Burger-surfing: McDonalds announces "biggest WiFi move yet" in Chicago

by Guy Kewney | posted on 13 August 2003

A hundred McDonalds burger shops in the "Chicagoland" and Milwaukee areas are going WiFi, which is the biggest American hotspot announcement by the Golden Arches so far. This is a major change of image for the group.

Guy Kewney

Back in July, the group revealed that it was opening 70 hotspot locations in San Francisco and the Bay area. Before that, it did a New York opening. Is the group really going to shed its image as a playground for toddlers?

In Chicago, McDonald's is working with Toshiba's Computer Systems Group and Intel Corporation to provide the service.

For anybody else, this would be simply a way to attract customers. For McDonalds, it can't be anything so trivial: "This is a high-tech blend of innovation and convenience that will tell our customers McDonald's is going to be a part of their world," said Phil Gray, McDonald's central division vice president.

And then, just to make sure we understand that he is another corporate American who doesn't know what "literal" means, he added: "We are literally connecting to the relevancy and immediacy of today's busy American way of life." What this really means, however, is that the quick-food outlet is trying to attract business users.

Exactly what Intel has done - besides "verifying" the McDonalds network (it's compatible with Intel Centrino wireless, is what that means) - is hard to tell. There is a "joint marketing agreement" between Toshiba, McDonalds, and Intel, so it looks as if Intel is putting money into it from its Centrino partner programme.

The promotion involves hardware, as well as free online time. Starting today, customers are offered free one-hour access with the purchase of an extra value meal or a premium salad. Prize giveaways such as Toshiba notebook computers and Pocket PCs will also be part of an on-line promotion. Prices throughout Chicago and Milwaukee for the wireless services are $4.95 for a one-hour connection and $7.95 for up to 24 hours. At McDonald's, 7- and 30-day connection plans are also available. The promotion ends on September 28.

Toshiba's SurfHere high-speed wireless Internet access service "is the key piece of the Chicago area McDonald's wireless program," said the announcement.

More information about locations for burger-surfing from its new wireless web site - which shows (two) locations in Canada as well. It includes "cookies" such as "Mount Washington, home to the worst weather in the USA, has a direct WiFi link to the MtWashington Observatory to assist in weather tracking via webcams" and other homespun wisdom.

Still no mention of plans to unwire Europe, and nothing about the existing WiFi network that McDonalds has in Japan, either, on that site.

A reader pointed out on our discussion area: "My wife's an 'education advisor' who a while back did some work with McD's. At the time, they were frantic to try and break away from the 'screaming kiddies and their parents' image, and trying to break into almost ANY other demographic market."

This reader says that his local franchise runs a "McWrinklies" (except that's not what they call it to their customers!) breakfast on Wednesdays, when they're jammed full of pensioners.

His analysis: "McD's have been on the slide for a while - decreasing overall revenues from an increasing number of outlets - and made their first ever worldwide loss in Q1 2003. They're trying anything and everything to reverse the downwards trend - 'regional' menus (in Paris last summer I stood behind an American family furious that only a 'French-style' breakfast of assorted patisserie and coffee was on offer). They've tried McPizzas, McFried Chicken ... WiFi hotspots seem one of their more sensible moves."

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