Optical/IP Networks

Starbucks Hotspots (Slight Return)

T-Mobile U.S. has given its wireless LAN (WLAN) public "hotspot" service a kick by installing 700 new 802.11b access points in Starbucks coffee houses across America. The company plans to have 2000 hotspots in place by the end of the year.

Readers with memories longer than that of a goldfish may remember that T-Mobile (the carrier until recently known as VoiceStream) already had most of this service in place anyway. It had 500 access points up and running in Starbucks locations, having acquired them when it bought the assets of defunct wireless service provider Mobilestar Inc., way back in, ohhh, January 2002, was it?

The name of the WLAN service was originally 'T-Mobile Wireless Broadband.' In a radical departure, the service is now called T-Mobile HotSpot

Evidently T-Mobile felt it was time for a new broom, as they don't mention any of this in their press release (see T-Mobile Tarts Up WiFi Service). T-Mobile spokesperson Bryan Zidar described the carrier's original WLAN service as a "pilot program."

"It had no marketing behind it," he says. T-Mobile isn't saying much about what it expects from this rebranded service, other than that it will be "very successful."

The carrier has installed Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) WLAN equipment in the coffee shops, but Zidar says that T-Mobile has no preferred supplier for access points.

"The vision is to [eventually] combine our nationwide GSM/GPRS network with WLAN hotspots," Zidar says. Yep, sounds like T-Mobile is all ready to sign up for "Project Rainbow" (see Rainbow to Link WiFi & WAN).

T-Mobile and Starbucks have also taken a leaf out of Boingo Wireless Inc.'s book -- offering software from Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), which will allow subscribers to the T-Mobile service to "sniff out" other wireless LAN hotspots, when (gasp!) they're not in range of a Starbucks [ed. note: we hear this can happen in some parts of Outer Mongolia].

T-Mobile Subscribers won't be charged for airtime used when roaming on other people's WLANs, Zidar says. But no one will be able to roam on the wireless LANs in Starbucks without first coughing up for a subscription or day pass onto the network.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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