Why major airports are missing a trick with their lack of free Wi-Fi access

As a place that is often in the limelight, Las Vegas airport will soon be one of the most innovative in the world. Ten years after becoming one of the first to offer free Wi-Fi, McCarran airport is now planning to beam Wi-Fi outside of the terminal to travellers on arriving and departing aircrafts.

In the US, more than 90% of the largest airports now offer free Wi-Fi. The reason is simple: customers want and expect it.

Recently, Wi-Fi provision has been cleared for airports in New York and New Jersey, but the free time allowed is limited to 30 minutes, which many passengers feel simply isn’t enough.  

Just over a year ago, there were only four out of the 25 largest airports offering limitless free Wi-Fi in the UK.

Manchester Airport has recently doubled its free Wi-Fi time from 30 minutes to one hour due to increasing pressure from travellers, but is this enough?

>See also: Bad public Wi-Fi affects the work of 75% of business travellers

Apart from the obvious benefit of having access to free Wi-Fi during lengthy waits at the airport (checking emails, browsing the internet or accessing social media), there is so much more that Wi-Fi at airports can offer. 

“Free Wi-Fi in airports is typically a loose term as it is usually only available for 15 to 30 minutes before payment is required, which can be extremely frustrating,” says Gavin Wheeldon, CEO of cloud-based, social Wi-Fi platform Purple WiFi. “The model needs to evolve to incorporate a free option that allows a certain level of speed sufficient for email, browsing and social media.

“Then those that wish to use the Wi-Fi for more heavy lifting, such as streaming video or handling large files, are likely to be happy to pay for a premium service.”

Using real-time marketing information means that airports can send out personalised offers and vouchers to passengers during the time they are waiting at the airport.

For example, offers on food, beverages and duty free shopping can be sent whilst the passengers are having their passports checked, meaning that they can be used as soon as the passenger is in the airport lounge.

Offers can even be triggered according to the number of times a person has visited the airport, so loyalty can be rewarded with a special discount.

Other benefits include invites to use the exclusive lounges, real-time departure details, and navigation apps to shops and services.

Among the solutions available, Purple WiFi has worked with various airport partners to implement a dashboard, which bridges the gap between Google Analytics and the real world, offering real-time data and reporting through Wi-Fi.

This arms the airport with an unprecedented level of insight into passenger behaviour and provides unique opportunities to engage them directly. It lets the airport team observe where certain areas might become congested, allowing quicker reaction and reducing the impact on passenger flow.

Furthermore, the heatmapping functionality enables them to overlay demographics, which proves particularly useful when examining the use of certain spaces.

Airports can ascertain where it would be best to place new shops and restaurants, as well as signage and advertisements effectively.

They can also observe how long it takes people on average to move from the restaurants through security to their gates, to inform future tactics and measure KPIs accordingly.

>See also: What will define the future of Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi also encourages passengers to share their journey experience on social media.

An increasing number of airlines are offering in-flight Wi-Fi, allowing passengers can continue their connected experience throughout their travels. Internet speeds on planes will eventually be comparable to the speeds of home broadband services.

But the cost of installing and maintaining high quality Wi-Fi isn't cheap, and making sure everybody has access to decent speed is also a big overhead.

“Getting a return on that investment is key and there are now ways of achieving that while delivering genuine benefit to Wi-Fi users,” says Wheeldon.

“Personalised, timely and location-aware offers are a great way of monetising at the same time as adding value.”

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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