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Recent Entries

Starbucks Adds New Way to Get Free Wi-Fi in U.S.
Fon Raises Alien Price to 5 Dollars, Euros
AT&T Extends Free Wi-Fi to Cheapest DSL Plans
Cablevision Activates Major Areas of Its Wi-Fi Network
Starbucks Canada Frees Wi-Fi in Its Stores
T-Mobile, AT&T, Starbucks Make Nice about Wi-Fi
Starbucks, AT&T Brick Loyalty Card Service Launch
Starbucks Opens Up Free Wi-Fi to Cardholders
Free Wi-Fi for AT&T Laptop Mobile Broadband Subscribers
MetroFi Plans Market Exit: Sale or Shutter

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Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2009 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.

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November 12, 2008

Starbucks Adds New Way to Get Free Wi-Fi in U.S.

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks U.S. operations have launched its Gold card, a paid membership with Wi-Fi included: The Starbucks Gold card was in testing for some time in Seattle--the outlet near my office has had a Gold logo in the window for months, I believe--but it's now unleashed for general consumption. The card costs $25 per year, and includes two hours of continuous Wi-Fi access each day; the firm's stored value card offers Wi-Fi for 30 days following a purchase or adding value.

goldCard_a.gifGold has a bunch of frequent sipper benefits: a free drink when you purchase the membership, followed by 10 percent discounts on most stuff you buy (drinks, food, merchandise, hard goods), a free beverage on your birthday each year, and other discounts and deals that will be announced during the year.

I suppose the logic is that for someone who spends over $175 per year at Starbucks would likely make up the difference (10% of $175 plus a couple free drinks should top $25). It's possible I spend that much, even though I only have casual interest in their shops, because of frequenting them in strange towns, enjoying their sandwiches (not their roasts), and airport purchases.

Update: Contrary to the plain text with no footnote on the Gold sign-up site--"Free Wi-Fi access for up to 2 hours each day in participating Starbucks stores"--Starbucks contacted me to clarify that Gold card holders must also make a purchase or add value every 30 days to have continuous access to the Wi-Fi offer.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:13 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

October 23, 2008

Fon Raises Alien Price to 5 Dollars, Euros

By Glenn Fleishman

Fon ups the ante on joining its network by raising its daily connection price to $5/€5 for "aliens": The Fon network of what they claim is nearly 200,000 active locations is all about participation. You can be a participant (a Fonero) and charge or not, but anyone with an active Fon hotspot gets free roaming on the entire network. Fon charges for access regardless of whether someone collects part of the fee (a Bill, not available in Japan, Russia, or the UK) or opts not to (a Linus).

The fee affects Aliens, those who aren't running Fon hotspots, and thus aren't contributing to the network's size. But $5 or €5 is a lot in most countries, and buys you a fair amount of time in an Internet cafe, making VoIP calls, or an hourly or daypass on a Wi-Fi hotspot network. At 5 monetary units, doesn't that push Aliens to finding a free or cheaper alternative?

The only explanation I can find of the price change is on the German Fon blog. That entry explains that they're trying to focus on building a community, and that raising the price should encourage more people to participate in sharing their Internet access. That doesn't square precisely with their goal of making money, though, because there's no monetization outside of Aliens paying fees to use the network. Like airport parking lots, you can only raise prices so far until people find cheaper, even if less convenient, alternatives.

[Thanks to Klaus Ernst for the price increase alert!]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:25 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot, International | No Comments

September 16, 2008

AT&T Extends Free Wi-Fi to Cheapest DSL Plans

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T seems to have added free Wi-Fi for its lowest-priced DSL customers: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the only one with this story, and they've garbled a few of the details, but checking AT&T's public sites seems to confirm it. Previously, AT&T customers had to either have a fiber-optic U-Verse subscription, or a DSL line running at 1.5 Mbps downstream or faster to get free Wi-Fi Basic. The Basic pool covers most of the 17,000 U.S. hotspots, excluding some hotels and premium locations.

