Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fast Food Wi-Fi Hits Milestone

by Matt Hamblen, Computerworld

May 04, 2008

Wayport Inc. said last week it has passed the 10,000 mark for network deployments in McDonald's restaurants, including more than 9,300 locations that provide public access Wi-Fi.

Irving, Texas-based Wayport also provides network support for many private applications in McDonald's restaurants, including back-office processing, support of in-store kiosks for video rentals and more, said Dan Lowden, vice president of business development and marketing at Wayport.

Wayport also manages Wi-Fi in Starbucks locations. Wi-Fi is being rolled out by AT&T Inc. to about 7,000 Starbucks coffee shops this year.

With about 9,300 Wi-Fi hot spots, McDonald's is effectively the largest Wi-Fi network under a single brand, Lowden said. Wayport also supports 12,000 locations in 35 countries, including the U.S.-based McDonald's. Wayport provides at least one Cisco access point inside each of the enabled McDonald's.

McDonald's will provide Wi-Fi access for US$2.95 for two hours, and some AT&T customers with broadband Internet subscriptions will receive the first two hours free, Lowden said.

While McDonald's and Starbucks are capitalizing on providing low-cost Wi-Fi access, all the major wireless carriers, including AT&T, Sprint Nextel Corp. and Verizon Wireless are pushing cellular broadband modem service for laptop users. The latest monthly pricing from Verizon brings the cost down to $40 a month for wide-area cellular data service to a laptop.

But Lowden said Wayport and AT&T see a continued need for indoor wireless coverage with Wi-Fi, simply because indoor use of a cellular connection could be interrupted by glass and concrete.

"We're competitive with such cellular plans in terms of speed, and generally a local area connections is faster than the WAN," Lowden said. "AT&T seems to have nailed it on the head by supporting both [Wi-Fi and cellular]. Why not offer the best speeds and lowest cost connection? No one technology will serve everybody."