RealTime IT News

MobileStar Down But Starbucks Still Committed

Richardson, Texas-based MobileStar Network Corp., which has been attempting to build a broadband wireless ISP with nodes across the country, has laid off nearly its entire staff, according to reports published online on Wednesday.

However, its largest customer, Starbucks Coffee Co. of Seattle, Wash., said it remains committed providing wireless Internet access despite the woes of its vendor.

"Starbucks Coffee Co. has not received notice of a bankruptcy filing by Mobilestar but is aware that there may be an interruption in Mobilestar's wireless service in Starbucks' network-enabled locations," a company spokesperson told InternetNews.com.

"Starbucks hopes that any interruption will be brief and is working on alternatives to continue providing wireless service to its customers. Despite any interruption, starbucks is still committed to offering customers wireless internet access within its retail location," the spokesperson said in a prepared statement.

MobileStar was founded in 1996 on a mission to dot what it dubbed the "travel ribbon" -- hotels, airports, restaurants, business service centers and coffee shops -- with wireless Internet connections that allow business travelers to get online and hook into the corporate intranets with near-T1 speeds.

The latest financial development comes as a surprise, given the recent sales sucess that MobileStar was experiencing. One of the company's biggest wins was Starbucks Coffee Co. The company outfitted about 500 of Starbucks' 3,000 shops with either 802.11b (Direct Sequence) or OpenAir (Frequency Hopping) wireless access points connected to T1 lines.

The service, which utilizes the nascent 802.11 wireless technology, was also available in numerous hotels, American Airlines Admirals Clubs and restaurants. It also covered all of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Austin Bergstrom Airport and Louisville International Airport. It partnered with American Airlines, IBM, Cisco, Proxim, Nokia, Hilton, Meristar, Marriott, Westin Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Select, Sheraton, SkyNetGlobal and Starbucks.

Much like the Riccochet high-speed wireless network that folded when its parent Metricom filed for bankruptcy, customers that use the MobileStar service have nothing but nice things to say about it.

"I use their service all of the time at American Airlines Admirals Clubs, so I hope this isn't true. However I don't think I that I ever saw anyone else use the service, everyone else dialed in using modems. At $2.50 to connect + .10/minute it was a bargain, especially for sales people who could expense it anyway," one anonymous customer posted on an Internet discussion board.

Officials at MobileStar could not be reached for comment.