AT&T now says that any "FastConnect" subscription, even its DSL Lite offering of 768 Kbps down/128 Kbps up, qualifies for Wi-Fi Basic. The new statement reads: "AT&T Wi-Fi Basic service is FREE and already included if you subscribe to AT&T High Speed Internet, AT&T U-verseSM High Speed Internet, or AT&T FastAccess® DSL—all speed plans included.

There's still a $10 per month fee to upgrade to Wi-Fi Premier, which includes over 70,000 locations worldwide, along with the missing U.S. hotspots, but their Web site says that you have to have a 1.5 Mbps or faster connection to get the $10 per month upgrade. That may be out of date. That ordering page also says you need 1.5 Mbps or faster for free Wi-Fi, so that tends to confirm it hasn't been fixed. (It's even hosted at, so perhaps that's part of the vestige of an older system, harder to update.)

Please note that iPhone subscribers still don't get free Wi-Fi on AT&T's Basic network.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:30 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments

September 3, 2008

Cablevision Activates Major Areas of Its Wi-Fi Network

By Glenn Fleishman

New York area cable operator Cablevision flips switch for high-traffic areas of Long Island: They're announcing Thursday that they've turned on the initial phases of their network in Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as at commuter rail platforms and station parking lots throughout Long Island. The service offers 1.5 Mbps in each direction, the company claims. Detailed site maps for their previous much smaller activated areas are up at their Wi-Fi information site, and I expect to see these updated soon.

Cablevision will ultimately spend about $300m in building a Wi-Fi network exclusively for its customers; 2.4m of these customers qualify to use the service at no cost. There's no pay as you go option, no monthly subscription; you're either a subscriber of theirs, or not. It's a fascinating strategy, because they're leveraging all these dollars as a tool to crack its competitors in the market. With increasing competition from telephone companies that are offering television service, cable companies need to compete on voice, data, and video, as well as well as on mobile offerings. When the network is built, Cablevision can conceivably offer Wi-Fi telephony service, too.

I'm dying to know what the reduced churn rate and increase in subscriptions will be in six months. Given that hotspot access costs $10 to $30 per month depending on the network, Cablevision is delivering something of value. It's great honey for new subscribers and glue to keep current subscribers.

The company is claiming that with this latest activation, they have the largest Wi-Fi network for consumers in the U.S. They're likely correct. The only other public access network of scale that's being used by large numbers is in Minneapolis, and based on what I know about both networks, Cablevision probably deserves bragging rights. The network in Taipei, Taiwan, is likely still larger, but I haven't heard any usage number in nearly two years; at that point, subscription rates were 10 percent of what had been projected.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:01 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Metro-Scale Networks | No Comments

August 8, 2008

Starbucks Canada Frees Wi-Fi in Its Stores

By Glenn Fleishman

The Canadian branch of the coffee giant has secured a free Wi-Fi deal for customers: Just as Starbucks American stores are offering limited but free Wi-Fi in about 8,000 stores for its customers through a partnership with provider AT&T, Starbucks's northern brethren are opening its 650 company-operated locations that have Bell hotspots to free use by customers. Terms appear the same as in the states: 2 hours of free use per day with the regular use of a Starbucks Card.

And, as with the AT&T deal, Bell's Internet customers get unlimited access in Starbucks's stores. The deal starts up immediately, as Bell is the current operator. AT&T is transitioning to running Starbucks in the U.S., taking over by the end of 2008 from T-Mobile.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:45 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments

June 11, 2008

T-Mobile, AT&T, Starbucks Make Nice about Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks informed me that it, AT&T, and T-Mobile have signed a memorandum of understanding about the free Wi-Fi kerfuffle: T-Mobile filed a lawsuit a few days ago against Starbucks stating it wasn't involved in discussions about its network carrying free loyalty-awarded Wi-Fi via AT&T's authentication system. Now the three companies are apparently making nice.

The statement from Starbucks reads: "T-Mobile, AT&T and Starbucks have entered into a memorandum of understanding to resolve their disputes and are committed to providing a high quality WiFi experience for customers, including Starbucks Rewards Customers, at Starbucks locations nationwide."

