Starbucks is ditching T-Mobile’s wi-fi service in its stores and is replacing it with a similar service from AT&T. In addition, customers with Starbucks cards (nothing special, just a refillable gift card) will get two free hours of Internet access per day. This is a smart move for Starbucks, a victory for AT&T, and a big loss for T-Mobile.
Until now, Starbucks customers had to shell out about $10 for T-Mobile wi-fi access, a silly price on top of a $5 latte. With two free hours per day, customers now have another reason to buy their coffee/breakfast at Starbucks instead of a rival coffee joint with free wi-fi.
AT&T, which already offers free wi-fi access to 12 million of its residential broadband subscribers, says it will soon “extend the benefits of Wi-Fi at Starbucks to its wireless customers,” which sounds like free access to us. That’s one more reason to get AT&T mobile phone service instead of a rival carrier’s. In addition, Starbucks (SBUX) and AT&T are both close Apple partners — Starbucks and Apple (AAPL) have an iTunes tie-up, and AT&T is the official U.S. iPhone carrier — so there could be more, interesting deals among the three.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile, a division of Deutsche Telekom (DT), loses its flagship wi-fi partner. On its Hotspot Web site, T-Mobile lists 8,900 locations in the U.S. In Starbucks’ press release, it says more than 7,000 U.S. Starbucks locations will get AT&T wi-fi. That doesn’t leave T-Mobile with much in its network — Borders, FedEx Kinkos, and a bunch of smaller chains. For now, AT&T (T) will offer free roaming access to T-Mobile Hotspot subscribers on the network, but not necessarily forever. And either way, it’s AT&T’s sticker on the door now, not T-Mobile’s.