US airports have adopted various business models for providing Wi-Fi to passengers in their terminals, including free, hybrid and fee-for-use arrangements, but one thing is certain – business travellers consider Wi-Fi access an absolute necessity.
“Flights aren’t the only critical connection business travellers make at the airport. They need to get and stay connected to their office, colleagues, customers and families while waiting for their flight,” says Ramon van Meer, marketing director of Las Vegas-based business travel specialist Lets Fly Cheaper, which commissioned a poll on the subject.
In a perfect world, Wi-Fi would be free at every airport. But these facilities are facing tighter budgets and the infrastructure to support Wi-Fi systems costs money to build and maintain, so they must balance the desires of their guests with the practical realities of their budgets.
Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is among the airports that keep it simple with free Wi-Fi. “When we launched our Wi-Fi in December 2005, we felt that it was an important amenity to offer our customers. We wanted to make it as easy and convenient as possible so the decision was made to offer it free of charge,” says spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez. The airport’s system was developed and is maintained in-house and costs about $175,000 a year to operate and maintain, she adds
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport went in the other direction and chose to have travellers pay for Wi-Fi access. “The Wi-Fi service here at BWI Marshall is provided through a contract mechanism between Airmall, the concessions developer here at BWI Marshall, and Concourse Communications. This contract goes back five years,” says spokesman Jonathan Dean.
It’s almost hard to remember, says Dean, but five years ago when the contract was signed, fee-for-use Wi-Fi was more common. “BWI Marshall went with our particular business model because we wanted to provide a Wi-Fi service for our travellers, and we wanted to install it quickly and inexpensively,” he recalls. The fee-for-use system allowed us to do that. The fee-for-use model also created an opportunity to generate important non-airline revenue for the airport.”
Toronto-Pearson International Airport decided to go with a free/sponsored model and just inked a deal with American Express as its partner, says spokesman Scott Armstrong. “We’ve had sponsored Wi-Fi before, but last year we put together a sponsorship package to attract a major business partner on a broader bundle of sponsorship opportunities,” he says. “We looked at what we could group together to offer value to the sponsor and to our guests.”
In terms of “bang for the buck,” the airport wanted to offer American Express something more than traditional advertising exposure, says Armstrong. “They’re very excited about being more involved with the airport and guests will benefit as our partnership unfolds through the year. The AMEX program will see cardholder benefits priority lanes at security lines and taxi/limo stands, among other things.”
Oakland International Airport on 18 June will offer free Wi-Fi as part of a hybrid business model, says spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes. The airport has partnered with Miami-based Advanced Wireless Group (AWG) to allow customers to choose between free and paid Wi-Fi service, defined by the level of service or bandwidth between the two choices.
Citing studies from top line IT firms, bandwidth demand for mobile devices is expected to grow more than 15 times in the next five years alone, says Barnes. “This is a function of both the recent explosion of mobile devices, like tablets and smart phones, and the increasing use of video, like YouTube, Slingbox and Skype.”
Airports will see incremental demand above and beyond these growth projections attributable to the demand of cellular carriers (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) to ease congestion on their 3G/4G networks by shifting data traffic onto Wi-Fi whenever available.
Under Oakland’s partnership with AWG, passengers can get either paid, non-interrupted, premium speed Wi-Fi or be required to login at specified intervals for free Wi-Fi. This model enables the customer to choose the experience that best fits their individual needs,” says Barnes. “Customers can get between 30 and 45 minutes of free Wi-Fi, which represents the sweet spot between customer convenience and sponsor value.” Customers can pay $1.95 for the faster rate of speed of 8.0mbps, considered to be premium service, she adds.
Free Wi-Fi at Oakland includes advertising and sponsored sessions. “Advertising is limited to two positions on each page which can either be sold or used for additional airport messaging space when unsold,” says Barnes. “Sponsored sessions are 30-second videos or other graphics-based message which we ask a user to view prior to being granted their free Internet session.”
Meanwhile, to find an airport power outlet near you, check out this article.