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AT&T ups Wi-Fi ante with Wayport acquisition

20,000 hotspots at home, 80,000 worldwide

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AT&T has bought up Wi-Fi hotspot provider Wayport for $275m, hugely increasing the number of places that subscribers with an iPhone or Blackberry Bold can get free access.

The companies have worked together before; Wayport provided backhaul and management to AT&T hotspots. But Wayport always focused on providing hotspots in hotels, hospitals and chain-stores, notably McDonalds, carving a niche out for itself - one that AT&T now owns.

This is ironic, given that AT&T was one of the partners in the ill-fated Cometa Networks. Cometa was supposed to fit every McDonalds in America with Wi-Fi back in 2002, but by 2004 the golden arches were being fitted up with Waypoint, leaving Cometa with only 250 locations and an unused logo.

But if someone else succeeds where you've failed the answer is to buy them out - ideally when the economy makes acquisitions cheap. That way you can wait a decade, then paint the whole thing as a coherent plan by merging the projects together in history.

ABI Research, commenting on the deal, points out that while AT&T customers with their Blackberry Bold handsets will get free Wi-Fi, those who switch to Verizon for a Blackberry Storm won't even have Wi-Fi connectivity.

Including roaming locations this gives AT&T 80,000 hotspots around the world, assuming those roaming deals make the transition from Wayport. However, it's still debatable how useful Wi-Fi is on a phone. In areas with decent 3G coverage the hotspot model is largely redundant. The greater speed is hard to exploit on a mobile phone screen, but where coverage is less ubiquitous there is still room for Wi-Fi. ®

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