Starbucks, Microsoft, MobileStar to create wireless environment

Starbucks, Microsoft, MobileStar to create wireless environment

C. Dickinson Waters

SEATTLE — Starbucks customers still can get wired with a strong cup of coffee, but visitors to some Starbucks locations soon will go wireless with their Internet access. Under a joint development and installation agreement with Microsoft and Richardson, Texas-based, wireless Internet provider MobileStar Network Corp., Starbucks is planning a fixed wireless broadband network deployment in 70 stores this spring.

“This ‘one of a kind’ national wireless broadband network gives Starbucks a unique position in the landscape of retailers,” Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks, said in a prepared statement. “These new relationships will provide us a great opportunity to enhance our customer’s in-store experience as well as attract new customers to our retail locations.”

According to Darren Huston, senior vice president of new ventures for Starbucks, the fixed wireless broadband network works within the confines of the store by distributing the connectivity fed to the cafes via traditional means, such as a T-one line, wirelessly over unlicensed radio frequencies. The decision to deploy the network is part of a broader effort to update store technology that both back-of-the-house applications and initiatives, such as the launch of a Starbucks customer card designed to speed up in-store ordering and payment, Huston said.

“We have always tried to morph the stores to keep up with our customers, who are very technology savvy,” Huston explained, adding that the company “does not want technology to take away from the ambience but enhance it.”

MobileStar will deploy the infrastructure for the new network beginning late in the spring, and plans call for a subsequent rollout to approximately 70 percent of Starbucks stores within two years, Huston said.

As Huston explained it, Starbucks’ customers will have free access to the wireless network through a “Starbucks, MSN welcome mat” provided through the Microsoft’s MSN online service. The service will offer content specifically tailored to each Starbucks location, and access to the broader Internet will be a fee-based or subscription service available via MobileStar, Huston said, noting that the exact terms and fees “have not yet been fully determined.”

Microsoft also will provide unique content and services to the Starbucks network via MSN, according to Sarah Lefko, an MSN product manager.

“We are thinking of a variety of different things,” said Lefko, citing “local arts and entertainment information, such as movie times,” and features about Starbucks as examples of the type of information being considered for inclusion.

According to Becky Kaske, director of retail, hospitality and supply chain for Microsoft, the partnership with Starbucks and MobilStar is “a very early step on the road of Microsoft’s dot-NET strategy of bringing the power of the Internet” to people everywhere.

Starbucks expects the new technology will help the stores, which traditionally do their heaviest business during the morning rush, “pick up business in other dayparts,” Huston said.

Huston added that Starbucks is not at all concerned about customers loitering in the cafes, whiling away the hours online, interfering with the business of selling coffee.

“There is a positive synergy between people being in the stores and the level of business, because it creates a real sense of community,” Huston said.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Lebhar-Friedman, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group