Starbucks to offer free WiFi service

Beginning in July Starbucks will offer free WiFi to go with that $4 latte.

The coffee chain announced today that it will begin offering unlimited free WiFi access at all of its company-operated stores, allowing all of its coffee-sipping customers to get access to AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) WiFi network.

The company said the service will be free beginning July 1 at 6,700 U.S. locations. The move by Starbucks comes six months after McDonald's began offering free WiFi service at its stores, which is also provided by AT&T.

AT&T, which has more than 20,000 WiFi hotspots nationwide, scored a coup in 2008 when Starbucks decided to switch from T-Mobile USA to AT&T, essentially ending a six-year relationship the company had with T-Mobile. Currently, customers who have a registered Starbucks loyalty card can get two hours of free WiFi. AT&T wireless subscribers with WiFi-enabled devices can get unlimited access, and AT&T's DSL customers also get the service for free. All other customers have to pay $3.99 for two hours of access.

The move is likely to increase data traffic on AT&T's WiFi network. The company has pointed to its extensive WiFi footprint as a potential way to offload cellular data traffic. AT&T spokeswoman Jenny Bridges told FierceWireless that the company was not concerned that any additional traffic might hamper the WiFi network, noting that non-AT&T subscribers have been able to access the WiFi network at Starbucks already, albeit for a fee. "We're not concerned about it, we're excited about it," she said.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this AP article

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