Starbucks pours a cup of wireless

T-Mobile is selling wireless access to the Internet in 1,200 Starbucks locations, with plans to have 2,000 cafes wired for Wi-Fi by year's end.

T-Mobile is now selling wireless access to the Internet in 1,200 Starbucks locations and plans to have 2,000 cafes wired for Wi-Fi by year's end, the company said Wednesday.

The Starbucks stores with the T-Mobile HotSpot service are located in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and several large metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Dallas. Expansion to Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., is planned by the year's end, according to Starbucks.

Most cell phone carriers are now embracing Wi-Fi, also known as 802.11b, for their wireless networks. The networking technology is used to create Internet access through the air within a radius of about 300 feet from a device.

Also Wednesday, Hewlett-Packard unveiled software that allows laptops or PDAs (personal digital assistants) to automatically sense and connect to wireless networks.

The software, which can be downloaded for free, will also be available at Starbucks stores, said spokeswoman Dayna Fried.

Three Wi-Fi hot spots have also launched in the coffee shop chain in the United Kingdom and Germany, Starbucks announced Wednesday. The two U.K. hot spots will be in cafes in London.

According to Graham Rivers, director of business development and strategy at T-Mobile, more Wi-Fi hot spots may be in the works in the United Kingdom as the company expands its mobile data services.

"The T-Mobile Hotspot service at Starbucks stores forms an integral part of the program with further partnerships in the U.K. expected to follow. Our deployment of the wireless LAN is just one of the mobile business services we will be introducing to enable seamless office functionality on the move," Rivers said in a statement.

In the United Kingdom, both BT and Megabeam have already begun setting up Wi-Fi hot spots.

Spreading Wi-Fi
T-Mobile claims the largest number of Wi-Fi locations in the United States. In second place is Boingo Wireless, but it plans to expand from its present 700 locations to 5,000 by January, spokesman Christian Gunning said.

Wireless provider Wayport, is the next in line, with about 470 sites.

Sprint PCS, which invested in Boingo Wireless, is expected to begin bundling access to hot spots with cell phone service, sources say. Nextel Communications is already selling the networking equipment to its business customers.

T-Mobile USA, based in Bellevue, Wash., is part of T-Mobile International, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom. The wireless carrier, also known as VoiceStream, renamed itself T-Mobile in mid-July in California and Nevada and opened retail stores under the new name. It plans to use the T-Mobile name exclusively within the next couple of months.

ZDNet UK's Graeme Wearden of London contributed to this report.

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