By Jodi Prill, Associate Editor
Minneapolis/St. Paul and San Jose international airports have implemented public access wireless Internet systems. Operating under different business models, both airports have seen benefits to passengers and anticipate usage will only grow.
Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP) introduced wireless in March 2002. According to Brian Peters, assistant manager of airline affairs, Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC), 75 percent of the public gate areas are wireless equipped. "We're hoping to have 100 percent of gates covered by next summer," he adds. The process was long and arduous, and Peters doesn't think the full benefits of the system have been reaped, but the airport is on the leading edge. MAC started the RFP process in December 2000, recognizing wireless service could be a benefit to the passengers, as well as, down the road, additional revenue for the airport. Concourse Communications Group eventually won the bid to be a neutral host provider, meaning the wireless
"In my mind, what is dependent on the service really taking off is the passenger being able to get access on both ends of the trip."
Brian Peters, MAC
system is managed through one company and Internet service is provided through one or more other companies. "It was our desire to have one system, essentially one cable running up and through the concourses that was able to accommodate all providers." Peters says. "We didn't want to have one company come in with an installation, and then another company with another installation." According to the contract MAC has with the neutral host provider, "Concourse Communications Group is responsible for all the costs associated with installing and operating the network, and the airport essentially is not bearing any of that responsibility," Peters explains. "However, Concourse was given access to a preexisting fiber optic backbone MAC installed [at a cost of $1.3 million] for general airport uses prior to the wireless RFP. "We then share revenue that Concourse generates on a 30-70 percent split, in favor of Concourse."
Customers are charged $7.95 per day for unlimited daily logon. That payment is collected by the ISP (Internet service provider), InfoTouch. Peters says one long-term goal of the system is to allow customers to choose from a range of ISPs. "Eventually, once [wireless] grows and becomes more prominent, throughout not only our airport but other airports throughout the country, you will be able to access other providers once Concourse reaches agreements with other wireless ISPs. To date, there haven't been any other agreements set up." Currently, passengers are the only customers of the wireless system. However, Peters says the infrastructure is designed to accommodate use by airlines and other tenants of the airport. "The only thing that will have to happen is we'll have to put some more access points within the airline and concessions' operations areas. Right now, they don't have coverage."
Airport tenants could use the wireless system for communications and daily operations. It could also serve as an additional way for concessionaires to reach customers, by including announcements or special offers on the airport's website. So far the airlines have not shown an interest in utilizing the wireless network. Northwest Airlines, MSP's hub carrier, has had its own wireless network installed for some two years. "[Northwest] would be … the most likely user of [the airport's] system, but since they already have their own, they don't need access. And the others - I don't know if it's on their radar screens yet, but eventually, when it is, it will be there for them so they don't have to go through and invest dollars to implement their own systems."
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