Tim Hortons toasts Bell for free Wi-Fi service

More than one group of people will benefit from Tim Hortons’ decision to offer free Wi-Fi in 2,000 of its Canadian coffee shops.

Of course there will be the customers, who will be able to check their email while chugging espressos. But for the next couple of months there will also be technicians who be contracted by BCE Inc. to do the installation of access points between now and the fall.

“We’ll be helping a lot of employment in the country,” said Nauby Jacob, Bell Mobility’s vice-president of services, products and content.

The doughnut chain said Thursday that Bell Mobility was chosen recently to be the wireless contractor after a six-month test of providers.

They were competing for a request for proposals issued last year to make Tim Horton’s competitive with Starbucks, which has been offering Wi-Fi since 2010 – also with Bell as the systems integrator. It is also the provider at a number of McDonald’s and Indigo book store.

A spokesperson for Tim Hortons couldn’t be reached to explain why Bell was chosen. But Jacob said that Bell’s ability to be flexible on wireless equipment and its promise to do the work quickly across the country were factors.

Jacob said that for similar deployments it has used access points from Aruba Networks, but the telco will use the best access points suited for each Tim Horton’s location.

It isn’t clear if the contract specifies that Bell will be the broadband provider for the access points. Jacob noted the announcement only deals with Wi-Fi. However, he did say that “Bell wireline deployment is very much an integral part of the network deployment.”

Wi-Fi is important part of Bell’s overall telecommunications strategy, he said. Bell wants the maximum number of Canadians to have access to its broadband networks, with Wi-Fi as gateway.

So it looks for partners who have “intimate” connections with customers who come back to the same locations.

Bell is providing more than installing hardware, he added. The solution for Tim Horton’s also has to deal picking equipment to deal with possible interference from nearby Wi-Fi transmitters and the chain’s Internet log-in requirements.

Tim Hortons has some 3,315 outlets across Canada, but that includes many kiosks in malls, hospitals and airports. Wi-Fi will be going into stores.

According to a statement, the chain wants to have 90 per cent of the 2,000 coffee shops wired by the beginning of September.

“It’s all about convenience and making life easier for our guests,” Roland Walton, the chain’s chief operations officer said in the statement. “Free wireless Internet at Tim Hortons will help people stay connected on the road in more locations than anyone in Canada and is yet another great reason to visit one of our restaurants to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee.”

An increasing number of Canadian retailers and restaurants are offering Wi-Fi as a service to lure customers, although it isn’t as common here as it is in the U.S. Wireless carriers see it as a possible profitable business, and also as a way to take traffic off their cellular networks and ease congestion. Many cellular devices also have Wi-Fi connectivity and can be set up to switch to Wi-Fi if available.

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