ACCESSING THE ETHER
High-speed wireless Internet service allows travelers at airports to stay connnected
John Boyce, Contributing Editor
AUSTIN, TX - There appears to be consensus among those familiar with the technology that high-speed wireless access to the Internet is a no-lose proposition for airports interested in providing it for their travelers.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA), the country's newest airport, recently became the first major commercial airport in the U.S. to provide wireless Internet access throughout its entire terminal. That is, the traveler can simply open a laptop computer anywhere in the terminal, slide in a special Ethernet card, and have access to the Internet, e-mail, and corporate networks - all without having to find an electrical plug.
"It's a blossoming technology that makes perfect sense for Austin," says Jamy Kazanoff, marketing and information director for ABIA, which serves a booming high-tech business community.
"Our sophisticated business travelers can stay connected while they're in the airport. From a practical, operational point of view, we don't have to worry about running out of (electrical) plugs. The entire 600,000-square foot building becomes a virtual office. It makes very good sense to offer this passenger service."
Wayport, Inc., an Austin-based company, installed the technology at ABIA and has five other airports under contract (DFW, JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, and Sea-Tac), and letters of intent from several others. At present, the company is the only one installing wireless technology in airport terminals.
However, Mobile Star, a Dallas competitor has, like Wayport, been installing similar technology in hotels and has a contract to install it in American Airlines VIP lounges at ABIA and other airports.
"It's a radio frequency technology," explains Janice Schroer, senior director of marketing and industry relations for Wayport. "There are two little lights on it (Ethernet card) just like a remote control on the TV. Then in the ceiling (of the terminal) are the access points and those are polling all the time, looking for those little lights. That's the way it communicates. "The access points are 300 to 600 feet apart, depending on what it has to go through. We put up enough of them so that the entire airport has coverage. Then, those are connected to a local area network and that's connected to the big T1 line which provides the fast communication to the Internet."
The speed of the wireless access is 50 times modem and 200 times cellular speed.
VARIOUS FINANCIAL MODELS
Wayport executives approached the City of Austin's Department of Avi-ation some three years ago and made a presentation about wireless Internet access for the new airport, which was under construction at the time.
"They made some presentations of technologies for the future that would be beneficial," says Charles Gates, the Department of Aviation's director of finance and administration. "When the airport opened last May (1999), some of their marketing folks made presentations (about wireless Internet service) and we thought it was something that would be beneficial to the travelers."
It's too early for numbers, but Kazanoff is optimistic about Wayport's success at ABIA.
"The customer feedback has been very positive," she says. "But the real proof of the pudding is how well they do with their subscriptions. I realize that airports are a secondary market (to hotels). I also realize that the more facilities that are hooked up the more this will grow and grow and grow and become even more convenient."
According the Schroer, Wayport has various financial models, depending on the negotiations with a particular airport. "First off," she says, "we pay for everything so there is no investment on their part. That allows them to offer a service to their passengers that is needed. The other part is that there is always some remuneration we give to the airport. But it varies. Sometimes it's a flat fee like it is in Austin on a per year basis. Other times it's on passenger deplanements. Others, it's on a per use basis.
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