Going to a coffee shop for wireless internet has just become a battle royale á la the Jets and the Sharks. Last week, Starbucks announced it would offer two hours of free Wi-Fi to its Canadian customers—a feature the Americans have had since a new incentive program Starbucks Rewards was offered in April 2008. Bell will also offer unlimited service to its high-speed and WiMAX customers—and in a cruel move, not Bell dial-up customers. The new Bell deal must be a response to Rogers including unlimited free wireless access at its Hotspots for iPhone users, which includes every Second Cup in town.
While Second Cup and Starbucks have offered Wi-Fi service for years, the cost model has always leaned towards laptop users: customers can choose to purchase internet for an hour, a day, or a month. However, the explosion of Wi-Fi enabled smartphones changes the use of Wi-Fi: checking an email, using GPS, or finding a telephone listing takes minutes. Here’s a catch: in the States, the internet period is limited to a single session. Once you log off, you’re done for the day. We wonder if Bell will make the session cumulative or if the telco will follow suit. (Doesn’t it appears that telcos plan to take advantage of the changing market to manipulate Wi-Fi at the major coffee chains to become marketing tools for products like the iPhone or WiMax?)
This might be a good time to remind you, then, that many cafés across the city offer free unlimited Wi-Fi to everyone, places like Aroma near Bloor and Bathurst; Linuxcaffe at Harbord and Grace; Urbana Coffee at Bay and St. Joseph; and at selected Lettieris, such as the one at Church and Wellesley. When a place like Woody’s offers unlimited free Wi-Fi for all, the major coffee chains are leaving a bitter taste in our mouths.
Photo by au ro.