Starbucks network switch has begun

The following article is reprinted from PC World’s Glenn Fleishman on Hardware blog at the PCW Business Center.

A sharp-eyed blogger and PR man in San Antonio spotted what turned out to be the installation of the first AT&T networked Starbucks near the telecom giant’s headquarters. Alan Weinkrantz, who has no business connection with AT&T, happened to notice the completion of the first conversion of a Starbucks from T-Mobile’s HotSpot brand to AT&T Wi-Fi. Starbucks announced that they had opted to switch providers in February 2008, and that “second quarter” would see the first markets move over, with the network completed by the end of 2008.

Read more about the Starbucks-AT&T deal at Macworld.com.

For business travelers, this move could save money. T-Mobile was the only hot-spot network of any scale in the U.S. that didn’t have a roaming relationship with similar networks, and only worked with one domestic aggregator: iPass. This meant that frequent travelers needed to either have an iPass subscription through their company to use Starbucks without paying extra, or needed a T-Mobile HotSpot subscription, which ran from $20 to $40 per month depending on term of commitment and whether you had a voice plan. Their day rate is $10 and their hourly rate $6. (I wrote up iPass’ new service plan for individuals a few weeks ago.)

AT&T’s approach with Starbucks is somewhat different. First, all AT&T fiber customers and most DSL customers get free, unlimited use of the Starbucks locations in addition to about 10,000 other locations—mostly McDonald’s—in AT&T’s so-called home network. (DSL customers must have at least a 1.5 Mbps downstream connection to qualify for free Wi-Fi.) All remote business users also gain access at no cost above their current plans. That’s 12 million home and 5 million business users right there. (Home users can pay $10 per month to get hotel and non-AT&T-operated airport access plus 53,000 hot spots outside the U.S.)

For those who aren’t in AT&T’s thrall already, you can get up to two hours of consecutive free access every day by putting value on a Starbucks stored-value card, and either using it or adding funds to its balance at least every 30 days.

AT&T already had liberal roaming agreements with other providers and aggregators, and they’ve extended that with this deal. T-Mobile signed a five-year roaming relationship, so existing T-Mobile customers just continue to use Starbucks, which is neat, and non-disruptive. Boingo Wireless users also gain access to Starbucks as part of their $22 per month unlimited U.S. and $39 per month worldwide plan.

Everyone else can pay $20 per month for acess to all 17,000 domestic locations and 53,000 international locations that AT&T aggregates into its Premium network.

We’re still all waiting to see how AT&T extends this offer to its wireless subscribers; there were strong hints at the announcement two months ago that some offer would be provided, which makes especially good sense with the 2G/Wi-Fi iPhone. So far, though, no word.

With one Starbucks converted, that’s 7,000 or so to go, but we’ll likely see markets open up in the next few weeks, and I imagine the rest of San Antonio and all of Seattle—Starbucks’ home—are lucky top of the list.

And here’s one more tip: If you’re an AT&T customer or roaming partner already, you can use your login at any current Starbucks hotspot. Look for an AT&T logo in the upper-right corner. Click it, then enter your login details. Very nice of Starbucks, T-Mobile, and AT&T to ease the transition from one provider to another.

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