RealTime IT News

SBC Brews Wi-Fi Pact

SBC Communications is expanding options for people who take their coffee with Wi-Fi .

The carrier is working with Caribou Coffee to install hotspots at 300 of the chain's shops in Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

The companies will use access gear from Cisco Systems to Wi-Fi enable the stores. Work will begin next month and be completed by January. Financial details of the contract were not disclosed.

The move expands SBC's FreedomLink Wi-Fi network. Access at Caribou Coffee will be free for FreedomLink customers, who pay about $20 per month for the service. Non-subscribers can pay $8 for 24 hours of access.

It's the second recent Wi-Fi restaurant deal for SBC, which signed a similar agreement with McDonald's and is looking for more partners.

"Our customers have access to Wi-Fi at more than 350 McDonald's locations, and that number will grow significantly as the year progresses," Destiny Belknap, an SBC spokeswoman told internetnews.com. "We plan to add additional venues and create an extensive nationwide FreedomLink Wi-Fi network."

SBC and other telecoms are placing more importance on Wi-Fi, especially because laptop makers are building Wi-Fi access components into their machines, and hotspots (both free and paid) are becoming easier to find. SBC plans to make more than 20,000 hotspots available to customers by the end of 2006, a figure that doesn't include roaming partners sites, Belknap said.

The coffee/Wi-Fi combination was started with Starbucks and T-Mobile in August 2002. At the time, there was debate about whether the technology would hurt business because customers would linger long after they got their caffeine fix.

But the stores found it to be a boon, getting customers to stay longer, buy more and fill up the shops at traditionally slow times of the day. T-Mobile also runs hotspots at Borders Books & Music and Kinko's, as well as 52 airport clubs and lounges for American, Delta, and United Airlines.

In another SBC Wi-Fi move today, the company signed reciprocal roaming agreements with Wi-Fi networks operators Concourse Communications, Telmex (the company's first international roaming agreement) and Wise Technologies at reduced rates.

Many of the providers' hot spots are in high-traffic venues, such as JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York. FreedomLink customers will pay only $4 per daily session. The pacts are similar to an earlier roaming agreement that SBC companies formed with Wayport. SBC expects to have all the roaming agreements activated by year's end.