My interpretation is Starbucks said, oops, our bad, and they're figuring out the dollars and cents. Sometimes companies move too rapidly. T-Mobile is a quasi-jilted suitor, although they get something out of AT&T transition, too, so they're not likely to cut any slack.

Reuters confirms that AT&T confirms the statement. I separately confirmed with T-Mobile that the statement is accurate as well.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:07 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Financial, Free, Hot Spot, Legal | No Comments

June 3, 2008

Starbucks, AT&T Brick Loyalty Card Service Launch

By Glenn Fleishman

coffee_stain.jpgStarbucks, AT&T biff day one of the card loyalty program: After several hours of occasional attempts to register my Starbucks Card (actually, two) with the company for free Wi-Fi and other rewards, seeing "Service Unavailable," long delays, errors, and a general failure to accept my card--now there's a message. "Due to overwhelming interest in Card Rewards we are currently experiencing difficulty accessing Starbucks Cards accounts. We are working to fix the problem and ask that you please try again later."

(Update: A Starbucks spokesperson called me in the late afternoon to let me know the site was back up and running. They had an excess of interest, shall we say. I checked: the site is working and I was able to register quickly and without a hitch.)

The Card Rewards program allows anyone with a Starbucks Card to register it with Starbucks for freebies, including Wi-Fi. There's an interesting choice (when it worked) where you can select whether to have freebies like free exotic milk options or brewed coffee refills by themselves or with Wi-Fi on top. If you choose Wi-Fi, you're redirected to SBC servers (for nostalgia's sake), at which point everything seems to fall apart.

Trying two separate cards, I was unable to set up an account and get the cards to take. The errors weren't clearly spelled out. Clearly, the system was neither designed to handle demand, nor designed to fail gracefully, blocking users until capacity was available.

For loyal Starbucks patrons, this doesn't come across very well at all.

[Photo by Matt Davis. Used under Creative Commons license.]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:34 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Cluelessness, Free, Hot Spot | 4 Comments

June 3, 2008

Starbucks Opens Up Free Wi-Fi to Cardholders

By Glenn Fleishman

The deal announced in February comes to fruition: The Starbucks Card, their stored-value plastic, entitles you to two continuous hours of free Wi-Fi service each day for 30 days in all their company-owned freestanding stores starting Tuesday, June 3, so long as you either add value or make a purchase every 30 days. Cards may be purchased with an initial value of as little as $5. Details are on Starbucks' site.

This free Wi-Fi deal with AT&T taking over Starbucks' hotspot service was fully explained by Starbucks in February, but apparently many media outlets were unaware of the details, and have reported on it over the last week as if it were newly announced and posted on Starbucks site. What's new is that the deal snapped into action today. I wrote extensively about this in February, notably in an extended explanation on February 19, in which I also explained why I was wrong (and right) about Starbucks never offering service for free.

The Starbucks Card loyalty program also now includes free syrups and free milk choices, brewed coffee refills at no charge, and a free tall drink when you buy a pound of coffee, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

If you'd like a good laugh, read AT&T's terms of service for these free Wi-Fi users. Specifically, I like this phrase: "...connectivity shall be for the limited purposes of accessing electronic mail, operating a basic web browser such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, or downloading files via the 'ftp' protocol typically implemented in web browser programs."'s okay to read email, browse Web pages, and download files but not, say, upload pictures, view videos, listen to audio, use VoIP, or run other Internet-connected software?

One clue to the sanity of this provision, which I hope when Starbucks is fully aware of they demand to be changed, is that it mentions Netscape Navigator as a Web browser. Netscape Navigator is officially dead. This reeks of lawyer-speak unconnected with a customer's reality.

Update: I was unable to get a login page at a Starbucks just a few minutes ago that would let me enter the card information. Back at my office, I discover I'm supposed to sign up for an online account and activate Wi-Fi usage. I try. It fails. In an ugly fashion: apparently my card was already activated (even though it's in my possession). Perhaps systems are overloaded? Ah, now I get "Service Unavailable" on Now it's back. Now AT&T (via, gotta love nostalgia) is totally hosed--the server is stalling.

