by Al Sacco

No Free Launch-Day Hot Spot Wi-Fi for AT&T BlackBerry Bold?

Nov 04, 20085 mins
Data Center

Last week, AT&T announced that its iPhone customers would get free access to all of the company’s 17,000 or so Wi-Fi hot spots in establishments including Barnes & Noble, Starbucks and McDonalds. I was also told that BlackBerry Bold 9000 users with unlimited data plans would get the same treatment following the device’s launch on November 4. After a few hiccups, the free iPhone Wi-Fi seems to be up and running, but I’m still unable to connect to the Wi-Fi network at my local Barnes & Noble using the Bold. And frankly, that sucks.

image of the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9000 with the 8820 and Pearl 8220 Flip
BlackBerry Bold 9000 with 8820 and Pearl Flip

In reality, it’s not that big of a deal if Bold users can’t connect immediately to AT&T’s free Wi-Fi. The device just went on sale today. How many users will actually rush right to a Starbucks to see whether they can access free Wi-Fi? Probably not too many… but that’s beside the point.

What is truly ridiculous is that after numerous delays and botched U.S. launch attempts—the Bold has been available in Canada since mid-August—AT&T still can’t get it right. Anybody who rushes out to buy the Bold on launch day has no doubt been anxiously awaiting the device. The fact that free Wi-Fi access at AT&T hot spots isn’t available to Bold owners—at least not to me— despite the company’s claims to the contrary, just adds insult to injury. Especially since the free Wi-Fi appears to work for iPhone users.

Let’s skip back a week or so, to the beginning of this sorry saga. Last Wednesday, I received a text message on my iPhone from AT&T letting me know that I had immediate access to all of its public U.S. Wi-Fi hot spots. At first, I was hesitant to believe the announcement, since AT&T had already posted messages on its website about free Wi-Fi for iPhone users twice in the past year, before quickly yanking the notices and chalking the mishaps up to “human error.”

I contacted Seth Bloom, an AT&T spokesperson with whom I communicate somewhat regularly, for confirmation. Bloom assured me that “It’s real this time.” He also mentioned that BlackBerry Bold users (and eventually additional RIM smartphone users) would also get free hot spot Wi-Fi. Though he couldn’t say whether the Bold Wi-Fi would be available until today, the first day AT&T is selling the Bold.

Last weekend, I took a jaunt over to my local Barnes & Noble/Starbucks to see if AT&T’s claims were legit. Unfortunately–though not really surprisingly–I could not connect to the hot spot Wi-Fi with my AT&T iPhone or BlackBerry Bold 9000. This morning, I returned to the coffee shop, and though the free Wi-Fi was available for my iPhone, I still couldn’t connect with the Bold.

(You may wonder why I had a Bold before AT&T began selling the device. I attended RIM’s first BlackBerry Developer Conference last month, at which the company gave out BlackBerry smartphones to all attendees. Due to policy, I won’t be able to keep the device—it would be considered a “vendor gift” and that’s a no-no—but I will use the Bold for a few months.)

Anyway, I contacted Bloom again after my first trip to Starbucks this morning to see if he could offer up a solution. We tried a few things (specifically, there was a provisioning setting on my account that could’ve been junking up the process, according to AT&T)–and I drove back and forth to

Starbucks to attempt more connections to no avail. After running through the proposed fixes and the associated failures to connect, Bloom informed me that the issue could be with my account, an AT&T demo account that was set up for use by reviewers like me. Then, a bit later, Bloom said that the provisioning tweaks we made could take up to 24 hours to take effect.

This seems a bit fishy, because Bloom and AT&T only mentioned the reviewer-account issue after trying everything else we could think of. And after I said (bluffing) I’d grab a coworker’s Bold to try again with their account, Bloom said he didn’t know if that would work either and returned to the provisioning excuse explanation as for why I’ve been having issues. I don’t know for sure, so I can’t call this situation what it appears to be, but I have a feeling I’m not the only Bold user on AT&T who’s been unable to connect to AT&T’s Wi-Fi hot spots.

And that’s where we currently stand. I still cannot access any AT&T Wi-Fi hot spots using the BlackBerry Bold. If you’re a proud new AT&T Bold owner (who isn’t also a reviewer) please drop me a comment and let me know if you can connect to AT&T’s hot spots. If there is a Bold connectivity issue, I have to believe that AT&T will get its act together quickly, so the sooner you can report your findings, the better.

Now for more coffee…