At Starbucks, T-Mobile is out and AT&T is in, at least when it comes to WiFi. AT&T and Starbucks announced their new partnership this morning, saying that the carrier plans to offer a variety of service offerings at 7,000 Starbucks locations in the US. Best of all, many customers will be able to access the service for free (as in beer), with paid offerings as low as $3.99 for two hours of use.
AT&T says that, beginning this spring, anyone who uses a Starbucks Card (a prepaid gift card, like one you would give to a friend) will be able to get up to two hours of free WiFi service per day at any Starbucks location with WiFi service. Better yet, if you're an AT&T broadband or U-verse subscriber, you'll be able to use unlimited WiFi at Starbucks for free. For everyone else, paid service will begin at $3.99 per two-hour session, and monthly membership will go for $19.99 per month. Comparatively, T-Mobile's offerings were limited to $9.99 per day and between $19.99 and $39.99 per month (depending on whether you were also a T-Mobile wireless subscriber and are willing to sign a contract to lock in a lower rate).
Unfortunately, AT&T wireless customers--such as the plethora of iPhone owners who frequent Starbucks--don't have any special access as of yet. "This offer is for AT&T broadband customers who can access WiFi in the stores over a WiFi-enabled device. [iPhone users] who are not broadband subscribers can't access for free at this time," AT&T spokesperson Brad Mays told Ars, although the company says that it plans to expand its Starbucks benefits to those subscribers "soon."
The move is surprising, given how strong a relationship Starbucks appeared to have with T-Mobile in the past. In September, Apple announced a partnership with Starbucks and T-Mobile that would allow iPhone and iPod touch owners to hop on T-Mobile's HotSpots for free in order to access the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. (Mays told us that the iTunes Wi-Fi Store partnership and rollout would continue under AT&T's WiFi service.) And T-Mobile has used its partnership with Starbucks to market some of its own services--namely its newly-launched UMA (cell-to-WiFi) service called HotSpots@Home. Customers with supported phones could switch between the cell network and WiFi HotSpots to save on minutes and a get better signal.
Starbucks and AT&T do, however, acknowledge that there were many loyal T-Mobile HotSpot customers, and they are offering a special deal to those who subscribe to T-Mobile's service. "T-Mobile HotSpot customers will be able to continue to access WiFi services at no additional cost, through an agreement between AT&T and T-Mobile," Starbucks said in a statement. So if you pay for HotSpot coverage on your T-Mobile plan (particularly for the aforementioned UMA service), you should still be able to continue using it as usual on the new Starbucks network.[MORE]