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AT&T to expand Times Square Wi-Fi by New Year's Eve

John D. Sutter
About 1 million people gather in New York City's Times Square on New Year's Eve.
About 1 million people gather in New York City's Times Square on New Year's Eve.
  • AT&T boosts Wi-Fi coverage in Times Square ahead of New Year's Eve
  • The company also will add an outdoor Wi-Fi hot spot in San Francisco
  • Verizon Wireless also has a Wi-Fi hot spot in Times Square
  • AT&T Inc.
  • Times Square
  • WiFi

(CNN) -- Ahead of the annual New Year's Eve celebration, wireless provider AT&T says it will expand a Wi-Fi hotspot in New York City's Times Square.

So if you plan to tweet "OMG it's 2011!!!" from Times Square early Saturday, you may have an easier time of it than you would have in 2010.

The "hotzone," as AT&T calls it, is part of a company effort to improve wireless data transmission to smartphones in certain urban areas. These public, outdoor Wi-Fi connections are intended to supplement the company's 3G cellular service, the company said in a press release on Tuesday.

That 3G network has drawn complaints from smartphone users, who say it's difficult to send and receive data from their phones, particularly in high-traffic areas like New York and San Francisco.

Connection problems often are compounded when large numbers of AT&T smartphone users gather in a certain area and are trying to send and receive data via their mobile phones at the same time. There are few better examples of this than New Year's Eve in Times Square, where an estimated 1 million people will gather to ring in the new year. Many will want to send photos, e-mails and text messages from the celebration.

The AT&T outdoor Wi-Fi project started earlier this year when the company installed pilot Wi-Fi hotzones in New York, Chicago, Illinois and Charlotte, North Carolina. The effort is now expanding to beef up Wi-Fi in New York and to include a new Wi-Fi-connected zone at San Francisco's Embarcadero Center.

The company says the existing Wi-Fi hot spots work well.

"Our initial AT&T Wi-Fi hotzones have received great customer response and supported high data traffic," says John Donovan, AT&T's chief technology officer. "The pilot demonstrated the clear benefits of having fast and readily-available Wi-Fi options for our customers and our network, and so we have decided to deploy hotzones in more locations."

The Wi-Fi "hotzones" supplement AT&T's existing network of more than 20,000 indoor Wi-Fi "hot spots," the company says.

Wi-Fi connections generally help smartphone users send and receive data faster than existing cellular networks. Wi-Fi also use less of a phone's battery and doesn't eat into an AT&T customer's wireless data plan the way 3G connections do.

Verizon Wireless also has a Wi-Fi hot spot in Times Square, according to the company's website.

Wi-Fi, of course, is prone to failure, too, especially under heavy traffic demands. In one high-profile example of this, Apple CEO Steve Jobs' presentation crashed at a press conference earlier this year when a Wi-Fi network went down because of a traffic overload.

An AT&T spokesman would not comment on how much traffic the New York hot spot will be able to handle.

"As in any situation where a large number of people in a dense area are using smartphones, periods of network congestion can occur," the AT&T spokesman wrote in an e-mail to CNN. "Wi-Fi hotzones provide another broadband option in high traffic areas, and we feel that customers will benefit from having the option to log onto AT&T Wi-Fi in these locations."


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