AT&T fails to offload traffic to WiFi

22 February 2013 by Steve Blum
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AT&T must’ve hired the same guy who invented premium lifeboat pricing on the Titanic.

AT&T’s public WiFi network is not the offload destination of choice for its smart phone customers, according to usage data from January 2013. Instead, customers prefer to log onto randomly available hotspots where ever they might be – home, work or in a pub.

In the U.S., only 3% of a typical smart phone user’s WiFi traffic goes via a WiFi access point managed by his or her’s primary mobile carrier. If you crunch the numbers from AT&T’s last publicly announced figures, the average mobile data customer connected to its WiFi network once a month, on the average.

That might seem an odd result, since WiFi offloading of smart phone data traffic is growing fast. So fast, in fact, that it’s shaving nearly ten percent off of worldwide mobile data forecasts for the next five years. Four times as much traffic goes via WiFi as on mobile data connections, when users’ smart phones and tablets have the capability to do both.

I’ve been an AT&T wireless customer on and off over the years and, as a DSL customer, have had some level of access to AT&T WiFi service for as long as its been offered (OK, AT&T is actually rebranded SBC). Makes perfect sense. AT&T’s WiFi service has two big and easily solvable problems: a convoluted split between basic and premium access points and a manual logon procedure.

It’s as predictable as dropped calls on California’s State Route 1: you need Internet access now, the only SSID that pops up is AT&T and you try to connect. A window appears saying something to the effect of “call customer service.” After slogging through the phone tree and waiting forever, you finally get a real person who says your basic plan won’t cut it. Gimme money or you don’t get online.

Even when you’re eligible, you have to go through AT&T’s logon process – user name, password, check the box that says you agree to whatever abuse you suffer – every time. To be fair, they’re not unique. T-Mobile, in my experience, is just as bad.

With multi-billion dollar mobile spectrum auctions looming, AT&T should be falling all over itself to offload traffic onto free, unlicensed bands. Automatic logons are not rocket surgery. Premium WiFi plans are the epitome of penny wise and pound foolish. Just fix it.