Later in the day: Starbucks called to let me know the site's been fixed. I was able to register without a hitch.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:00 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

May 20, 2008

Free Wi-Fi for AT&T Laptop Mobile Broadband Subscribers

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T extends its free Basic Wi-Fi package to laptop-based mobile broadband subscribers, but not to smartphone users, including iPhones: This is a logical move, vastly overdue, because it's a better experience for a laptop user to have access in a Wi-Fi hotspot, while simultaneously removing load from AT&T's 3G network. This was predicted many years ago--as early as 2001 by EarthLink, Boingo Wireless, and Helio founder Sky Dayton--that 3G spectrum was scarce enough and expensive enough to operate that using Wi-Fi like a local heat sink to bleed usage off would keep 3G usable.

The other advantage, of course, is that 3G laptop users that find themselves out of the HSPA coverage area offered by AT&T don't fall back to EDGE or GPRS as long as they can find an AT&T-included hotspots. No hotspot operator likes to guarantee a particular local network speed, but I know that Wayport--which has or will build nearly all of the 17,000 locations in question here--aims for T-1 speed (1.5 Mbps each way) and quality (guaranteed uptime), depending on availability.

Windows laptop users with AT&T's Communication Manager software (version 6.8) installed will be automatically logged onto hotspots--and, I would guess, logged off 3G whether the user wants that or not! I'll be curious about reports from the field.

A 5G/month ($60/month or greater) plan is requierd for free Wi-Fi service.

The Boy Genius Report quotes what appears to be an internal AT&T memo about today's launch that free Wi-Fi for smartphones is coming later in 2008. Boy Genius has a remarkably good track record for a rumor/leak site, so I'm inclined to believe their report.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:32 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Free, Hot Spot | No Comments

May 15, 2008

MetroFi Plans Market Exit: Sale or Shutter

By Glenn Fleishman

MetroFi will sell its networks, but plans to shutter if there are no buyers: Ah, folks, the trifecta has arrived, and I'm nothing but sad about it. MetroFi's chief Chuck Haas emailed me this evening with the news that his firm has decided that they will sell their networks in nine cities, including their first cities in the Bay Area (Cupertino, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale), and their largest muni deployment in Portland, Ore. If no buyers emerge--including the cities in question--Haas said that MetroFi would have a shutdown plan for gradually unlighting the networks. Update: Portland has been offered its network for $894,000; the city is "considering it."

MetroFi was one of the three most prominent pure play metro-scale Wi-Fi firms, if you count EarthLink's municipal wireless division as a separate operation, and Kite Networks, which was a subsidiary of a larger telecom firm. Each company had made a unique network hardware choice--MetroFi, SkyPilot; Kite, Strix; and EarthLink Tropos plus Motorola--and each had a sort of specialty. Interestingly, a fifth firm, BelAir powers Toronto (a small but super-fast Wi-Fi network) and Minneapolis (the only putatively completed large-city Wi-Fi network), and will be behind Cablevision's nearly $350m New York Wi-Fi plan.

MetroFi was the only major firm to back ad-supported no-fee access, coupled with paid, no-ads service, and higher tiered commercial offerings. They built mostly smaller cities, with Portland being their only real big city win. The firm began with the notion of building Wi-Fi out gradually as a way to provide broadband in communities that lacked service, with no municipal involvement. That plan required sparser networks and typically a home signal booster designed by SkyPilot. (Kite mostly focused on the Southwest; EarthLink on big cities.)

EarthLink was in many ways largely responsible for the mess that all Wi-Fi providers found themselves in last year by offering to build Philadelphia's network back in 2005 at no cost to the city--in fact, paying the city and the local utility fees. That set the stage for nearly all the RFPs that followed where, if EarthLink were a bidder or the city was aware of the alternatives, the notion was that no city dollars would be spent, even if taxpayer money wasn't "at risk"--that is, even if a city could save money by switching current line items in their telecom and data budget to a wireless network.

