BlackBerry and iPhone users get free Wi-Fi at Starbucks


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The iPhone and BlackBerry have created a class of know-it-alls who can prove their point about anything, be it geography, history or cooties, thanks to their mobile Internet connections. But the rest of us had refuge: Sometimes, they were out of range of a quick cell network.

Now, know-it-alls have even more places that they’ll be able to access the Internet to prove their point. AT&T today said it would offer free Wi-Fi in 17,000 hot spots around the country, including Starbucks and Barnes & Noble, to its subscribers who use iPhones and Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerry handsets. Just what you need: more know-it-alls in Starbucks.


You might be wondering: Many iPhone users already have access to a 3G network -- why do they need Wi-Fi? But Wi-Fi is generally faster. Plus, AT&T spokeswoman Katie Farnham said connecting to a Wi-Fi network instead of a cell site could save battery life. AT&T calls its Wi-Fi network ‘the nation’s largest.’

What’s more, many areas still can’t connect to the 3G network, said Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy at Jupiter media. ‘It is a nice way to amortize the cost by adding some new functionality,’ he said.

But the service, which AT&T had previously announced twice before immediately and inexplicably shutting it down, is no game-changer in the wireless market. After all, T-Mobile offers its subscribers access to Wi-Fi in lots of locations too, and that hasn’t brought in crowds of customers.

AT&T also said today it’s expanding the Napster Mobile music service to more handsets, which it says was made possible by less restrictive digital rights management requirements from record labels. However, since they’re know-it alls, many AT&T customers, and especially iPhone users, probably know there are lots more ways than Napster to get music on your phone. You can even even jiggle your iPhone to a beat, and, like a DJ, make your own tunes.

-- Alana Semuels