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Taco Bell will add free Wi-Fi and entertainment systems to its 5,600 US stores: I've been wondering for years, as loyal readers know, why McDonald's was the only of the large quick-service restaurants to do a full-chain adoption of Wi-Fi. The system will be part of adding damned television sets to the "dining rooms." Because if there's one thing better than eating a taco comprised of the cheapest possible ingredients, it's having programming and advertising blaring at you at all possible moments.
I also know there's a cost involved in all this, but the rollout will take four years. Which means that when complete in 2015, McDonald's will have had a full-chain US deployment for something like 7 or 8 years longer.
Cablevision's member-only Optimum WiFi service now offers up to 15 Mpbs down and 4 Mbps up: The network is free to Cablevision's broadband subscribers, and restricted to them, although the firm also allows some roaming from other cable providers' customers, and has free and open hotspots here and there.
The company tells me it has 10,000s of access points in place across its New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut markets, along with 7,000 hotspots in business locations that are Cablevision customers. Over 500,000 Cablevision customers have used the network so far.
Wi-Fi networks, even at 802.11g speeds, can easily handle 15 Mbps over short distances. With 802.11n, 15 Mbps should be achievable over longer ranges.
This comes years after varying plans and bidding proposals that didn't work: AT&T is paying for the cost of installing and operating Wi-Fi in 20 parts in the five boroughs of New York City, including the High Line, the park converted from old elevated rail lines, long abandoned. It's a several-year deal, apparently. Right not, three parks (Battery Bosque in Battery Park, part of Joyce Kilmer Park, and the rec center at Thomas Jefferson Park) have service. The rest are coming this summer.
Update: Please read the comments. Parks didn't bid this out or have an open process.
Bryant Park has long had free Wi-Fi, delivered through a series of hands, and it's been an apparent success as part of the terrific revitalization of a public space that was once abandoned to drug deals.
Karl Bode at DSLReports reminds us that last September, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision were planning to install Wi-Fi in 32 parks as part of their cable franchise extension, offering just 10-minute sessions up to three times a month before charging 99¢ a day. It's unclear where these two plans intersect.
An area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, nicknamed DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), gets free Wi-Fi: New York has precious little free Wi-Fi, even though non-profit groups like NYCWireless and private firms have worked at times with business districts and parks to get some action going. A number of different parties worked together to make the Dumbo Wi-Fi zone happen: the neighborhood improvement district, the Two Trees Management Company (for site placement and funding), and NYCwireless.
More details are available at the Dumbo NYC site for that neighborhood.
GigaOm confirms T-Mobile will add free Wi-Fi calls to its UMA-capable phones: T-Mobile tried an alternative to femtocell and unlimited calling plans several years ago, allowing unlimited domestic calls over Wi-Fi for handsets with unlicensed mobile access (UMA) technology built in. UMA allows seamless roaming between Wi-Fi networks and the cell network, handling the billing and call details on the back end.
After a few years, however, even after making the add-on price as low as $10/mo for a family plan for unlimited calls that started on Wi-Fi (either placed or received on a Wi-Fi network at home or a hotspot), T-Mobile stopped offering the service to new customers. Apparently, it continued to be available as a calling option, with Wi-Fi calls being deducted from general minute pools.
Now, T-Mobile is making Wi-Fi calling free to postpaid Even More and Even More Plus customers (those that have had a credit check and pay at the end of a billing cycle). These customers need a UMA handset, which includes many BlackBerry models, and have to opt in to the free service.
Starbucks Digital Network adds The Economist, ESPN site, Marvel, and Mediabistro: It's an interesting potpourri of additions to the free content you can access on Starbucks in-store Wi-Fi network. Starbucks took its network entirely free without time limits last year, and started up the SDN. I certainly commend them for including The Economist, which has a pricey but reasonable annual fee for digital or print/digital access. (I write regularly for The Economist's Babbage blog, which you can read at no cost anywhere.)
As a comics fan, I may wind up spending too much time reading through the digital library, which the press release says is available without restrictions starting 23 April 2011. 'Nuff said.
Starbucks has quietly amassed a fairly huge array of publications and resources, including the New York Times (via its special eReader edition), WSJ.com, USA Today, and Rodale fitness and health titles.
Boingo Wireless's new client software identifies and connects to free networks, too: I've been testing for several days Boingo's new Wi-Finder software, a lightweight client for Mac OS X and Windows that identifies and can automatically connect to 325,000 paid locations in Boingo's network or hundreds of thousands free locations. The app is also available with slightly different features for Android and iOS. A subscription is not required, and it's available now at no cost. The software also includes a Wi-Fi search function.
