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...

"In my mind, what is dependent on the service really taking off is the passenger being able to get access on both ends of a trip." - Brian Peters, MAC

According to Peters, the airport's system and Northwest's system have not experienced any problems with interference. "Everything was set up knowing where their system is, specifically so it would not interfere."

Peters says some 25 people per day log on to the airport's wireless Internet. This is much lower than the airport, neutral host, and ISP would like. "We're hoping to increase that number by eventually covering 100 percent of the terminal, and by some more aggressive in-terminal promotions." Marketing tied to the wireless Internet features some 75 signs above airport directories located throughout the terminal. Peters says the airport also features service centers with promotions to help raise awareness. He expects the airport will come out with other, more creative ways of promoting the service in the near future. Another reason for low usage, Peters says, is the relative low overall number of wireless users. "We expect that as more and more airports introduce the service, then we will probably see an increase in usage … In my mind, what is dependent on the service really taking off is the passenger being able to get access on both ends of a trip." Through a customer satisfaction survey, Peters reports that many passengers would prefer to connect through MSP knowing that wireless Internet access is available. Peters says the airport hasn't seen any significant amount of revenue from the system, and doesn't expect to for another year or so. "The amount of wireless users is growing every day, and as that number of users grows and it becomes more popular, then I think it will become more of a revenue generator for the airport."


Charless Felix, SJC

San Jose International Airport took a different route in bringing WiFi access to the airport. According to Charles Felix, information systems manager, the airport is operating under a model where, "we allow basically any provider to come in and we negotiate an agreement with them for access

to the airport site." Wayport, a wireless provider, demonstrated interest in installing a wireless system a few years ago. "Wayport came to the airport, and of course, being in Silicon Valley, we very much wanted to be able to provide that service to our customers," Felix says. Other wireless providers followed Wayport, including T-Mobile, and private installations for airport and airline use. Felix says that so far, the airport hasn't had any reports of interference among the systems, but for this reason, he says a neutral host model is something the airport will be considering in the future. Especially if a ballot initiative, up for vote in March, is passed that approves a new terminal building. "We see this as a growing technology, one where more and more providers will want to come in and we see that as a problem if we do not control the architecture of the wireless system," he says.

Felix explains that when a passenger turns on his or her laptop, he or she will primarily be served by Wayport. T-Mobile service is available in the American Airlines lounge areas, but the company is currently negotiating with the city to expand the system to become terminal-wide. "Depending on the operating system that the user has, the new operating systems like XP will recognize the different [provider options] and present the user with a choice as to which they want to connect to." The airport has also jumped on the wireless train. It currently has a private installation that is not available to general users in the airport. Felix says the secure system is used primarily for training labs.

Beyond Public Wireless Internet Access

At the recent Wireless Airports Association Conference and Exposition, discussion included the benefits of wireless for airline and security applications.

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