Haas noted via email that MetroFi has been working towards anchor commitments by cities for nearly two years, but the inertia of those early networks led municipalities to reject those options. In Toledo, where MetroFi had negotiated an anchor commitment, a change in administration led a new mayor to retreat from the plan.

Is there a future for metro-scale Wi-Fi? Yes. With thoughtfully constructed, outdoor-focused deployments centered on municipal purposes, with public access a secondary issue, it seems like these networks could still provide an inexpensive way for relatively high bandwidth compared to the alternative of cell data networks.

However, that advantage is likely short lived in larger markets. The near-future certainty now that there will be multiple provides offering wired broadband speed service starting later this year with Sprint/Clearwire's WiMax, and continuing through into 2012 with significant network buildout by Verizon and AT&T in several bands (including their new 700 MHz holdings).

While Sprint/Clearwire is talking about 120m to 140m homes passed by 2010 with their network, obviously focusing only on major markets, many of the 700 MHz licenses purchased by AT&T and Verizon carry buildout requirements with penalties. So cities outside the top 100 population markets and rural areas will still see some benefit. In those mid-tier markets, there's also the 3.65 GHz band for shared licensed use, which is a model that Azulstar is pursuing with new WiMax deployments, as I wrote about recently.

Competition will likely push the cost of mobile broadband far below its $60 per month 2-year contract rate of today, which then would beg the question why a city or county with good commercial coverage would need to build its own Wi-Fi network. There are still plenty of reasons to build dedicated, first-responder 4.9 GHz public safety networks, of course.

I've always described Wi-Fi on a metropolitan scale as the best, worst technology. The best, because everyone has Wi-Fi in their laptops and increasingly in handhelds and gadgets. The worst, because the technology is absolutely not designed for the purpose, unlike CDMA and GSM evolved cell standards and mobile WiMax.

It's possible that in the long term, looking five years out, that Wi-Fi on a metro-scale will only be needed in small towns, odd markets, and for highly particular purposes. Or, perhaps in a bit of irony, where companies like Cablevision feel Wi-Fi is necessary to retain the loyalty of their highly wired customer base.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:47 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 4G, Financial, Free, Metro-Scale Networks, Municipal | 4 Comments | No TrackBacks

May 8, 2008

Cablevision Antes up $350m for Wi-Fi Network in New York

By Glenn Fleishman

Cablevision will offer free Wi-Fi to its customers across a swath of New York: The company will spend an astounding $350m over two years--roughly $100 per customer--to put in service that they peg at offering 1.5 Mbps downstream rates. Broadband subscribers to their Optimum Online broadband service, which has rates of 15/2 and 30/5 Mbps. Others will pay for access. The company has 3.1m cable customers in New York.

This is the first large-scale Wi-Fi network announced that had no public/private component to it. While Verizon once said they'd blanket New York City with payphone-based Wi-Fi nodes, that never materialized, and it was unclear how seamless the coverage would ever be. This is a full-blown metro-scale network that's not beholden to any political interest, and which can likely use mounting rights already available to Cablevision. (In the past, I've said this, and folks have said that franchising agreements would exclude additional mounted equipment of this kind. Years later, I have to say I've never found anything to support that opinion, but welcome more documented information in the comments.)

The idea is for Wi-Fi to act as a mobile broadband component for Cablevision, to dilute the impact of the Sprint/Clearwire deal announced yesterday. While cable companies rarely compete in a given territory, the Sprint/Clearwire joint venture will make it easier for a customer to get home and mobile broadband and voice from one company, and then turn to another firm for video. This buys Cablevision a quadruple play (voice, video, data, mobile broadband) with a future quintuple play by adding (as they say they will) voice over Wi-Fi service.

