AT&T teams up with Fon for overseas Wi-Fi

Subscribers on international data roaming plans will get access to Fon hotspots in Portugal and Poland

AT&T offered more Wi-Fi coverage to international roaming customers on Tuesday through a deal with Fon, the Spanish crowdsourced wireless provider that lets users share their Wi-Fi with other Fon members.

The partnership will provide access to about 800,000 Fon hotspots in Portugal and Poland to subscribers who buy the 300MB or 800MB AT&T Global Data Add-On services. Those plans, which cost US$60 and $120 per month, respectively, include 1GB of data per month via certain Wi-Fi hotspots in addition to the cellular data allowances. The Fon partnership expands the number of hotspots that subscribers will be able to use.

Wi-Fi may play a big role in the future of international data roaming because it runs over unlicensed radio spectrum instead of more expensive and scarce cellular frequencies, analysts say. Wi-Fi also uses a set of frequencies that are nearly universal, bypassing the complexities of dealing with the many different cellular bands in use around the world.

AT&T has led the charge on this trend among U.S. carriers, analysts say. Earlier this year, AT&T formed a partnership with Boingo that gave Global Data Add-On subscribers access to Boingo hotspots in 30 international airports around the world as part of the 1GB monthly allowance. Due to Boingo's expansion, that deal now covers 33 airports.

To use the Fon networks, subscribers will need to download the AT&T Wi-Fi International app, which is available on iPhones, iPads and Android devices. Android devices will automatically connect to an included Fon hotspot as soon as it is in range. With iPhones and iPads, subscribers will have to manually log in the first time they want to use Fon hotspot and then will get automatic access to Fon hotspots after that, according to AT&T.

Fon sells special Wi-Fi routers that set up two separate networks, one private and one for the use of other Fon customers. The routers are set up mostly in residential areas but also are available to businesses. The deal with AT&T, which is not exclusive, provides access to about 400,000 Fon hotspots in Portugal and 400,000 in Poland.

Also as part of the partnership, Fon customers, including those in the U.S., will get free access to AT&T's more than 30,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.S.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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