AT&T regularly boasts its growth in Wi-Fi usage in quarterly reports, drawing attention to the importance of Wi-Fi accessed from the neighborhood hot spot at McDonald's, Starbucks, or Barnes and Noble. Such convenient locations serve as the network entry point for many users into the carrier's extended network that includes 3G connections, which have sometimes been criticized by iPhone users as being deficient.
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Released the day before Apple's highly expected launch of a presumed tablet computer on Wednesday, AT&T's Wi-Fi update report magnifies the importance of fast Wi-Fi connections that can be used to support bandwidth-hungry video streaming and other multimedia, which are expected to be features of the coming Apple device.
AT&T said its release of the Wi-Fi data was not timed with any announcement from Apple, since the carrier releases its Wi-Fi statistics quarterly.
Some analysts have questioned whether a large display on an Apple tablet can support streaming video over the average speeds of a wireless 3G connection from any carrier, let alone AT&T's, which has a smaller footprint than Verizon Wireless' 3G coverage.
But a Wi-Fi connection in a fast-food restaurant or on a college or workplace hot spot might have a fat pipe to the outside world with robust network throughput that could support some of the more bandwidth-eating applications, analysts said.
Within Wi-Fi hot spots, speeds as high as 10 Mbps-to-100 Mbps are possible using the 802.11n standard at the higher end. By comparison, a Root Wireless study recently found that AT&T's 3G averages ranged from 246 Kbps in New York to 428 Kbps in Dallas, meaning that the Wi-Fi connection would be many times faster.
If a hot spot is supported by a robust backhaul connection to the nearest switching station, either wired or wireless, and if that connection's throughput is up to the level of the hot spot, an Apple tablet user would, presumably, be golden.