Starbucks Corp. is aiming to let its customers get wireless Internet access while they get wired on the chains premium coffee.
The Seattle-based java giant last week announced that it has set up WLANs (wireless LANs) in 1,200 of its retail coffee shops and plans to have 2,000 cafes hooked up by the end of the year.
"This service is a natural extension of the Starbucks coffeehouse experience, which has always been about making connections with the people and information that are important to us over a cup of coffee," said Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman and chief global strategist, at a press conference in San Francisco last week.
The Starbucks WLANs are operated by T-Mobile, formerly VoiceStream Wireless, which is the wireless division of Deutsche Telekom AG. T-Mobiles HotSpot service uses Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, technology, which offers speeds up to 11M bps, backed by a T-1 connection.
The Starbucks service has been available in the San Francisco area for several months. Customers said that its convenient for business travelers but that its important to be wary of security issues.
"Being a consultant, Im out of the office a lot, and its nice to be able to find a public spot to be able to connect to when Im waiting for a meeting," said David Pollino, managing security architect for @Stake Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., security consultancy with offices in San Francisco. "The biggest problem I can see with people using the wireless network is that most ISPs still use clear-text protocols. Users need to be aware that when theyre on wireless networks, they need to use secure protocols."
VoiceStream bought its HotSpot assets from MobileStar Network Corp. last November, after MobileStar declared bankruptcy.
The HotSpot service is available on a monthly payment plan, as a pre-pay service or on a pay-as-you-go basis to customers with Wi-Fi-enabled notebook computers or Microsoft Corp. Pocket PC-based devices.
Hewlett-Packard Co., already a partner of Starbucks, is offering free management software that lets wireless devices and notebooks sniff out and connect to available networks, although most WLAN hardware comes with such software.
The software is available at www. starbucks.com/hotspot, which also links to HPs wireless client-side devices, for sale or lease, including PC Cards, notebook computers and Pocket PC devices.