Boingo Wireless now offers three levels of membership with the new client. A free membership allows use of the client to connect to locations that allow access without a fee. The previous pay-as-you-go and subscriber levels remain the same. Pay-as-you-go users need to provide a credit card number, and receive a week of service. The client provides details about cost before a connection is made. For subscribers, the client automatically connects to in-plan hotspots, and provides details about costs associated if you're outside a home network. For subscribers in the Americas to the unlimited plan, fees are only required outside of the Americas.
For free networks, Wi-Finder interprets any splash or terms and services screen and allows a user to accept whatever restrictions are necessary automatically, or manually agree each time. Boingo learns adds new free locations based on subscribers' experiences, thus allowing subsequent visitors to the same connection the chance to autoconnect. I used Wi-Finder on a trip by Amtrak from Seattle to Portland last week, and after "teaching" it by clicking the Agree the first time, the software appeared able to connect on demand thereafter. (Which was useful, as Amtrak's service provider doesn't appear to retain MAC addresses for reauthentication after a device is put to sleep.)
The requirement of a membership confirmed via email for free accounts allows Boingo to meet requirements in many countries for a basic level of accountability and tracking.
From the security standpoint, the client prevents accidental connections to ad hoc networks so that you won't get bit by the "Free Wi-Fi" network phenomenon, in which unconnected Windows XP systems accidentally broadcast that network name.
Boingo is mimicking and expanding on a strategy first developed by Devicescape, which offers Easy WiFi connection software for Mac OS X, Windows, Android, iOS, and Nokia platforms, and is integrated into consumer devices, including the Eye-Fi camera card. Devicescape doesn't have a reseller network, but allows its users to enter credentials at individual networks (like AT&T or BT OpenZone) or aggregators (like Boingo) and automatically log in. Devicescape also manages connections to free networks.
Prices vary with pay as you go for hourly and daily service depending on region, but start at $4.95 for 1 hour or $7.95 for 24 hours in the Americas. Boingo's monthly subscription plans start at $9.95/mo for unlimited service in the Americas and mobile/tablet plans are all $7.95/mo. Prices are higher outside the Americas and may include limits. Many bundled plans (like mobile and laptop) are also available.
The Boston Globe reports fourfold increase in Boston-Logan Wi-Fi use: The airport dropped fees for Wi-Fi last year, and saw a 412 percent increase in 2010 use over that in 2009: 1.4m sessions instead of 350,000.
Remember Massport's stupid multi-year battle, a large waste of public funds, against allowing airline lounges to offer free Wi-Fi? Seems even sillier four years after the FCC smacked down the airport authority over its dubious claims.
Mobile operator O2 will no longer restrict access to its UK hotspots, and plans to make a vast network: O2 has included free access at about 450 locations with some of its mobile subscription plans. Now, it's opening up its network, using advertising to subsidize it. The Register reports that free use will require giving up your phone number, too, in order to receive a text message with an activation code.
O2 said it would build out nearly double the number of locations operated by current partners, The Cloud and BT OpenZone, which is 7,500. I find it hard to imagine that it can easily find 13,000 venues (the number the Register reported) in which to offer service.
Meanwhile, rumors abound that The Cloud will be bought by the satellite television operator BSkyB to extend its reach. BSkyB uses terrestrial DSL alongside its satellite offerings. Adding Wi-Fi allows it to compete with BT, which operates the OpenZone hotspot network.
Tech reporter Dwight Silverman writes from Europe of the lack of easily found free Wi-Fi: If you look hard enough in continental Europe, you can find Wi-Fi that you don't have to pay for, but it's far more of a struggle than in the US, where free Wi-Fi has flipped over in the last year or so to being a free amenity.
He didn't quite have a comedy of errors, but Dwight found that staying connected took a lot more effort, time, and money in Germany than in his travels around the US. He notes he could have dropped into McDonald's and Starbucks for some free Wi-Fi, but what's the point of going abroad to patronize businesses you have at home?
Washington Dulles and Reagan National will drop fees for Wi-Fi access in the spring: Contractual details remain to be worked out, this report says in the Washington Examiner. Dulles and National add to the growing list of major US airports that have dropped fees, starting with Denver as the largest.
