Big news, and I had not an inkling of it, lest you think your loyal correspondent always has the inside track: Starbucks is shredding its deal in place since 2001, originally with MobileStar then T-Mobile, to switch to AT&T as their Wi-Fi provider. That moves 7,000 locations from T-Mobile's ledgers of nearly 9,000 to AT&T's. It turns AT&T from "McDonald's plus," with a relatively small footprint of other locations, to a 17,000-location giant. It also means that 12 million DSL customers and fiber (U-Verse) subscribers and 5 million remote-access business customers now get free access to Starbucks.
AT&T says in their press release that all Starbucks Card holders, which is simply their value-storing swipe card system, will get two hours of free Wi-Fi a day. No purchase is needed: you just need an active card, I confirmed with the company. Walk in, buy a $5 value card, activate it, and you're on for two hours a day from then forward. You can also use multiple devices with a single account, within reason, Starbucks told me. AT&T has also lowered the price for usage from T-Mobile's somewhat egregious $6 per hour or $10 per day to $4 for a two-hour session. The monthly price, like the rest of AT&T's network, is $20 per month for outsiders, which also includes all 70,000 domestic and international locations in their worldwide roaming network.
And--yes, there's an and--all Starbucks employees, 100,000 "partners" (read: wage slaves and management) get free access at all Starbucks locations. Which you have to admit is a nice perq.
AT&T is also part of Boingo's roaming network, which means that their customers suddenly get 7,000 highly desirable domestic roaming locations at no additional cost. (iPass has long had a T-Mobile roaming relationship.) The same is true for other AT&T roaming partners, an AT&T spokesperson confirmed.
T-Mobile HotSpot subscribers will still be able to access Starbucks locations. Starbucks posted a separate press release stating that T-Mobile will be a roaming partner onto the AT&T network through a side deal; no additional cost is involved. There's some leverage here, because T-Mobile does have about 2,000 other locations, including some premium airports like San Francisco. Existing roaming/aggregation deals among Boingo, AT&T, and T-Mobile were partly predicated on the airport market, where millions of subscribers to each network pass through each year.
I should have seen this coming, because it was extremely odd when Apple partnered with Starbucks for the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store service, when their exclusive iPhone partner is AT&T and Starbucks had the T-Mobile deal. This also may pave the way for in-store iTunes Store media servers, which would--as I have written too much about in the last few years--allow someone to use the edge network, the WLAN not the Internet, to pull down a movie in a few minutes instead of an hour or two on a home network.
Wayport just sent out their press notification; the Austin, Texas, firm has been providing managed services for AT&T for the telecom's own network for a few years, but also operates through its own relationship the 8,000+ McDonald's locations. AT&T has been the backhaul provider, as I understand it, for most of the McDonald's deal. It's a bit intertwined. Wayport's hotspot growth has been limited in recent years as the market for where Wi-Fi could go became saturated; this move is exceptionally good for the privately held firm.
The deal goes into place starting market-by-market in the second quarter of 2008, and will be completed this year.