Starbucks Offers Free Slow WiFi

Now that every Tom Dick and Harry knows about it and has jumped on, the free wifi at Starbucks has now, not particularly surprisingly, become the free slow wifi at Starbucks.

When I paid for the Starbucks in the wifi in the past it seemed to be functional, but informal tests conducted by this reporter at three different Manhattan Starbucks this afternoon between 42nd st and 30th st and found the service to be pretty laggy and barely usable, with slow page loads and general slothfulness.

At each of the three locations I made sure to do my part to undermine the future viability of the free wfii system by not buying a single item from Starbucks.

However, recently when I used the wifi at a Starbucks located in the 120s at Malcom X Boulevard, there were no speed problems, probably because there was only one other person with a laptop there and nobody in line banging on a smartphone.

I guess the secret to using Starbucks free wifi is to only go to Starbucks in poor neighborhoods.


Edit Your Comment

  1. nitroburn says:

    Free wifi in Starbucks is a great way to steal peoples information.

    Setup a clone AP that bridges on to the real network.
    Sit in the coffee shop so your signal is stronger then the real access point.
    Intercept login traffic.

    • steve6534 says:

      Or just run kismet on a laptop and intercept all traffic without the need for an additional AP

    • chrisdag says:

      The only flaw in your plan is that there is no login process now that WiFi is free. There is a web intercept to a splash page where you accept the terms of service and after that you are in.

      • hansolo247 says:

        but if you run an AP, your lappy would have already accepted the TOS.

        those that connect to the fake, stronger AP only the lappy won’t have a TOS page…and that ain’t gonna raise an alarm.

        The plan is sound.

        • zjgz says:

          I don’t think anyone would really notice

        • endless says:

          you dont seem to realise how many people get fooled by fake anti virus.

          having worked in PC repair, i have met a few dozen people who have PAID for fake AV after it infected their PCs.

          no splash screen is NOT a problem. and if it was? figure out a way to fake that…

      • IphtashuFitz says:

        @chrisdag – He doesn’t mean stealing the credentials for accessing the Starbucks wifi. He means stealing other credentials, like if you log into your Gmail account, your Yahoo account, etc. Stealing credentials for any non-SSL website would be trivial.

    • rbleader says:

      I’m sure he means login traffic as in logging into forums, email services, etc. (remember, gmail recently made its encrypted login as default. Before that, anyone with a packet sniffer could get unencrypted gmail login credentials)

    • Pencreus says:

      “I guess the secret to using Starbucks free wifi is to only go to Starbucks in poor neighborhoods.” Oh cause we can’t afford laptops and smartphones with wifi… why would would we poor want coffee. Smooth.

      • muffingal says:

        I thought Starbucks were only in fancy neighborhoods. The only Starbucks in The Bronx is in the Riverdale section! (I don’t count the one in Target!) This poor Bronxite prefers Panera Bread’s free Wifi!

    • common_sense84 says:

      This is dumb. People will notice the two APs and then you have to be transmitting.

      What a smart person would do is just sniff the traffic that is not encrypted.

  2. ChemicalFyre says:

    Too many people downloading free samples of their elevator music?

  3. rahntwo says:

    It only seems slow because the overdose of caffeine is messing with your sense of time.

  4. DowneMixedBoi says:

    Yeah, My T-Mobile edge on my iPhone was much faster than the wifi connection Starbucks was offering.

    It’s free. Can’t complain. If you don’t like it. Don’t use it.

    • jaybeebrad says:

      It’s free with purchase, meaning it may be an incentive to MAKE a purchase, and if you’ve made a purchase counting on it being functional and it isn’t…

  5. Bernardo says:

    Yea…. But then you would have to go to the starbucks in the poor places…. Totally not worth it. I lived in the south bronx, ive traveled to harlem lots, and Ive been to the ones that have in places where smart people wouldnt stop and trust me, its almost never worth it. I
    thought they closed those down by now?
    The staff almost never seems to care about “working”, your order will be postponed for texts and friends who walk in the door, and they will tell you to “Holdonamin” as they answer thier cells mid order. I dont want internet that bad… Dont even get me started on the quality of the coffee they seem to make worse. O and asking to give you a different cup of coffe after watching them mess it up in front of you is asking for a fist fight.

