By Scott Phillips, president and CEO, Advanced Wireless Group
Next time you take a trip and head to the airport, take a look around. Think back six months, 12 months, 24 months – what has changed? In fact, who had any idea the airport environment would be changing as fast as it has over the past year or two?
The changes have been pretty wide-scaled, from evolving retail spaces to supporting mobile technology. They are naturally dependent on which airports you most frequent, although there are still those key threads that tie all airports together.
One year – one major trend
It was just one year ago that I wrote a piece titled, “Airport Wi-Fi: The Hybrid Approach.” In that column, I highlighted … “For many airport travelers, the feeling of “I want WiFi, and I want it free, fast, and now” is growing to a fever pitch where it is almost always listed in customer surveys as the leading negative aspect to any airport experience.”
Needless to say, this prediction not only came true, but the WiFi consumerization trend has actually turned out to be more of a fast-moving beast than any of us imagined. Being both a frequent traveler, and an operator of wireless airport infrastructures, the speed of change has brought new energy to our industry that affects both airport administrators and the travelers they serve.
Airport administrators continue to support a balancing act between offering travelers with services they request and sustaining a revenue stream that can support such a model. For those that have made the switch from a paid WiFi model to either a hybrid, or sponsored model, those traveler request lists have seen a significant shift. While the usual amenities (more restrooms, etc.) are still on customers’ complaint lists, WiFi has plummeted in many airports to essentially an afterthought as the entire industry begins to adjust to the public’s (and airport administrators) demand for some level of complimentary access.
Most airports have, or are moving toward, implementing wireless infrastructures that can scale for both the ongoing needs of their passengers, their tenants and airport administration. Given this additional capacity, which was initially installed to support Internet access, a host of new functionalities have become available. Next on the list for most airports is the application of Location-Based Services (LBS), which creates a significant opportunity to further create connections and enhance operational needs.
Simply put, LBS is “indoor GPS” for WiFi connected devices. LBS replicates this technology by using WiFi access points as multiple radio beacons, which any WiFi device can use to discern and report its position as long as its radio is turned on.
First, let’s examine what this means to the valued traveler who sometimes spends countless hours walking through the terminals and concourses. On average, each traveler has at least two devices, one of which is usually mobile, meaning it’s likely in their hand as they stay connected while on the move. This is your traveling public, and they are all looking to navigate their way to the gate while making a few stops along the way.
In an LBS network environment, the experience starts from the moment they step in the airport. Perhaps they allow the airport to provide alerts and real-time updates regarding a passenger’s flight along the way – “your flight has been delayed and here are some things to do based on where you are.” This flow continues to the moving walkways, where a nearby shop alerts them that “there are drink specials at a restaurant near Gate 44.”
This experience demonstrates an interconnected airport environment unlike any other. I would caution that not all travelers should be bombarded with messages, but instead given an opportunity to opt-in to a managed, airport-sponsored application. This connection and relationship between the traveling public and the airport fundamentally changes as technology has fully evolved from inhibitor to developer to a valuable resource.