At Starbucks, AT&T is out and Google is in for Wi-Fi

The coffee chain operator has opted to use Google Wi-Fi to give U.S. customers up to 10-times faster network speeds.

Jason Cipriani/CNET
Starbucks customers will soon have much faster Wi-Fi speeds, thanks to the company's new partnership with Google.

Starbucks said that Google, in conjunction with Level 3 Communications, will now be providing Wi-Fi service in Starbucks' U.S. locations that's up to 10 times faster than the current service powered by AT&T.

The faster service will first appear in new Starbucks locations over the next month. Starbucks will then roll it out to its 7,000 other U.S. stores, starting with the busiest locations where Wi-Fi usage is highest. The company expects to complete the transition in about 18 months.

"This is obviously an important milestone in our relationship with Google," Starbucks Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman told CNET. "We do hope this is one step amongst many that we can continue to build upon what's already a great partnership with Google."

Currently, Starbucks stores are connected with a T1 line for 1.5 megabit speeds. Level 3 and Google will upgrade the system in every location to provide approximately 10 times faster speeds, though the actual result will vary from store to store.

"When you start getting to really, really fast speeds, it's difficult to put it in the same way everywhere," Brotman said. "Instead of finding one common denominator, we're saying, no, let's upgrade everything. It some case, it will be faster than 10-times, sometimes slower."

Brotman added that Starbucks wasn't looking to move away from AT&T but was in constant conversations with Google about possible ways to partner. Providing faster Wi-Fi to customers is one way to do that, he said.

AT&T, meanwhile, said that in its proposal to Starbucks, it also offered up to 10 times faster network and Wi-Fi speeds. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel noted: "Starbucks continues to be an important partner for us, and we continue to provide them with a variety of services over AT&T's advanced network, including the nation's fastest, most reliable LTE network."

The move toward faster Wi-Fi comes as mobile and PC users increasingly require faster connection speeds to do things like stream video and download large files. Starbucks' free Wi-Fi has long been popular among Internet users, with millions accessing the service each week. The faster connection speed is likely to attract even more visitors, particularly as carriers move away from offering unlimited data plans for mobile devices.

Along with providing faster Wi-Fi, Starbucks and Google also will be working to upgrade the Starbucks Digital Network, the page where users are directed when accessing Wi-Fi in the coffee shops. Brotman declined to provide details about the upcoming changes. He also declined to discuss financial arrangements between the companies but said Starbucks is "always happy to make an investment in our store experience."

"We're moving to much more of a streaming world across all media types," Brotman said. "This increased bandwidth will match what consumers are doing on the Web today, whether downloading or streaming or both."

Updated at 7 a.m. PT with comment from AT&T.

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About the author

Shara Tibken is a senior writer for CNET focused on Samsung and Apple. She previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal. She's a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."

 

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