    • tbax929 says:

      I had a hard time deciphering your comment. I hope you don’t think you’re one of the smart people to whom you refer in your post.

      Was that even English?

      • MMD says:

        The poor writing almost disguised his snobbishness and prejudices. Almost.

        • blueduckconsumerist says:

          *I’m* not snobby *or* prejudiced. I also live in New York, and the service just about everywhere is terrible.

        • Bernardo says:

          Im not snobbish or prejudice I’m just a guy who was raised in the south bronx who was able to see the difference first hand. Go to a starbucks on 34th and go to one in pelham bay and your gonna notice it. Its a shame but there really isnt good management there and if there are good workers your gonna notices they dont last long as even they get sick of it and move on. I love how ultra touchy people can get online.

    • Caprica Six says:

      Oh no he did’ent…..

  6. chrisdag says:

    Or perhaps an alternative answer might involve testing more than once in a single afternoon.

  7. dreamfish says:

    “When I paid for the Starbucks in the wifi in the past it seemed to be functional…”

    I can’t seem to parse that sentence. Does he mean he bought some wifi time separately? I thought you got access free when you bought a coffee.

    • marillion says:

      Nope.. pay per play.. I think you could wrack up wifi access depending on the amount of coffee you purchase over time.. I think.

      • MMD says:

        Not even close.

        You used to get free wifi if you had a registered Starbucks card and made a purchase with it periodically – at least 30 days, I believe.

        • ChuckECheese says:

          And even earlier, in the before time, you could only access WiFi at Starbucks if you paid money for a subscription.

  8. LACubsFan says:

    The douche factor in most Starbucks is so off the chart I refuse to step foot in there.

    Let’s focus on those douche nozzles who can only “write” or do work while other people are watching, and usually they are talking extra loud on the phone trying to impress people with movie industry terms, or day trading for millions of dollars wearing wrinkled clothes from A&F and wearing flip flops….and you just want to walk up and grab the phone or the blue tooth and smash it to the floor, punch them in the face, break their laptop and scream in their ears at loud as possible. YOU ARE NOT A BIG SHOT!!!! IF YOU REALLY WERE A BIG SHOT MILLIONAIRE YOU WOULDN’T BE DRESSED LIKE AN A-HOLE USING FREE WIFI, STREAMING PANDORA AND TALKING LOUDLY TO YOUR “AGENT” OR SOMEONE YOU HAVE CALLED “DUDE OR BRO” AT LEAST 30 TIMES. YOU WOULD HAVE AN OFFICE SOMEWHERE OR A NICE HOUSE WITH FAST INTERNET AND A BETTER VIEW!!!!

    Whew…. what a load off :)

    • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

      This applies to places without wi-fi too. Pasty sweaty hip-hop agent dining alone at R.Thomas, I’m lookin’ at you.

    • Randell says:

      Hmm, seems you spend an awful lot of time at Starbucks. I guress that make syou king of the douchebags

    • bennilynn says:

      I’ll freely admit, I go to coffee shops to write.

      There are too many distractions at home and I like having something to drink while I’m working, so the library is out. I do sincerely apologize if my finding a quiet corner to indulge in my hobby at my neighborhood coffee shop is so offensive to your sensibilities. I’ll try to enjoy myself somewhere you can’t see so you can stew in bitterness in peace.

      Although, I have to admit, when I am trying to work, I do get annoyed by all the people talking loudly on cell phones. I guess it’s because you don’t get any feedback when you’re talking into a cell phone like you do on a land line that you end up talking way louder than is necessary. Honestly, other than that, I hardly ever see anyone being disruptive.

    • MMD says:

      And this has what to do with the article?

    • bdgbill says:

      I use my laptop at Starbucks and I don’t think I’m trying to fool anyone into thinking I’m writing the Next Great American Novel. I used to use Starbucks as a place to study when i had roommates and now I often drop in when I’m traveling to answer some email. Often, I would rather sit in Starbucks than a Kinkos or my hotel room.