Sources indicate that BelAir equipment will be used, which makes sense given BelAir's release nearly three years ago of a cable-plant compatible Wi-Fi node designed essentially for precisely this contingency. This is a nice win for BelAir, which will likely be selling somewhere north of 15,000 nodes based on the coverage area and service described. BelAir gear also powers Minneapolis, the only successfully completed big-city Wi-Fi network in North America.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:21 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Financial, Free, Hot Spot, Metro-Scale Networks | 1 Comment

May 8, 2008

iPhone Wi-Fi Hotspot Access Now in AT&T Plan Details

By Glenn Fleishman

It's on, it's off, it's on again: Access to AT&T hotspots is back on again, at least in the fine print, as the company now includes the statement that all iPhone plans in the U.S. include "access to AT&T's more than 17,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, including Starbucks." (Click the Plans tab at top to see that text.)

AT&T appeared to have flipped a switch several days ago on its "attwifi" SSID that has appeared alongside T-Mobile's during this several-month transition at Starbucks from one operator to another. iPhone users were presented with a custom login screen that prompted them for their phone number to obtain free access. That gateway page disappeared a few days. I haven't tested if it's back, but at least AT&T has, at long last, made the connection that its iPhone customers might enjoy the same free access to hotspots as its 7m fiber and qualifying DSL customers.

Update: And....that information is now gone, Computerworld reports. It'll be back.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:39 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments

April 30, 2008

AT&T Gives iPhones Free Hotspot Access

By Glenn Fleishman

It's not confirmed by the telecom giant, but several people have been able to replicate it: If you own an iPhone, you can log in at an AT&T hotspot or a Starbucks through their AT&T portal link (upper right corner of the T-Mobile screen, and soon to be a unique SSID), enter your phone number, and have free access. This is nifty, and not unexpected. AT&T is providing free service to 7 million DSL and fiber customers and 5 million remote business access customers. Adding a couple million iPhone users as an additional tie for continued loyalty is a no brainer.

Stories with pictures at MacRumors and Ars Technica. I'll test this out with my neighborhood Starbucks tomorrow. [Link via Fabio Zambelli]

Update: Well, that didn't last. It was clearly a test, only a test, and AT&T has pulled the plug for the moment. I suspected that with no announcements, and a national network, they might simply have flipped a switch not understanding how rabid we are all.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 8:46 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

January 23, 2008

AT&T Gives Free Wi-fi to All DSL Customers

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T expands a previous free offer to premium DSL subscribers to almost all DSL subscribers: That's right: 10m AT&T DSL subscribers now qualify for free Wi-Fi at the 9,000 McDonald's and 1,000 other locations in AT&T's network (operated or resold by Wayport). Anyone with 1.5 Mbps DSL or greater, which is pretty much all of its subscribers, can sign up for free Wi-Fi at the AT&T Web site.

This is another big win for Wayport, which has a few deals already for free access to its McDonald's locations: Nintendo for its DS2 player and Zipit for the Zipit Wireless Messenger 2. I've long thought it odd that AT&T was willing to charge even a nominal amount to its DSL subscribers for them to use Wi-Fi, because that set a bar that would keep people from using it. Because AT&T is clearly using Wi-Fi as a customer retention tool, not a real line of revenue, the $2 per month charge seemed a little silly--both too low and too high.

I'm not sure if this puts any pressure on other locations or operators, because the kind of AT&T customer who would find this free access appealing is likely not paying for Wi-Fi elsewhere. And while McDonald's are convenient, it's not quite the same thing as, say, the mix of networks in Boingo's aggregated network or the comfort of Starbucks in T-Mobile's network.

Of course, McDonald's is putting in coffee bars in its stores, and perhaps this is part of a strategy that involves the fast-food giant to get more customers that frequent Starbucks, thus increasing the average meal price. But McDonald's would need to put cushy chairs and sofas in meet the coffee retailer halfway.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:18 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Home, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 15, 2008

JiWire Launches Free, Ad-Supported iPhone, iPod Touch Hotspot Access

By Glenn Fleishman

JiWire and its ad network will provide free access for Apple iPhone and iPod touch users to select hotspots, including airports and hotels: The program requires that you view an ad to connect for free. It's a very interesting idea, because getting on to a Wi-Fi hotspot, despite the full-featured browser in both mobile devices, is somewhat frustrating even for free networks that require a log in. JiWire's program not only offers free service, but bypasses hassle, too. JiWire expects to expand the program over time, but it currently includes most major airports.

