Tag Archives | Wi-Fi

Instead of Shunning Wi-Fi, Starbucks Sweetens the Deal

While I don’t buy the idea that there’s a movement afoot to oust free Wi-Fi from coffee shops, there is certainly a niche of businesses who don’t want their customers staring at screens all day.

Not Starbucks. The coffee chain, which began giving away unlimited, free Wi-Fi last June, is taking the offer a step further with the Starbucks Digital Network, a content portal that’s only available through the in-shop Wi-Fi.

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Hotel Wi-Fi: Still Not a Given

USA Today has a trend story about upscale hotels hawking two price tiers for wi-fi, with the lower tier sufficient for e-mail and web browsing, and the higher one suitable for video and other high-bandwidth services.

As with the recurring story of wi-fi-free coffee shops, i’m not sure this one is fresh. In my experience, two-tiered wi-fi dates back at least a couple years, and the story presents only anecdotal evidence that the trend is growing: One upscale hotel chain, InterContinental, is testing the concept in three locations, and another, Four Seasons, has expanded two-tier Wi-Fi after testing began last year. InterContinental charges $10 per day for basic access and $15 for higher speeds.

The more surprising part of the story, I think, is that hotels, especially upscale ones, are still charging for wi-fi in the first place.

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Enough With the Coffeehouse Wi-Fi Ban Stories, Already

Full disclosure: Sometimes I blog from the coffee shop near my apartment, one that is supposedly bucking the trend of skimping on free Wi-Fi.

At least you’d think coffee shops sans Wi-Fi were the latest fad after reading a recent Los Angeles Times story on the subject. Shop owners want to reconnect with their customers, says the Times, or they want to give customers a place to unplug. Or more likely, they want to keep out the moochers who buy one cup of coffee before claiming an entire corner of the cafe for hours of laptop work (guilty!).

I don’t doubt that these places exist. The problem is that they’ve existed for years, and the only trend staler than coffee shops banning or restricting Wi-Fi is newspaper trend stories about these businesses.

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Why Tech Conferences are Now the Worst Place to Demo Tech Products

Back in May, I attended Google’s I|O conference at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. It was an eminently worthwhile event, but wireless connectivity issues were a persistent problem–demos during both of the show’s keynotes were messed up by the difficulty of establishing a reliable connection in a room packed with geeks brandishing smartphones, notebooks., and MiFis.

A few weeks later, Apple’s WWDC convened in the same conference hall. Nobody knows how to orchestrate a demo like Steve Jobs, but when he attempted to show off the iPhone 4, he couldn’t get Safari to load Web pages. The poor guy was reduced to pleading with attendees to shut down their Wi-Fi and said there were 527 MiFi-type wireless routers in the room.

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Starbucks Wi-Fi Goes Free

Looks like Starbucks is finally getting with the program and offering truly free Wi-Fi, starting July 1st in partnership with Yahoo. (Until now it’s offered two free hours a day to Starbucks cardholders.) I don’t even drink coffee, and I have a Verizon Wireless MiFi mobile router that radically reduces my interest in free hotspots–but I’m pleased by the news.


Cisco Valet Tries to Make Wi-Fi Drop-Dead Easy

Can setting up a Wi-Fi network ever be drop-dead easy for non-technical folks? Maybe not, but Cisco gives the problem its best shot with a new brand, Valet, that will co-exist with Cisco’s well known Linksys line, now being positioned as “enthusiast” products. Setting setup aside, Cisco has definitely come up with some nice Wi-Fi management software—but I wish there were a way to sell people Wi-Fi gear without removing the technical information that explains how one product differs from another.

At launch, the Valet line consists of three items: the $100 Valet and $150 Valet Plus Wi-Fi routers, and a $100 USB adapter. The somewhat Apple-esque packaging for the Valet router I tried out was covered with aspirational taglines such as “Home wireless made easy” and “Welcome to the new home wireless experience.”

The box was also free of most pesky specs, apart from the Wi-Fi Alliance logo showing certification for 802.11b/g/n. That at least told me that while the Valet does support the fastest Wi-Fi standard, it only supports it on the 2.4ghz band, which in many places is woefully overcrowded by signals from neighboring networks, Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens and some cordless phones.

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Video Calls at 30,000 Feet

My friend John Battelle (who is, among other things, CEO of Federated Media, Technologizer’s advertising partner) was on a cross-country United plane flight equipped with Wi-Fi last night. He used iChat to do a videochat with his wife and kids, who were back at home in the Bay Area. And John got busted–by a flight attendant who told him that video calls are forbidden for security reasons.

John says that there don’t seem to be FAA rules prohibiting video calls. Which sounds logical: Once a plane has Wi-Fi, I’m not sure if if there’s anything terrorists could do with video that they couldn’t do equally effectively with other communications means, such as IM. (Besides, they’d probably ignore any rules against video calling–hey, they’re terrorists.)

But there are at least two other plausible arguments against video calling in the air. One involves the people surrounding the folks doing the calling, who might find the call intruding on their personal space. (Probably depends in part on the courtesy of the person doing the calling, but I sometimes have a hard time dealing with gabby seatmates who are simply making phone calls before takeoff or after landing.)

The other issue is bandwidth: I don’t how much speed a service like Aircell’s Gogo has to share among everybody on a flight, but it’s not infinite–and consuming video might bog things down for everybody else. (Of course, video of any sort could do that–I wonder if Gogo does anything to block, say, Hulu?)

I have a hard time living without inflight Wi-Fi these days–I’m going to use it so much on Virgin America this month that I shelled out for a month-long pass–but I could tolerate with a ban on video. (Then again, if I was sitting next to John and noticed he was chatting with his family, I wouldn’t press the Flight Attendant button and squeal on him.)

Your take?


Wi-Fi that Goes the Distance

When I use my laptop in a hotel, I’m used to it finding dozens of Wi-Fi networks belonging to random strangers. When I turned on my trusty Asus X5 this morning at Harrah’s on the Las Vegas Strip, it pulled up a network belong to a friend: Xavier Lanier of Noteboks.com. I was amused. And then I was startled–Xavier told me that he wasn’t staying at Harrah’s at all, but in the next-door-but-still-far-away Venetian. His Apple Airport Express just has remarkable range. More details here.

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