Starbucks today rolled out free Wi-Fi at their stores. The real question was if AT&T would be able to handle the onslaught.
Starbucks free Wi-Fi rollout only rivals McDonalds for one of the largest free Wi-Fi deployments worldwide. Previously both networks required either a purchase of service, or of products. In Starbucks’ case, Wi-Fi was free in-store, but only with the activation of a prepaid Starbucks Card. Customers were confused by this process, and reported extreme difficulty with logging in using the promotional tactic.
Today however AT&T appears to have mitigated the ensuing increase in Wi-Fi traffic. Unlike McDonalds, many customers sit in-store for long periods on laptops, each using the free 1.5 mbps connection. PhoneNews.com tests throughout the day yieled no general connection failures or issues.
However, all was not perfect. The landing page, which requires you to accept terms and conditions, often only partially loaded. This required either a reloading of the landing page, or blinding clicking invisible or partially loaded buttons. In addition, web pages sometimes timed out, requiring reloading even while in a good Wi-FI signal area.
AT&T continues to struggle with capacity in the iPhone era. The company recently finished 850 MHz UMTS deployments in major areas such as New York City, boasting 47% “improvements” in service quality. Apple and others defend AT&T, claming that the presence of iPhone 3G on any American wireless network would have caused similar issues. Unlike European carriers, which operate on much smaller land masses, America suffers from slow speeds due to local loops.
A key factor in deploying 4G networks is bringing fiber lines (or fixed wireless relays tapping fiber) to towers and cell sites previously served by layered T1 lines.