Gigabit fiber service is the newest wave of technological ingenuity to directly affect consumers, and major cities across the country are signing up for their chances to receive service or else making dark fiber networks of their own. However, for people in developed, but still underserved, areas there is no reason they cannot begin to enjoy fast service for free.
It seems improbable at first, but free or extremely cheap service is just around the corner for many American consumers. A recent report at Fool.com notes that services like Google (News - Alert) Fiber are not yet available in all U.S. cities; however, when one takes into account the partnerships Google has made with local businesses, millions of people can receive free or low-cost Wi-Fi.
For just the price of a drink, many Starbucks customers can enjoy gigabit broadband at their local cafes. Google announced last summer that it had entered into a partnership with Starbucks to replace the global coffee chain's then-current AT&T (News - Alert) service with that of Google Fiber. Fool.com notes that people regularly use its Wi-Fi for more than just pleasure—it is a popular place to complete research, catch up on some late-night studying, or check in with business contacts while on the go.
Consumers are even benefiting from service that may be better than once expected. Speedspot.org recently conducted a survey of more than 650 Starbucks locations and showed that the Google service bests previous download ratings at up to 18x and upload speeds at up to 6x.
Starbucks may have the ticket to fast speeds at many of its locations—it is still rolling out Google Fiber across the U.S. However, it is not the only business that provides free Wi-Fi for customers. Notable other companies that provide broadband access include McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, Panera Bread, Best Buy (News - Alert), Subway, Chick-Fil-A, and Applebee's. All those brands, Fool.com says, have at least 1,000 locations with free Wi-Fi, and several have a reported tens of thousands in the U.S. and globally.
One big takeaway that other Wi-Fi-providing businesses may learn from Google's relationship with Starbucks is that speed can win customers. For users seeking fast download speeds, they may change their eating and shopping habits to include businesses that provide the best Wi-Fi services, and that could leave some businesses behind if they do not upgrade their own speeds to match that of competitors.
Not everyone needs Gigabit services while waiting in line for a cup of coffee. Many people, though, want to be able to access the Internet, even for the few minutes they are waiting for orders or during lunch breaks. If their experiences with using Wi-Fi are unsatisfactory, companies can bet that those poor experiences will color customers' overall impressions about what they had for lunch or the products they purchased.
Google is definitely changing the landscape of Wi-Fi provision by nudging AT&T out of the way. It obviously offered Starbucks a deal that benefited its locations and the customers that visit those locations. Now, the consequences of that move may pressure other businesses to keep up and keep offering customers more for free.
Edited by Maurice Nagle