WiFi and a Latte: Going Wireless at Starbucks

by Reads (19,536)

We all have our weaknesses. Admittedly mine are handheld computers and a good latte — iced in the summer. So you can imagine my excitement when Starbucks first announced that it would be installing wireless Internet access in its popular coffee houses. I pictured myself wiping foam from my upper lip with one hand while simultaneously scrolling through the Brighthand discussion forums on my handheld with the other. But would the experience be as satisfying, and as effortless, as the dream?

Starbucks in South Tampa Well, for the past year I’ve been connecting to T-Mobile HotSpots at Starbucks (and Borders Book & Music stores as well) around the country and absolutely love it. From San Francisco to Atlanta to New York, I’ve visited more than a dozen Starbucks and wirelessly surfed the Web and grabbed email all the while.

Since relocating from Atlanta to Tampa earlier this year, my new local Starbucks (see picture) is located in the South Howard, or SoHo, area of South Tampa, tucked beneath a frond of palm trees and surrounded by several charming boutiques and restaurants. It’s an incredible meeting place for both businesspeople and students, and you can probably find me there several days a week, propped behind my laptop, evaluating a few of the latest handhelds.

So, just how simple is it to “get wireless” at your local Starbucks using your favorite PDA? Well, it depends upon what make and model PDA you own. T-Mobile claims that Palm handhelds cannot connect to any of its HotSpots, due to the proprietary nature of its browser. But Pocket PCs are no problem.

Connecting with a Pocket PC

Connecting to a T-Mobile HotSpot with a Pocket PC is simple. The first thing you should do is to make sure you have the proper equipment and software. I’m currently using an HP iPAQ h2210 Pocket PC running Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC, along with a Symbol Wireless Networker 802.11b CompactFlash card. While Symbol does not list a device driver for Windows Mobile 2003 on its website, Socket Communications does. (The Symbol and Socket cards are identical.) So I downloaded and installed the Socket software onto my iPAQ. Then it was off to the local Starbucks.

At the Starbucks, I popped the 802.11b card into my iPAQ and turned on the device. Once I launched Internet Explorer a New Network Connection bubble popped up. It asked whether I’d like to connect to “tmobile” — the SSID, or network identifier, for any T-Mobile HotSpots found at Starbucks — and whether this network connects to The Internet or to Work. Another way to think of these two options is The Internet is your ISP and Work is your company’s Virtual Private Network (VPN). I selected The Internet and tapped the Connect button.

The next screen to appear was T-Mobile’s HotSpot login screen, where you can either log in or sign up for service. For first-timers Starbucks offers a special one-day rate of $2.99. Or you can go ahead and sign up for month-to-month service ($39.99 a month) or yearly service ($29.99 a month). Be aware that both plans automatically charge your credit card each month until you cancel, and an early cancellation fee can apply.

Once you’re signed up you can log in with your user name and password, then you’re off and surfing.

Starbuck’s experiment with Wi-Fi isn’t for everyone. But if you’re a frequent business traveler, and a coffee lover, it makes a perfect combination for catching up on email or the goings-on at your favorite website.

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