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The Spanish airport authority has approved installations of Wi-Fi in 23 locations: Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, and Malaga are already up and running, with 19 to go over the next 18 months. The service combines public access for passengers with airport operations networking that includes voice over IP. The Madrid network comprises 1,000 radios!
The Cloud will install Wi-Fi service for BAA in six airports: Stanstead is live, with Heathrow, Gatwick, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Southampton to follow. Heathrow is now up to four unique Wi-Fi operators, not including a Google experiment—I noted that Surf and Sip becoming the third back in December. BAA operates seven airports; Aberdeen isn’t included in this announcement. The Cloud resells access to its network to an enormous list of hotspot aggregators and other providers.
Surf and Sip is the latest Wi-Fi hotspot operator at the London airport: The official launch is January, but the service is up and running in departure lounges in all four terminals. The airport is unique in having three operators now: BT OpenZone, T-Mobile UK, and Surf and Sip. I’m only aware of one other airport with a second terminal-wide coverage operator—Dallas, Texas.
Surf and Sip is moderately well known in the States where’s been operating since 2000 in coffeeshops and restaurants starting in the San Francisco (Calif.) Bay Area. It expanded overseas two years ago and has extensive locations in Eastern Europe and the UK.
The hotspot operator is competing on price, according to this Nancy Gohring story over at InfoWorld: £5 per day versus T-Mobile’s £10 and BT OpenZone’s £13. All other things being equal price sensitivity and price shopping could provide the company with much more usage.
The story notes that the company’s founder spent two years negotiating with the airport authority to obtain approval after a skunkworks hotspot was removed.
Eircom claims title of largest hotspot in Ireland: The Dublin Airport handles 17 million passengers a year (2004 statistic) and should rise to 30 million in the next 10 years. The whole airport now has Wi-Fi service from Eircom through a five-year contract. Service is free until 27 July. When charges start 28 July, service costs €3 for 30 minutes or €30 for seven days.
Eircom has 327 hotspots in Ireland, including four major airports.
(Now why, you might ask, am I covering this from the U.S. when we have a Dublin correspondent? Because Nancy is on vacation in Slovenia; she’ll check out airport Wi-Fi on her return.)
A new terminal being built at Heathrow will have three wireless networks: A private network will be used by emergency and security workers, a cellular network will serve anyone, and a WLAN will be used by visitors, baggage handlers, shops, and airport workers. The company building the terminal used software from a company called Wireless Valley to help plan everything from where to lay cables to how certain building materials like metal will impact the RF signals. The terminal and networks aren’t expected to be complete until March 2008.
After accepting responses to a request for proposals, the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) chose Eircom, the incumbent telecom provider in Ireland, as the exclusive Wi-Fi network operator at the airport: The DAA said that Eircom must allow other operators to access the network, though it’s not clear yet exactly how Eircom will be required to open the network. Bitbuzz, a hotspot operator in Ireland, believes the DAA is improperly acting like a regulator and is potentially breaking anti-competition laws.
Last year in the U.S., some airports tried to dictate which operators could install Wi-Fi and attempted to forbid Wi-Fi in certain areas. In response, the FCC reminded the public that it has the exclusive right to resolve matters involving radio frequency interference. In other words, airport authorities and property owners in the U.S. are not in the position to dictate who may or may not offer Wi-Fi service.
Bitbuzz has applied to the DAA for work permits to install Wi-Fi for three customers including bars and business lounges at the airport and has been refused permission. The company was granted a permit to install wired access for one customer at the airport but it is still forbidden from installing Wi-Fi.
Bitbuzz believes that the DAA does not have the authority to forbid it from offering Wi-Fi in the airport and also feels that the DAA may be breaking laws by creating a monopoly within the airport. Bitbuzz has had conversations with ComReg, the spectrum regulator in Ireland and ComReg recommended that Bitbuzz work with the Competition Authority, which is responsible for enforcing Ireland’s competition laws. Bitbuzz has submitted a complaint to the Competition Authority.
