AT&T flattened the world of WiFi this past week as the transition of Starbucks locations from T-Mobile began. They did it in a very quiet way, but now the buzz is building. Smartly, they are using sampling as a means to attract users by giving away 2 hours of free access per day.
That pretty much eliminates the need for most people to have an account with T-Mobile in the USA, other than those like me who travel, need it in a hotel, airline club or other location where AT&T hasn't grabbed the real estate to have it paid for by an ad supported deal with Yahoo.
For normal people unlike Ken Rutkowski and me, Om or Gregory Markel of inFuse Creative, who all spend hours a day in coffee shops and other hot spot enabled locations, two hours a day is more than enough time to sip, surf and catch up with email, so the idea of a sample taste will have its positive affect on the coffee shop trade as it may help bring in the "freeloaders" who want to surf at no cost, and have a coffee, latte or tea.
I also actually see this having a positive affect on Boingo, which has a roaming deal with AT&T, Wayport and Covad. Wayport manages the connectivity, and Covad helps fill in the gaps in AT&T's broadband map across the USA, as this insures a similar experience in every location. For Boingo, and my pals there this AT&T strategy is akin to seeing an audience get built for them, without having to pay to build it themselves. As the "light user" crowd moves up the consumption chart and need to roam, Boingo becomes the defacto standard roaming service between all hot spots, and since their subsidiary, Concourse Communications, manages the WiFi at major airports, it provides the pathway to greater subscriptions and day passes as the consumers of WiFi begin to travel.
In economic terms, this is called the trickle down effect, as it benefits all that follow in the path. For T-Mobile though, its not the same. For them, all the investment in WiFi and retail has simple trickled down the drain.