McDonald’s Holds ‘Wi-Fi Sweepstakes’

Following the success of its wireless Internet launch in San Francisco last month, fast food giant McDonald’s announced Friday that it is holding a Sweepstakes.

Each month, over the next five months, Wi-Fi users in the Bay Area will have the chance to win an IBM ThinkPad notebook or a Palm Tungsten C handheld, if they use McDonald’s wireless high-speed Internet access at participating restaurants. The promotion is scheduled to last until December 2003.

“Wi-Fi users at McDonald’s can enter by logging on and filling out the multiple-choice survey at any Bay Area McDonald’s Wi-Fi location. Upon completing the survey, participants will automatically be entered into a sweepstakes to win one of the two prizes,” the company said in a statement.

Currently, McDonald’s has 75 of its Bay Area restaurants from SF to Half Moon Bay hooked up with Wayport wireless access points. Since it’s initial rollout in New York, Oak Brook, IL-based McDonalds has launched 60 hotspots at its restaurants in the Chicago and Milwaukee metro areas.

McDonald’s also recently launched its own Web site dedicated to finding their wireless points.

Customers are able to identify participating restaurants by signage that displays the Golden Arches logo in the universal Internet @ symbol. Cost for a two-hour wireless Internet connection at these locations is $4.95, with other purchase options available. Buying a Big Mac or Filet-o-Fish is not mandatory, however.

As for the prizes themselves, IBM’s ThinkPad R40 includes Intel Centrino wireless technology and up to six hours of battery life. IBM is one of McDonald’s partners installing wireless access in McDonald’s San Francisco Bay Area restaurants.

Palm’s Tungsten C handheld has integrated Wi-Fi running on a 400MHz Intel processor with XScale technology; 64MB of memory (actual free memory is 51MB) to manage data-intensive applications; a built-in keyboard; and a 320 x 320 transflective TFT display.

Hotspots are on the rise — researchers predict that there will be as many as 200,000 worldwide by 2008 — but analysts remain skeptical about whether or not they will be profitable.

IDC’s Waryas believes that some hotspots, such as those in airports, will certainly be successful, but he’s not so sure that McDonald’s will be. “McDonald’s is built around getting you in and getting you out quick. What added value does this bring?”

The other stumbling point for McDonald’s seems to be the general makeup of their clientele. Jupiter Research analyst Julie Ask says right now the majority of McDonalds customers do not own laptops or PDAs.

“But that will the story two to three years from now when consumers have handhelds or laptops with Wi-Fi cards and when the price of devices comes down,” Ask said.

Overseas may be a different story. Taiwan-based City Network Friday said it has inked a contract and joint venture project with Easy-Up Corporation to install 360 McDonald’s stores throughout Taiwan with wireless Internet access.

McDonalds of Japan and investment firm Softbank say they are discussing installing up to 4,000 hot spots in the restaurant’s Japanese outlets. Australia-based Internet service provicer Telstra said it in negotiations with McDonalds to complement Telstra’s existing $3 million wireless network, which already covers Qantas airport lounges and Rydges Hotels.

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