Wow, this is huge and especially benefits Apple with its lead in the wi-fi-based mobile space. Steve got AT&T to support free wi-fi. How great. AT&T DSL customers get unlimited free wi-fi at Starbucks.
If you have a Starbucks debit card, you get 2 free hours a day. No more having to pay $20 or more a month to get free wi-fi at Starbucks. Keep in mind that Starbucks is the king of coffee. If they give out free wi-fi, doesn't that mean that all the other coffee places will need to provide free wi-fi to compete? The answer is yes.
If everyone was paying Verizon for 3G access (which is slower than wi-fi by the way), no one would need free wi-fi unless they were carrying a laptop which most people don't do.
This totally supports the iPod touch and significantly increases the value of its free wi-fi access. Remember that Apple kept mentioning the iPod touch as a wi-fi mobile device at their quarterly finance conference. Now we know why.
I've been saying all along that we need more free wi-fi. This is the best news ever on that front. The enemy of wi-fi is the cellular carrier. To get the biggest US cell carrier to give away wi-fi is huge.
This move also really helps the current iPhone which has wi-fi but not 3G. I've always wondered why people were so much in a big hurry about 3G on the iPhone because (1) I thought AT&T would charge more than $20/month for a 3G data plan - try $30 or $40 and (2) there is a good chance Apple would drop wi-fi capability once the iPhone is 3G.
Wi-fi is the populous choice. It allows the technology makers like Apple, cell phone makers like Nokia and little-guy-makers to freely create what they want and helps their strength vis-a-vis the carrier. All mobile phone makers get leverage with the carrier to the extent they can use wi-fi in place of cellular.
All along the carriers have been restricting trade in a monopolistic fashion (2-year contracts for example) and have been suppressing the expression of the mobile phone makers. Here's Steve rescuing the industry again if they could only admit it. He deserves some kudos.
Among others, Matt Hamblen at Computerworld has the full story.