T-Mobile customers get substantially improved airport access, plus ferries: A new agreement between Boingo Wireless and T-Mobile gives T-Mobile's subscribers a lot more access in transit. T-Mobile adds 53 Boingo Wireless airport locations; Boingo is the largest North American Wi-Fi airport operator.
T-Mobile users can now also surf on the Washington State Ferry system at no additional cost. For the tens of thousands of daily ferry commuters--WSF handles over 50 percent of the country's daily ferry trips--T-Mobile just became a lot more attractive.
Boingo gets a little bit in exchange: its subscribers can use T-Mobile's airline club lounge and hotel locations. T-Mobile–operated airports were previously included in roaming.
Google has opted to underwrite free Wi-Fi over the holiday season on three airlines: AirTran, Delta, and Virgin America will offer free Wi-Fi from 20 November 2010 to 2 January 2011 under Google's sponsorship. Delta is, by far, the largest of the three airlines, and has hundreds of planes equipped. It's a promotion for the Google Chrome browser, which may a branding campaign in anticipation of devices appearing that run the Google Chrome OS.
I went to try out the network today in a nearby Starbucks to little luck: Your faithful WNN reporter likes to test the dog food offered by companies he writes about, and so I set out this Saturday to visit a Starbucks nearest my home (reportedly the second busiest in the United States) to try out the new Starbucks Digital Network (SDN). The results were poor.
The store has no branding for the service yet. I used my iPhone to try to bring up a launch page; no luck. I checked, and I was on the AT&T network, and a deep technical detail on the phone indicated that it was a Starbucks node. I visited Starbucks.com, and there was a movie on the home page explaining SDN, but no links to content.
Finally, I searched Google for references to see if someone had slipped out a URL. TechCrunch had a screen capture with a visible address. I typed it in (quite long), and was redirected to m.starbucks.yahoo.com—Yahoo is the back-end operator of this effort. (Visit that address outside a store, and you get an error page: "It looks like you’re trying to connect to the Starbucks Digital Network in partnership with Yahoo!. You can only do this when you’re connected to Wi-Fi at company-owned Starbucks locations in the United States.")
The page that came up was clearly not designed to be displayed on an iPhone. It's possible there's a custom page that should have been shown. I entered starbucks.yahoo.com to see if a better redirect would occur, but I was pushed back to "m." A few top-level items are promoted, although a Yahoo search banner dominates the top. Below that, a free iTunes download, a promo clip for Waiting for Superman, and something else I cannot now recall.
I tapped a banner for News way at the bottom (I suspect that's due to the wrong mobile UI being presented), and very very slowly, a page with links to the New York Times Web app, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications appeared. I tapped, waited, tapped, and finally checked other sites over Wi-Fi. Clearly, the network was overwhelmed—there were an ocean of laptops in the store.
That's not great for a rollout. Staff needs to be trained. Table tents or posters should be up. The splash page should work. Bandwidth should not be so scarce. It might have been a glitch, but a fairly glaring set of them.
Update: Chris Wichura sent in a photo of the flyer on the table in a Starbucks he went into. No URL. Splash screen didn't work for him, either, it sounds like.
AT&T released its Q3 2010 usage statistics for the company's US Wi-Fi hotspot network: 107m connections were made in the latest quarter across 23,000 US hotspots operated by AT&T. This is more than all of 2009 (86m sessions), and a total of 228m for the first three quarters of 2010.
That growth is fueled by several factors, which I discussed 22 April 2010 in writing up the Q1 2010 statistics ("AT&T's Wi-Fi Usage Report Omits Switch to Free by Most Locations").
At that time, AT&T was looking at a quarter of free McDonald's service, along with a simplified access deal that Starbucks had put in place in December 2009. The latest quarterly report again doesn't mention a significant factor: Starbucks removing all restrictions on use, no longer requiring any card or account to access its in-store Wi-Fi; that change took place in July.
AT&T also added more iPhone users and had the first full quarter with 3G iPad owners who, with an active 3G plan (it's optional to keep it active) have free access across all AT&T paid locations.
The numbers are impressive, but it's still strange to me that AT&T leaves out positive mitigating factors that show its strength across several lines of business that lead to these huge numbers of sessions.
The company provided a nifty visualization, too, downloadable as a PDF file. (Preview below.)
Read the Wall Street Journal at no cost in a Starbucks over Wi-Fi: Starbucks first started talking about some of these ideas in...2001. Yes, the advantage of a decade on the Wi-Fi and hotspot beat is that you remember the first time this stuff came around. At that time Microsoft was a content partner, and would deliver local results in a walled garden. Times have changed, but just a little.
