period one year earlier. Those connections are not limited to AT&T customers, who are nonetheless responsible for much of the activity.

"About 80 percent of those connections are attributed to AT&T Mobility customers," said Coleman, though he declined to share specific usage numbers.

Despite the fact that AT&T mobile customers have unlimited access to the company's public managed hotspots with usage not counting against their mobile data plans, the vast majority of AT&T customers do not use the company's public hotspots to offload data traffic from their cellular devices. AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson said in a June 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed that AT&T mobile customers only offload about 1 percent of their total traffic to the operator's Wi-Fi network, which has grown to more than 32,000 hotspots currently.

FierceBroadbandWireless asked Coleman if the past year's rise in smartphone and tablet device connections to AT&T's Wi-Fi network corresponded to a comparable increase in the percentage of mobile data offloading by AT&T customers who use the carrier's Wi-Fi hotspots in lieu of its cellular network.

"We're not really sure what that number is now. We did double our traffic in the past year. You're got AT&T users on the network and non-AT&T users on the network. We have a number of alliances with other partners," he said.

Most AT&T smartphones automatically connect to AT&T hotspots. However, other AT&T mobile device customers must manually find the attwireless SSID and log onto the network.

A recent report from Mobidia and Informa Telecoms & Media found very limited use of managed public hotspots--as would be offered by Wi-Fi network providers or mobile operators--by smartphone users, who tend to use private and self-provisioned Wi-Fi networks instead.

For more:
- see this AT&T release
- view this chart (PDF)

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AT&T notches 2.7B Wi-Fi connections in 2012
AT&T, others pass first hurdle in WBA's global Wi-Fi roaming effort
AT&T's numbers show carriers' public Wi-Fi networks may not be justifiable
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