Starbucks teams up with Google for faster Wi-Fi in its U.S. stores

Starbucks has dropped AT&T as its in-store Wi-Fi provider, teaming up instead with Google and Level 3 Communications to offer 10 times faster network speeds.

The coffee shop chain said the changeover will start in August in its new, company-operated stores and extend to 7,000 other Starbucks stores in the U.S. over the next 18 months. Level 3 will upgrade existing Wi-Fi devices and manage in-store connectivity.

“Starbucks customers will now have access to the fastest free connection available in any retail environment,” said Anthony Christie, chief marketing officer at Level 3.

The company offered no other details about the cost of the upgrade or technical details.

The move, unveiled Wednesday, came less than a week after Starbucks said it would expand its offering of wireless charging from Boston stores to its San Francisco locations.

Duracell PowermatDuracell Powermat
Phones charging at a Starbucks counter

“We know that our customers use our cafes in a number of ways beyond buying coffee,” Adam Brotman, chief digital officer for Starbucks, said in a statement. “For some, it’s their home office, for others it’s their place to get away and have some time to themselves. More and more customers are using Starbucks as their home base and they are looking to recharge in a number of ways.”

Starbucks has partnered with Powermat to provide wireless charging in select Starbucks stores in the Silicon Valley area. The expansion of the wireless charging trial follows a successful test of the technology in select Starbucks stores in the Boston area.

Last fall, Starbucks joined AT&T and Google as members of the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), an industry organization working on standards for wireless charging. PMA backs the Power 2.0 wireless charging standard. Power 2.0 is based on magnetic induction wireless power technology.

To date, most wireless charging products in the market have been built around magnetic induction charging techniques, which require that a device be in contact with a charging surface, such as a charging pad.

Powermat, owned by Duracell, claims it has more than 1,500 charging spots in the U.S. The company recently merged with PowerKiss, a wireless power provider in Europe. In Europe, PowerKiss said it has 1,000 charging spots in airports, hotels and cafes; it also recently announced wireless charging at some McDonald’s restaurants.

Any PMA-certified mobile device will charge simply by being placed on the tabletop. AT&T recently announced that many of its smartphones will ship with PMA wireless charging technology next year. Blackberry, HTC, LG, Samsung, ZTE and other smartphone makers have also signed on to the PMA.

Starbucks

In addition to providing faster Wi-Fi, Starbucks said it will work with Google to co-develop the next generation Starbucks Digital Network, the first page that loads when a customer uses the free Wi-Fi. Analysts said Google is expected to help Starbucks offer advertising and other community connections on that page.

Current connections at Starbucks over Wi-Fi are reportedly up to 1.5Mbps, which Google and Level 3 plan to increase 10-fold. AT&T also proposed to offer Starbucks 10 times faster network and Wi-Fi speeds, an AT&T spokesman said, indicating that Starbucks’ decision must have been based on criteria other than speeds.

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