The Starbucks Digital Network is live, and requires a visit to a Starbucks store with a Wi-Fi capable device. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't know of any other effort that isn't quite limited—such as the movies available for rental at the Denver airport over its free network. All other location-specific, network-only content tends to be dull, like a portal with local weather reports.
The SDN gives you The Wall Street Journal for free, which otherwise costs over $100/yr. The New York Times is in on the action, with its New York Times Reader 2.0 Web app, which delivers a more interactive reading experience, akin to an iOS app. Apple will offer free videos and music. The awkwardly named Bookish Reading Club will let you read excerpts and full books in the store, too. Nick Jr. Boost, an $80/yr subscription service, is free on the SDN. Zagat's on tap, too. Other proximity-based content will be featured as well that's available for free outside of the coffeeshop's confines.
It's a clever move for Starbucks to counter its McDonald's competition, where Mickey D wants to service you quickly and send you on your way. Starbucks has peak hours of 5 am to 9 am, as I understand it, when people are inclined to move in and out fast in any case. After 9 am, the day at most stores unfolds more slowly, and lingering is a good idea.
Comcast has followed in Cablevision's shows with members-only free Wi-Fi across its Northeast service area: The cable firm has launched 2,000 hotspots in New Jersey and Philadelphia. An Xfinity broadband account is required, and that account information is used to log in to the network.
Comcast, Cablevision, and Time Warner are using Wi-Fi to varying degrees to provide customers a reason to stay instead of considering Verizon. The Northeast seems like one of the only truly competitive markets in the country. Verizon versus cable providers has resulted in lower prices, higher speeds, and no monthly caps.
FedEx has pulled the plug on charges at its FedEx Office outlets: These former Kinko's stores--I miss the old name--have had Wi-Fi for years, but it's been a for-fee service. Now, the delivery giant's 1,600 packing and shipping locations in the US will offer Wi-Fi at no cost; 1,000 already switched over, with the rest to come by the end of October. AT&T operates the service. It's smart: they come for the Wi-Fi, they stay for the shipping.
I couldn't recall whether the FedEx Office's chief competitor, The UPS Store, currently offered Web site. After 10 minutes on the company's site for the stores, I am still in the dark. The public relations folks at UPS told me there is no national offering. Rather, The UPS Store (formerly Mailboxes Etc) is on a franchise model, and each franchisee makes the decision. Some have, but the national office isn't tracking that.
Some restaurant chains that have a mix of company-owned and franchise-owned stores require new franchises to install Wi-Fi as a condition, while allowing old stores to remain Wi-Fi free if the owner chooses. That's part of why McDonald's didn't roll out to its entire US footprint initially.
Neither chain of shipping store is set up for people to come in and work café style, but in the many outlets of each that I've visited, there's always a little area to get something done, at least briefly.
Update: A reader points out that FedEx Office locations he's visited are set with with workstation areas that he's spent hours in. So perhaps this will be a third place to work for some people.
Very interesting story out of New York City: Cablevision and Time Warner Cable agreed to spend $10m to build out Wi-Fi in 32 city parks as part of the requirements for renewing cable franchises in the city. The country is divided into thousands of cable franchise zones, in which local bodies negotiate with cable firms to allow monopoly or limited competitive access to rights of way and other resources in exchange for typically a gross-revenue fee, public-access and government channels with budgets and facilities, and other add-ons.
While franchise boards are prohibited by law, regulation, and court decision from considering broadband and VoIP service as a condition of renewal--only the FCC can regulate broadband, and voice is a separate state regulatory domain--this is a neat twist. The NY negotiators figured out that they can require broadband to be offered.
The New York Daily News (a competitor to Cablevision-owned Newsday) reports that the service will be available for 30 minutes free each day to users, and then charged at a rate of 99 cents per day. Correction: My brain apparently couldn't cope with the fact that it's 30 minutes per month! In three 10-minute sessions, no less. That's fairly ridiculous.
Many New York parks have free Wi-Fi through various business districts and other sponsorship, such as Bryant Park.
WiFi Salon at one point had the contract to provide service in several parks, and had planned to use sponsorship as the driver. That deal with city parks ended in late 2008.
The National Mall in DC gains free Wi-Fi: The AP says it was a joint effort between the US Department of Agriculture, the Smithsonian Institution, and the DC city government. Cisco donated hardware; Level 3 backhaul.