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Chris Pirillo: According to my friend Mike Elgan at ComputerWorld.com, Starbucks will begin providing their customers with free Wi-Fi within the next year. Specifically, Mike sees free wi-fi at McDonalds forcing the issue, and concludes…
|Unsurprisingly, coffee drinks at Starbucks are super profitable. By making Wi-Fi free, Starbucks will be able to counter the lure of free Wi-Fi at McDonald’s and not miss out on the real money — the sale of coffee.|
|Well, that’s my prediction. I’ll report back one year from now — or when Starbucks makes Wi-Fi free, whichever comes first.|
While I’d love to agree, and to stop paying $29/month to T-Mobile for the privilege of connecting at Starbucks and countless airports — something I’ve been doing ever since MobileStar set up the original wi-fi system for the coffee giant — I wouldn’t hold my breath. Two reasons.
First is T-Mobile, which I doubt is eager to give up the income, especially when so many people are glad to pay the price. And note that T-Mobile maintains a remarkably reliable system, which delivers solid T-1 speeds at every location. Nobody does that nearly as well. Caribou Coffee has free wi-fi; but in the locations where I’ve tried it the speed and reliability doesn’t compare with T-Mobile’s.
Second is Starbucks, which I am sure would worry that free wi-fi would cause squatting customers to sink even deeper roots into their chairs. I’ve been told (and it certainly seems credible) that one reason Starbucks plays loud music is to drive wi-fi squatters out of the place. At a Panera Bread near where I live, there is free (and not very good) wi-fi and signs posted urging customers with laptops not to turn the restaurant into personal office space.
(Oh, and I don’t think Starbucks considers McDonalds real competition. Do you?)
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the future charging for wi-fi will be as retro and unfriendly as charging to use toilets. But that’s not the story in today’s marketplace.