AT&T customers trying to upload smartphone video or pictures from E. 6th St. could face much less frustration in the near future. The wireless carrier has announced it is launching a Wi-Fi hotzone that stretches down E. 6th St. from Congress Ave. to Interstate 35.
"AT&T customers with qualifying wireless data, LaptopConnect and AT&T High Speed Internet plans get unlimited access to AT&T hotzones at no additional cost," the company said in a statement.
Austin is the 5th city to have a wide area Wi-Fi network installed by AT&T. The company began by installing Wi-Fi hotzones in New York City and San Francisco, then continued in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina and at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
AT&T suffered a major public relations blow at South by Southwest Interactive 2009, when users of the iPhone and other smart phones struggled to use a wireless network crippled by the torrent of data. Since then, AT&T has been adding "cell towers on wheels" during major events to try to alleviate the bottle neck. While users have noticed improvements, it is still difficult to connect to AT&T's data network in densely populated areas during South by Southwest.
The problem exists to a lesser extent downtown on weekend evenings and holidays when people crowd the bars on E. 6th St. AT&T hopes this will help improve not only the service, but also its reputation for data coverage as it faces increasing competition from other wireless carriers like Sprint, which rolled out WiMax service in Austin two years ago.