      You seem to be threatened by people using laptops in your presence. Would be similarly enraged if they were all reading books and newspapers?

  9. azntg says:

    Or how about going to a Starbucks that’s in a relatively wealthy location, but is out of the way for most people? (e.g.: The world doesn’t start and end in Manhattan)

    • Humward says:

      Well, yeah, I mean…there’s Brooklyn, but that’s really far away. And I’ve heard of something called “New Jersey,” but I don’t think anyone actually lives there — I think it’s some kind of sewage treatment plant or something.

      Oh, yeah, and there’s L.A. — is that what you’re talking about? Are the Starbucks there less crowded? That seems like an awfully long way to go just to get good wifi.

  10. twophrasebark says:

    So… it’s free and people are expecting… what exactly?

    Methinks Starbucks can do no right for some people.

    • UltimateOutsider says:

      The reason it’s worth mentioning is that if regular customers used to go to Starbucks specifically for their usable paid WiFi, they may no longer return now that they have crappy free WiFi. If that happens, it will turn out to be a dumb move on their part, as other consumers who learn how cruddy it is begin to avoid Starbucks as well.

  11. gmacek says:

    Why should this be a surprise? Something’s free, more people are now using it and the same bandwidth that was there for people who had wifi accounts is spread a little more thin. I doubt Starbucks was planning to upgrade all their store Internet connections after making their service free. The more people I see in a coffee shop with free wifi, the more I expect it to be slow because it’s apparently a good idea to stream Hulu from there vs. my own house.

    I think we all need to reset expectations. :)

  12. mrscoach says:

    I was apartment hunting Tuesday, and needed to get online to look something up. Being out of town I had no computer access so headed to SB to try. My daughter was “dieing” for an iced latte or something anyway.

    No one in the place could get onto the internet. The store employees didn’t know what was wrong, either. Slow access would have been better than no access. Oh, well.

    • crashman2600 says:

      Probably an outage on the ISP that services their location. I am sure they just have a cable modem or DSL connection which just like your home connection is subject to outages.

      • jurupa says:

        Or the wifi router got overloaded with to many connections or the wifi router they where using was bugged. ISP outages are not exactly common.

  13. litrock says:

    Should have ran speed test. I’m curious what the definition of ‘slow’ is here.

  14. polizzi82 says:

    Panera’s been like that, too. I was so happy to finally remember to bring my laptop in for coffee. The internet was very slow. I look around, seeing the dozens of other people with their laptops and then realized why. You get what you pay for and sharing a DSL line with more than a couple active users and you’ll feel it.

  15. farker says:

    Solution: T-Mobile SIM card (Free from website) + $55 used T-Mobile 3G USB modem + $40/month unlimited plan w/ no contract = Broadband internet during months I travel, no pesky fees when I don’t and no searching for a WiFi hotspot.

  16. Atsumi says:

    Aww… I read “Ben Popken” and thought this topic was about Pokemon.

    I think the Starbucks in Columbia, MO would be empty enough for me to enjoy some tea and read my email.

  17. guroth says:

    According to the cheerios website there are 14 servings in each box. I would say that a serving of cereal every day is a bit excessive, but 5 days out of the week would be more on par. 52 weeks in a year would come out to 260 servings, or 18.5 boxes of cereal.

    I agree that 12 boxes is too little. I think that 18 to 24 boxes would qualify for a years supply (for one person)

  18. enomosiki says:

    Based on the title and tone of the article, the writer is obviously trying to proclaim that he has managed to accomplish something of galatic proportion by testing the WiFi speeds from two stores out in the worst possible location in terms of population density and another within spitting range of the ghetto, and that Starbucks offers slow WiFi in general.

    Big. Fucking. Deal. It’s free. You don’t have to pay for it. If you don’t like it, get the hell out and pay for faster access.

