Coffeehouse chain brews deal with Cometa

Cometa Networks will offer broadband Net connections via Wi-Fi to customers of Tully's coffee shops, part of a larger Cometa strategy to create a mass-market-size network and attract more business from carriers.

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
2 min read
Cometa Networks is brewing a deal with coffee shop chain Tully's to offer customers broadband Internet access via Wi-Fi, part of a larger Cometa strategy to create a mass-market-size network and attract more business from carriers.

The deal, announced Wednesday, makes Cometa the exclusive Wi-Fi provider for most Tully's coffee shops in Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and California. Tully's has 98 retail locations in the northwest and another 130 outside the United States.

Cometa is a wholesale network provider, meaning it doesn't deal directly with subscribers but instead offers service providers and large location owners what they need, from billing to network access, to set up subscribers for Wi-Fi service. Currently, many network operators are installing hot spots in high-traffic areas such as airports and hotels that are especially appealing to carriers looking for subscribers. Such locations are thus becoming increasingly difficult for network operators to nab, and Cometa is turning to lower-profile spots to grow its system.

"Cometa is looking at the market with a shotgun instead of a sniper rifle," said Keith Waryas, an analyst with research company IDC. "Quality (of hot spot locations) is still significant, but as you go after the mass market, quantity takes on a greater significance."

Jeff Damir, Cometa's senior vice president of sales and business development, said that in addition to increasing the size of its network, the company is looking to offer mobile workers a diverse collection of hot spot locations.

The creation of the Tully's hot spots will take place in two phases over the next three months. Customers will be able to check e-mail, surf the Web and access corporate networks. Details about pricing plans and service providers will be made in the coming weeks, when Cometa is expected to make some major announcements.

Cometa is testing its service with fast-food chain McDonald's.

Waryas said Cometa needs to move fast, as the market is getting crowded with operators looking for the best locations.

And John Yunker, with research company Pyramid Research, would seem to agree. "It's a step in the right direction, albeit a baby step," he said.

Network operators are expected to install more than 55,000 new hot spots in the United States over the next five years, adding to the 4,200 locations in place as of the end of 2002, according to IDC.