Bitbuzz has also repeatedly tried to discuss the matter with the chairman and also with the CEO of the DAA but has either been told they are too busy or to wait for a response in due time.
While Bitbuzz believes that the DAA doesn’t have the authority to dictate spectrum use, the company also has some other problems with DAA’s proposal. “We think the Competition Authority might find it interesting to look at the contract between Eircom and the airport because we’ve heard that they include huge payouts from Eircom to Dublin Airport on the order of six figures in return for being the exclusive provider,” said Alex French, director of operations at Bitbuzz. “They must feel they can get that back by charging consumers high prices.”
Bitbuzz did not submit a proposal for the exclusive contract. “We always felt it was something we didn’t want to get involved in,” said French. Bitbuzz was reluctant to apply for a contract that it felt was illegal. “If the Competition Authority rules that it is illegal, there’s going to be a big issue with the provider who won the tender,” he said. Plus, the large payouts to the DAA didn’t make sense to the company.
It’s unclear at this stage how the DAA will require Eircom to share the network—either through roaming agreements or wholesale. The DAA has said that it will dictate the price of such deals based on a benchmark. “The problem is that the DAA is acting as a regulator but they have no experience with that,” said French. “Even ComReg, the regulator, struggles at times to keep Eircom under control and sometimes they have to take them to court to get them to lower prices.”
The DAA has said that there are technical reasons that it is forbidding multiple operators from serving the airport. French points to U.S. airports, some of which have many different Wi-Fi services running simultaneously, to refute that argument. In addition, last year the DAA allowed three or four of the operators vying for the exclusive contract to temporarily offer services in the airport and the networks coexisted just fine, said French.
French believes that the contract was awarded to Eircom four or five months ago but since then he’s only been able to find one or two live APs in the airport.
French is also concerned about the precedent that could be set if the DAA’s plan is allowed. If the DAA is allowed to dictate which operator can serve airport customers, it could mean that apartment building owners or office owners can also dictate which wired or wireless operators can serve their tenants.
This two-piece story details one traveler’s experience trying to get online from New York to Munich: He makes some good points regarding culpability. In Munich, he had a terrible experience trying to deal with Swisscom, which supposedly operated a hotspot throughout his hotel.
But he is actually an iPass customer and in Heathrow and the hotel had trouble getting connected. iPass often talks about the strict process it requires hotspots to go through before they can become part of the iPass network. On a side note, I’ve spoken to one hotspot operator who told me that the process for becoming part of the iPass network was not rigorous and no different than the process he’d gone through to roam with other networks.
It’s my opinion that the networks being offered in public places like airports and hotels actually ought to be much more reliable than a network in a home, for example. If an end users is paying iPass or a company like it for access and that user is in an airport for an hour and can’t get on, that makes for a totally useless service. The user is paying a premium specifically for access when out of the office and often that access is required within a very short window, such as during a layover or in the morning in a hotel before a meeting. That gives the provider very little leeway for downtime because if the network is down during those windows, the service is useless for the end user.
This user concludes that hotels should start requiring a certain level of service from their hotspot or broadband providers because a poor Internet service reflects badly on the hotel, even if the provider is at fault. Increasingly, customers who need high-speed access choose hotels because of the availability of such access and it’s a real bummer when that access doesn’t materialize. There is always the chance that hotels will get fed up with poor service from their providers and decide to hire someone in-house to build and maintain the network. That, of course, would be bad news for the Swisscom’s of the world.
On another side note, I used Swisscom access for a couple weeks in a hotel in Dublin and had to call a couple times for help and had a really good support experience. So I suppose that customers of any company can have a random bummer customer support experience.
KubiWireless, Vodafone Spain, and Comunitel are together building hotspots to cover the Madrid and Barcelona airports: The hotspots will mainly cover the food courts in the airports. KubiWireless operates 200 hotspots in Spain and has roaming agreements with Vodafone Spain and Comunitel.