    I thought it was funny and amusing enough at the same time to see idiots hanging out in front of the store past closing time trying to get signal. The “reporter” is most likely going through a manperiod of the month, and is whining about something that he isn’t obligated to use or pay for.

  19. mariusvinchi says:

    Very true! I just visited a Starbucks in the Lima airport and whenever more than 4 people logged onto their WIFI, it came to a virtual standstill. Worse yet, the network had a habit of disconnecting users frequently. Regardless of proximity to the Cisco router as others have stated….

  20. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    Wow, who woulda thunk this? Let me guess: typical Starbucks location has 10Mbits down/1Mbit up available for Wifi. 50 people now realizing it’s free all gather around with their laptops/iPhones/iPads/etc. trying to leech it. 10Mbits/50 = 200kBits. Heads scratch in total amazement as to why internet access is so slow. Now finding lawyers to sue Starbucks for inadequate internet access – hell, they can get sued for some clumsy woman spilling her hot tea on her baby, so why not sue them for this?

    • ChemicalFyre says:

      I’d be very suprised if every starbucks location was paying for a true 10Mbit line. Thats insane.

    • pot_roast says:

      “Let me guess: typical Starbucks location has 10Mbits down/1Mbit up available for Wifi.”

      No. It has a T1. 1.5mbit up/down. This has been true of every single location that I have ever visited. Yes, I have run a speed test each time. Never seen any faster than 1.5mbit.

  21. gman863 says:

    I have never had a “free” Wi-Fi connection anywhere near the speed of my home Wi-Fi.

    Most free Wi-Fi is 802.11b (a max. potential speed of 11MB/s). Compare this to “g” (54MB/s) or the current standard of “n” (300MB/s). The key word is “potential” – actual speeds are usually much lower.

    Translation for non-geeks: Coffee Shops, Motels and other places with free Wi-Fi provide it for checking e-mail and light web surfing. They don’t want the copyright Nazis suing them because someone downloaded pirated music or movies while sipping latte.

  22. moofie says:

    This thing that doesn’t cost me anything isn’t good enough!

  23. jeblis says:

    You get what you pay for.

  24. thrillhouse says:

    Often the connection is slow simply because the store’s router is being used as a DNS server, and it is the thing being overloaded rather than the bandwidth.

    If you configure your laptop to use a static DNS server — eg, opendns — you can often bypass that bottleneck and may be pleasantly surprised.

  25. YdoUthinkURright says:

    What a jerk. That’s it. Does it have to be explained?

  26. Dyscord says:

    This just in! Too many people using a free wifi network can slow it down significantly! Details at 11!

  27. TPA says:

    Chances are that many of these Starbucks locations only have lowly T1 lines (1.5Mbps). Their infrastructure was probably built for their subscription model. Despite what most people think, you’d be surprised how little bandwidth people actually need. A single 8Mbps cable modem connection is often enough to cover a 200+ room hotel, providing the provider doesn’t mess with the bandwidth.

  28. Blious says:

    I think it may have to do with that store

    I have been to several of my local Starbucks and the Wifi is solid speed wise

  29. jaybeebrad says:

    I’m not surprised that the majority of responses put emphasis on the fact that it’s a “free” service and thus whining/complaining isn’t justified, which is nonsense. Companies offer “free” services as an incentive for you to come in and pay them money for their other goods and services. As such you have every right as a paying customer to complain if they don’t work properly or to a reasonably expected standard.

    I went into Starbucks at fourth and South streets in Philadelphia on the evening of July 4th this year hoping to go upstairs and chill in their lounge area with a coffee and may laptop, and I can’t speak for other locations, but at this one even *attempting* to bother with their internet was a waste of time. Once their greeting page loaded, I could not get a single other page (google even) to fully load. I actually did try to run a speed test, but again – couldn’t even get it to load up.

  30. pot_roast says:

    I have also noticed this, but it’s nothing new. I think this will be the sort of thing that causes problems down the line. Even in our nearby rarely crowded Starbucks location, my wife and I couldn’t find a table because of the laptop surfers. One very obviously had torrents going. Only one actually had a drink. The rest were basically just loitering at that point.