Jan. 8, 2003

By Jodi Prill, Associate Editor

Conference aims to make sense of a promising technology Washington, DC Airport officials and wireless providers met here in late October for the second annual Wireless Airports Association Conference and Exposition to try to get a handle on the constantly evolving world of wireless Washington, DC Airport officials and wireless providers met here in late October for the second annual Wireless Airports Association Conference and Exposition to try to get a handle on the constantly evolving world of wireless technology and what it holds for airports.

Doug McGowan, VP wireless centers of excellence for Hewlett Packard, says, "wireless airports are a natural extension...business-wireless networks are cost-effective savings."He suggests airports can use the technology for resource planning; equipment and staffing;passenger, cargo and luggage handling; revenue management; wireless communications; e-commerce, and more.

Not all airports are embracing wireless, however. Eddie Burchell, technology coordinator of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, doesn't think the benefits of a wireless infrastructure at an airport the size of McGhee Tyson have been adequately demonstrated.

Then there "s the flip side of the coin. Directors like James Bennett, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, feel confident that wireless is the best solution for Internet and communications. He describes wiring throughout the airport that was so poor "ceiling tiles would sag and sometimes collapse from the weight of multiple wires."Bennett says the airport authority will be issuing an RFP for a wireless system.

For those airports which do not see wireless is necessary for passengers at this time, but agree operations could benefit from the installation, Andrew Kemmetmueller, product manager for ARINC, has some advice: "You need to plan for public access at some point and keep the system capable of future enhancements, especially for security."

Scott Hidy, San Francisco International Airport, explains there are basically five wireless business models his airport has considered.

Hot Spot Model. A hot spot is an area in proximity of a transmitter where an Internet connection is possible. Most commonly hot spots are found in hotel conference rooms or lobbies; and coffee shops, airline first class lounges, and business lounges at airports.

Neutral Host Model. This model is a single integrated wireless broadband system and is designed to accommodate more than one Internet service provider (ISP). Under this model, the airport, generally, is not responsible for any of the costs associated with the wireless network.

Airport owned and operated. The airport is responsible for the entire network, which can be a positive and a negative. Rates can be established for the service and passed onto end-users all generated revenue stays at the airport. However, the initial investment and possible low usage might outweigh any revenue benefit.

Cooperative model. Management, investment, and profits of the system are shared between the airport and wireless provider.

Managed services (concessionaire). There is a single provider. The Concessionaire provides service to the airport for operations and/or passengers. The airport then has a single point of contact for the service, and the provider maintains roaming agreements with other providers offering seamless access for customers.

After reviewing the cost of the infrastructure and other factors, many airport officials would rather let another party handle the system. •I, the airport, am not a service provider Ö and I don't have the money for it,— comments one director.

John Faulkner, manager of business development at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, says his airport is issuing an RFP for data and 802.11b service, which then will be managed by a wireless provider. Systems design is more important than a neutral host right now,"he says. "We'll be looking at who has the best revenue model. We want to benefit from the system as our traffic grows."

According to George Ellis, VP of information systems and telecommunications for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Dulles International Airport was planning on funding portions of a wireless network. After 9/11, the funding was no longer available for the project. Now the airport is looking internally at all its resources and has decided a turnkey solution will be the best option. "Once we decided not to fund the infrastructure, we saw the revenue opportunities decrease."Ellis also adds that the airport now views wireless access more as a customer amenity than a revenue source.

According to Hidy, SFO will provide access to its copper and fiber to a wireless provider for a fee, and "the provider will be using our infrastructure." He adds that whichever provider the airport contracts with must maintain access agreements with other providers so customers will have seamless access throughout the airport. The airport looks to have a system in place by June 2003.

Revenue that has dropped sharply from lack of payphone use was also on the minds of airport directors. Some airports have removed many or all of the payphones throughout the terminals because they became too costly to support. Some airport officials are in search of a wireless business model that will make up for the lost revenue, and more.