McDonalds Adds WLAN Access to Its Menu

Restaurant begins offering free wireless Internet access with purchase of Extra Value Meal.

In a marriage of fast food and fast Internet, 10 McDonalds restaurants in the New York metropolitan area on Wednesday will begin offering an hour of free wireless Internet access with the purchase of an Extra Value Meal.

By the end of the year, the fast food giant plans to extend this pilot program to 300 restaurants in New York, Chicago, and certain areas of California, according to officials at McDonalds in Oak Brook, Ill.

The company behind the technology is Cometa Networks, a wireless LAN hot spot company founded in December by AT&T Corp., IBM and Intel Corp. along with two venture capital companies. Cometa is designed to be a wholesaler that sells to service providers. The McDonalds pilot does not follow this model, though; rather, it is a testbed for Cometa services in the most public of places.

"Its just a real delivery on the promise of Wi-Fi [802.11b wireless LAN] technology in a very public environment," said Norm Korey, vice president of wireless services for IBM Global Services in Armonk, N.Y., which is taking care of security access and much of the back-end integration in the McDonalds pilot, in addition to various other implementation services. "McDonalds is arguably one of the largest consumer companies from a restaurant perspective."

McDonalds pricing plan may change if the pilot goes well, Korey said. For now customers will get a free hour with the purchase of an Extra Value meal, with each additional hour costing $3.00—plus the price of whatever the customers eat in addition to the Extra Value Meal.

"The longer an individual stays in the store, the more theyre likely to buy," Korey said.

The McDonalds launch coincides with the launch of Intels Centrino chipset, which the processor maker is launching on Wednesday. The Centrino chip set includes the Pentium-M chip—formerly known as "Banias", an accompanying chip set and an 802.11b WLAN module.

Customers who want to use public WLANs must have a notebook computer that supports 802.11b, and Intel has been trying to make customers want such a notebook by promoting the idea of public hot spots.

On Tuesday, Intel announced plans to fund a marketing campaign advertising the public hot spots at more than 400 Borders Book & Music locations nationwide. T-Mobile U.S.A. Inc., which provides these services, has tested its network for compatibility with Centrino. T-Mobile also provides the services behind the WLAN hot spots in Starbucks coffee shops nationwide.

A brochure for the McDonalds service features includes a link to Intels Web site along with the slogan "Making mobility a reality with McDonalds and Cometa."

But in spite of the proliferation of public hot spots in hotels, airports and coffee shops, potential customers have their doubts about the success of the McDonalds pilot.

"McDonalds is all about mobility: mobility to pick up and go," said Byron Seese, a graphic designer and notebook user who buys the occasional Extra Value Meal at McDonalds. "The only people that stay there are old people sipping coffee for three hours and parents with young screaming kids. Its the perfect environment for computing if I ever saw one. Im seeing a nice cozy corner with a fireplace, overstuffed armchairs, and mood music—with the happy colors of day glow orange and bright red, with fine paintings of Grimace and Ronald smiling manically down on me as my keyboard gets shiny from the grease."

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