Thursday, February 21, 2008

Starbucks' freeish Wi-Fi lets you use laptop and iPhone at same time

By: Eric Lai

An AT&T spokesman confirmed for me by e-mail on Wednesday what Glenn Fleishmann at Wi-Fi Net News had already told me: that you'll be able to use two different Wi-Fi-enabled devices simultaneously during a single two-hour session at Starbucks.

The bright side is that while you are syncing your schedule and e-mail on your iPhone (AT&T, which will provide the Wi-Fi, is the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the U.S.), you can also surf the Web or compose an e-mail on your laptop at the same time.

The down side is that once you log-in to your free AT&T Wi-Fi account with one device, the clock starts ticking...and doesn't stop even if you logout one or both devices/computers. Two consecutive hours per day, that's it.

AT&T also only allows three different devices to login to an account within 30 days, according to the spokesman. Not sure the rationale - maybe to discourage people from sharing a single Wi-Fi account?

The spokesman declined to say how AT&T plans to technically enforce these rules, "because disclosure of that information could increase the risk of fraud." I had speculated in a blog posting last week that AT&T would track the MAC addresses of your computers/devices.

I had also speculated that the very cheap or very determined among us will be able to get more than two hours of free Wi-Fi a day by signing up for multiple AT&T accounts (as they do with Web e-mail) and lugging in multiple laptops or phones (each attached to a single AT&T Wi-Fi account only).

Since the spokesman didn't dispute my theory, I am assuming this may still work.

Still, with these fussy restrictions and fine print, I'm guessing that anyone who's determined to get some real work done at a cafe will still head to their favorite indie coffeehouse - not Starbucks.

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