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.

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