(Mashable) -- Starting July 1, Starbucks will offer free Wi-Fi nationwide, with no registration or account required. Even better, Wi-Fi will not be time limited.
Starbucks joins an increasing list of brands and chains to offer free Wi-Fi in its stores. For example, last December, McDonald's rolled out free Wi-Fi to nearly all of its restaurants across the country. Panera Bread also offers a similar program.
McDonald's and Starbucks both have partnerships with AT&T, which, while often criticized for the quality of its wireless data network, is one of the largest Wi-Fi hotspot providers in the United States.
Starbucks was one of the first chains to offer Wi-Fi access to its patrons, first via an agreement with T-Mobile and then with AT&T. Starbucks visitors have been able to enjoy up to two hours of free Wi-Fi from their favorite coffee house, provided they are either an AT&T customer or they use a Starbucks Card to login.
The new program will do away with any sort of registration, which will make those of us who always forget either our AT&T account information or can't find our Starbucks cards extremely happy.
In addition to the new free Wi-Fi program, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told Wired's Chris Anderson that the company is also planning on rolling out a new Starbucks Digital Network in partnership with Yahoo later this fall.
This network, which will only be accessible in U.S. company-operated stores, will offer customers free and unrestricted access to paid sites and services like WSJ.com and other content providers on their phones, tablets or laptops.
Bringing the Starbucks Experience Online
We spoke with Stephen Gillett, CIO, EVP and GM of Digital Ventures at Starbucks about the new plan for free Wi-Fi and the Starbucks Digital Network. According to Gillett, the goal is to bring the overall Starbucks in-store experience online.
The first step is in providing an overall better online experience. This is where one-click logon comes into play, as well as the ability to connect with your device, be it a laptop or phone or iPad. The second part is the branded Starbucks online experience.
Rather than just trying to create an aggregated portal of sources, Starbucks will be bringing quality content that is usually behind a pay wall to customers to access for free while in Starbucks stores. Different categories, like business news, lifestyle, music, entertainment, etc. will provide access to different content.
This means that you can visit the Wall Street Journal uninhibited, as well as Zagat and also get local content from services like Foursquare pulled into your default Starbucks page.
Furthermore, stuff like the Starbucks "Pick of the Week" iTunes promotion can now be integrated online, meaning that you can download the free weekly track from your iPhone or iPad or laptop, instead of having to use the cards with the redeem codes. The physical cards will still be available but for connected visitors, this is an easier way to access free content.
The opportunity for premium service providers is that by offering free content to users while they are at Starbucks, they are potentially gaining new customers. A user might find they really enjoy some of the pay Wall Street Journal content and look at subscribing at home, for example.
More and more providers will be announced as the launch date gets closer and Starbucks is committed to finding the best pay wall content it can bring to its audience.
What do you think of Starbucks new free Wi-Fi plan and the content deals? Let us know in the comments.
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