Apple makes its big yearly announcements today at the Macworld Expo, which I'm attending. One of the near-term developments--perhaps showcased today--is the addition of third-party software development on the iPhone and iPod touch. I've been hoping for a Wi-Fi connection manager, a la Devicescape (which has a client that works on mildly hacked iPhones). The JiWire deal could obviate my need for a client, as I'll look at an ad to get free service.

(Disclosure: I own a very small number of shares in JiWire for work performed in its early years.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:28 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot, Hot Spot Advertising | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 3, 2008

San Francisco Gets Free Wi-Fi, Courtesy of Meraki

By Glenn Fleishman

Meraki Networks raises $20m in additional funds, spends a small portion on providing free Wi-Fi across San Francisco: Meraki, founded by MIT students, funded by Google, Sequoia Capital, and others, will expand its current 2 sq mi mesh Wi-Fi network in San Francisco across the whole city. Meraki will foot the backhaul bill and pay for equipment--but it won't pay for real estate. The city will help publicize the network, but I haven't read anything concrete about the city's plans. (Read good local coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle.)

The clever bit here, and how Meraki may succeed where EarthLink failed, is that the firm is relying on individuals and businesses to choose to opt in, site equipment, and take advantage of the network working better for everyone because they participate (paging Ayn Rand). Meraki plans to offer solar-powered outdoor nodes for extending the network's reach, which means potential locations don't have to provide electricity on rooftops or elsewhere, which in turn means fewer or no layers of approval from anyone in authority (whether a neighborhood association, landlord, or the city). "It's relatively easy to install on private rooftops," said Meraki CEO and co-founder Sanjit Biswas in a briefing earlier today.

In the process, Meraki gets a city-wide testbed for local search, local ads, and new technology. "The great thing about having a real-world testbed is you can see the performance," Biswas said. Meraki is testing advertising now, but Biswas says it's "very much in the test mode."

While Biswas didn't disclose any of the costs of building the city-wide San Francisco network or its recurring bandwidth bill for backhaul--he told the AP "a few million"--the math works for Meraki. Giving away 10,000 to 15,000 nodes that cost them as little as $25 assembled for  indoor nodes and a few hundred for outdoor nodes with solar  chargers and batteries doesn't add up to a lot. They don't have to negotiate pole rates, handle installation, or pay recurring venue fees. Bandwidth is relatively cheap if you can choose the points at which you inject it, which Meraki will be able to do. Update: I misunderstood the backbone part. Meraki will, in fact, install some hundreds of solar-powered outdoor nodes to run the backhaul; but they'll still be working with people to find those locations rather than securing those rooftops themselves.

Meraki has learned quite a lot about the real world, Biswas said, with their current San Francisco network, having identified 20,000 interferers--other devices within range and frequency of Meraki nodes--within the 2 sq mi area. Meraki nodes use a centralized intelligence to control routing, as well as a modification to Wi-Fi that doesn't affect end users' ability to connect, but does allow clusters of routers to act dynamically as a unit.

Merakisolar 2With unmodified mesh Wi-Fi networks, all devices within range of one another and on the same channel act in concert, reducing flexibility and throughput; smaller clusters produce better results. Further, most of the metro-scale Wi-Fi devices sold by Tropos and others are designed to put out the highest possible power output; Meraki uses generally low-power equipment. It's ants versus elephants, with ants being able to change course a bit more quickly. "It's kind of a brains over brawns approach. It's really because we have so many radios," said Biswas, that their network is more flexible. "We can set routes and load balance appropriately to get the maximum performance out of the network," Biswas said.

The current San Francisco network has seen 40,000 unique devices so far--there's no registration, so each unique adapter number is counted--and moved over 10 terabytes of data. Of those 40,000 devices, 1,000 were iPhones.

