New Starbucks Addiction: Free WiFi
First, you were addicted to Starbucks coffee. Now comes free Starbucks WiFi. But rather than setting a trend, Starbucks appears to be a laggard. From Barnes and Noble to McDonald’s, thousands of U.S. retail locations already offer free WiFi. It makes me wonder: Can VARs continue to profit from retail WiFi rollouts?
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Starbucks used to required users to pay $3.99 for just two hours of use, but as of July 1st 2010, there won’t be any more fees. Apparently, earlier this year, McDonald’s also dropped their fees for wireless Internet. The WSJ says that McDonald’s did so in effort to make their restaurants a “more suitable place to hang out.”
In the case of Starbucks: It’s about time. Starbucks used to have a complicated scheme of who got free Wifi based on ‘loyalty cards’, and whether the user was an AT&T user.
But the twist in this story is that Starbucks’s Chief Executive Howard Schultz said that paid sites, such as WSJ.com and other news sites, will be free using Starbucks’ Wifi, thanks to a Yahoo Inc. partnership.
This blogger thinks that free WiFi should already be the default if a location wishes to offer WiFi, especially in the USA. During a six-month stint in the UK back in 2008, I noticed that free WiFi was nearly ubiquitous.
But now with mobile hotspots and phone-tethering become more popular, will the free WiFi trend die out just as it began?
Plugging In Or Dropping Out?
Meanwhile, I wonder if VARs can continue to make a decent margin deploying public WiFi networks for retailers. A few years ago, we watched closely as solutions providers tried to cash in on municipal wireless, public broadband and retail WiFi hotspot projects.
Some of those projects certainly succeeded (check www.MuniWireless.com for a daily reality update). But it seems like the for-profit WiFi wave has long since subsided in town squares and retail shops.