AT&T Buys Wayport Hotspot Provider

iPhone users will have even more free Wi-Fi hotspots to access with AT&T's US$275 million purchase of Wayport, announced on Thursday.

Wayport manages hotspots on behalf of businesses including McDonalds, Hertz and a long list of hotels including Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham, Four Seasons and Holiday Inn.

The deal brings the number of AT&T hotspots to 20,000 in the U.S. Including roaming partners, AT&T customers will have access to 80,000 hotspots worldwide, the operator said. AT&T recently announced that its iPhone users would be able to use AT&T hotspots for no additional cost.

AT&T has been beefing up its Wi-Fi network. It now surpasses in size the network built by T-Mobile, one of the first operators to aggressively build hotspots. Earlier this year, AT&T won a contract to operate Starbucks' hotspots, a deal previously held by T-Mobile since 2002. Starbucks has hotspots in about 7,000 stores in the U.S.

AT&T's interest in expanding its hotspot footprint appears to be driven by an increase in mobile phones and other devices that contain Wi-Fi capabilities. In a statement about the deal, AT&T noted that it has seen an exponential growth of Wi-Fi-enabled devices, with nearly 300 million shipped in 2007 and a billion predicted by 2012.

In addition to certain AT&T smartphone users, subscribers to AT&T high-speed Internet services and to LaptopConnect, which lets users connect their phones or a PC card to their laptops for wireless connectivity, get access to the company's hotspots.

Users of Wayport hotspots have been able to pay either by session or through a subscription for access to any hotspot in the network.

AT&T expects the acquisition to close in the fourth quarter this year.

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