Biswas said that Meraki has discovered its biggest market may be developing countries where there's an established user base for the Internet that's limited to dial up or slow-speed broadband, and where carriers could deploy Meraki gear to get around non-existent copper infrastructure.

"A lot of our largest customers are carriers that are entering markets in Brazil and India," he said. "We're not at this point going after the most remote villages in the world; there are some very dense populations who...would love to use broadband but just can't get it."

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:00 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hardware, Mesh, Metro-Scale Networks | 3 Comments | No TrackBacks

December 5, 2007

American Airlines Offers Free Wi-Fi in Airline Club

By Glenn Fleishman

One of the first places you could obtain Wi-Fi access in airports was in American Airlines's Admirals Club; now, it's free: The airline is still working with T-Mobile, but is providing this amenity at no cost to members of its Admirals [sic] Club and one-day pass guests. The frequent flyer membership number (for club members) or a unique PIN (for day pass guests) gets you in. Given that T-Mobile charges $20 to $40 per month for its HotSpot subscription or $10 for a day, the $300 to $450 annual club membership cost doesn't sound like a bad price if you don't otherwise need T-Mobile service or rely on other offerings.

It's a neat amenity, matched only by Continental, which had that nasty long-running battle at the FCC with Boston-Logan over their free service. Continental won.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:55 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Air Travel, Free, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

August 1, 2007

iPhone Users Get Free Airport Wi-Fi from Boingo in August

By Glenn Fleishman

Thirteen airports are covered in a free Wi-Fi for iPhones promotion: Boingo Wireless is reaching out to the hundreds of thousands of we early adopters with iPhones by offering free access in 13 airports. They purchased Concourse Communications last year, the leading airport Wi-Fi vendor. Boingo charges $8 for a day session or $22 for unlimited US and $39 for unlimited worldwide access. No special coupon codes are needed: Just select the "concourse" network from the list of Wi-Fi networks and connect.

Because the iPhone doesn't yet support third-party applications, using Boingo requires the entry of your user name and password on a login page each time you want to connect. This promotion should let iPhone owners test Boingo's network with less friction; ultimately, Apple will allow outside software, and a Boingo connection manager would be the first thing I'd want on mine.

The airports are Baltimore/Washington, Detroit, JFK, Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, LaGuardia, Lambert-St. Louis, Midway (Chicago), Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Newark, O'Hare, Toronto, and Will Rogers (Oklahoma City).

(An enterprising soul might recognize that the iPhone is recognized by an HTTP referrer string sent by its Safari browser.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:04 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Aggregators, Free, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 16, 2007 Crosses 600 European Locations

By Glenn Fleishman

We all know that European Wi-Fi access is overpriced: Articles appear practically every week from some commentator--either a traveler into Europe or a bona fide European--rails against hotel and hotspot Internet pricing. thus has scored a minor coup in building a network of over 600 locations in 14 countries that are free, free, free. They say 40,000 people use the network each month. The group supports free service via advertising. The company says that free hotspots overall doubled in Europe in 2006, but given that they claim 60% of that growth, that means there are no more than 1,000 locations that they're aware of that don't charge a fee for access. In the US, that number is as high as 10,000 across a similar population.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:05 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

December 4, 2006

Free AT&T FreedomLink Wi-Fi Coupon

By Glenn Fleishman

AttfreeReader notes that AT&T has a simple giveway for using their network at no cost until Dec. 31: Klaus Ernst, a handheld Wi-Fi device aficionado, writes in to note that he spotted a link to get free access to the AT&T FreedomLink network over at JiWire's hotspot directory. Search on any AT&T FreedomLink location--that's the 4,000 UPS Stores, Barnes and Noble outlets, and other hotspots in their self-contracted network--and you'll get a link to a coupon. The coupon is good until the end of the year, and apparently allows unlimited use. (This excludes McDonald's locations, which are available to AT&T FreedomLink subscribers, but which are operated by Wayport under a separate agreement.)

(Disclaimer: I have a long-term relationship with JiWire on editorial and testing matters, and a small stock ownership in the firm.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:16 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Free, Hot Spot | No Comments | No TrackBacks

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