Accessing the Ether

ACCESSING THE ETHER High-speed wireless Internet service allows travelers at airports to stay connnected John Boyce, Contributing Editor August 2000 AUSTIN, TX - There appears to be consensus among those familiar with the...

"So we have a flexible financial model to meet the needs and interests of a particular airport."

For the first year, ABIA receives a fee of $25,000. The airport also receives $3,000 per month for three months for each of two manned promotional Wayport kiosks in the terminal. The kiosks are designed to introduce travelers to Wayport and its technology and sign up members.

ABIA chose the flat fee model rather than sharing in membership revenue because `"I guess we were looking at the future," Gates says. "If they continue to have kiosks with a staff person, then we would look at the possibility of doing that. As the contract was negotiated with our attorneys and communications folks, everyone thought with a new technology it was better to go with the one-time fee.

"I gather after the first year of usage we can get reports from Wayport about how much or how many hits occurred here at the airport. That may be a way of participating in those hits or usage as a separate fee."

Gates adds, pertaining to the three month kiosks contract, "We said that, if they (Wayport) wanted to extend longer than three months, at that time we would enter into negotiations to see what percentage of revenue we, as an airport, may be able to receive."

The contracts Wayport enters into with airports are non-exclusive, meaning that companies with similar technology can install their systems after negotiating with the airports.

Wayport is "clearly going after the major airports first," says Schroer, "but if a regional airport approaches us and the financial model is such that we can provide service to that airport and still make money, we will. But the reason we're going after the majors first is because, behind all this ... our hotels and airports are our distribution units to get to the traveler.

"We're selling membership so that they can buy individual connects or a bundle of connects and they can use that at Wayport airports and hotels."

The Ethernet card costs from $99 to $150, depending on whose card is purchased. Wayport currently has a special promotion on connections. Until Jan. 1, 2001, new members can get 50 free connections with an agreement to buy at least 10 connections.

Each connection will cost $3.50.

"It's not a per minute cost," Schroer says. "It's not the cell phone model. When you are at a certain location you can sign on and sign off as many times as you like until midnight and that's one connect. When you change locations, it becomes a second connect. It's very reasonable."

Because it is a new airport, ABIA was equipped with the cable infrastructure to accommodate the "pods" or access points needed to make wireless Internet access a working reality. In fact, installing Wayport's technology in Austin took a day to complete. That won't be the case for other, older, airports.

"At other airports," Schroer says, "it's a little more difficult to install. Austin had already put in the most sophisticated fibre and cabling. We didn't have to run any wires, we could just run across their infrastructure. Most other airports it's a little more complicated. For instance, we're installing D/FW and that's probably a 90-day installation."

However, Schroer says, the work needed to install the infrastructure is not disruptive to the operation of the airport.

"There's not any disruption to the terminal as far as the passengers are concerned," she says. "Of course, there is some management and coordination that has to occur with the airport workers, which was almost nil in Austin. It's another vendor they have to manage but most of the airports have been incredibly responsive to it, recognizing that it's a way to differentiate themselves from other airports and provide their passengers greater service."

While airports have to deal with Wayport as a vendor, they have no responsibility for the operation or the maintenance of the system.

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