AT&T said Thursday it would offer free Wi-Fi in 17,000 hot spots around the country, including Starbucks and Barnes & Noble, to its subscribers who use iPhones and Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerry handsets.

Share story

The iPhone and BlackBerry have created a class of know-it-alls who can prove their point about anything, be it geography, history or cooties, thanks to their mobile Internet connections. But the rest of us had refuge: Sometimes, they were out of range of a quick cell network.

Now, they have even more places where they’ll have Internet access.

AT&T said Thursday it would offer free Wi-Fi in 17,000 hot spots around the country, including Starbucks and Barnes & Noble, to its subscribers who use iPhones and Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerry handsets.

Many iPhone users already have access to a 3G network, but Wi-Fi is generally faster.

Plus, AT&T spokeswoman Katie Farnham said, connecting to a Wi-Fi network instead of a cell site could save battery life.

AT&T calls its Wi-Fi network “the nation’s largest.”

What’s more, many areas still can’t connect to the 3G network, said Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy at Jupiter media.

But the service, which AT&T had previously announced twice before immediately and inexplicably shutting it down, is no game-changer in the wireless market.

T-Mobile already offers its subscribers access to Wi-Fi in many locations too, and that hasn’t brought in crowds of customers.

AT&T also said Thursday it’s expanding the Napster Mobile music service to more handsets, which it said was made possible by less restrictive digital-rights management requirements from record labels.

However, many AT&T customers, and especially iPhone users, probably know there are many more ways than Napster to access music on your phone.