A small market fail

Airport wi-fi isn’t the biggest business, or the smallest. I’m not even sure it’s a discrete category. Some of it is a phone company side business (T-mobile, AT&T). Some of it is a business in itself (Boingo). Some of it is just a supply of overhead to airports or lounges that want to provide free wi-fi or to charge for access under their own brand.

Here in Boston, Logan Airport has a complicated thing where you have a choice of many for-pay access options, or free access if you jump over a small hurdle. For my phone it was watching a video that the phone wouldn’t play. But at least the Web page said “If the video doesn’t run, click here to connect.” I did and it worked. But it was not so easy on my computer, where it provided a choice of watching the video or answering a survey. The video, an ad for BMW that has been running for months (I fly a lot out of here), was followed by a page with an error code. I closed the window, re-started the browser and did the survey. Same result. So I changed browsers. This time there was just a video, provided by HP, and “powered by AWG” it said. I muted the sound and watched the video, which promoted an HP netbook. Without the sound the ad was fairly worthless. More interesting was the countdown to the connection, which ran above the ad. After running from 30 seconds to zero, I got a page with a big spinning wheel that ran and ran. Another fail.

Then I saw there’s an access point called AWGwifi and tried that. It failed too.

Meanwhile here at the United Club, the T-Mobile access they’ve provided for many years also failed as soon as I clicked on the link for club members. Of course the people behind the desk are not in charge of that. All they can do is report the problem, which I guess is one of the many that have come up through the long slow merger between United and Continental.

So I’m getting on through my phone’s 3G data plan. But I won’t be uploading the photos I had wanted to, because I don’t want to hit a cost jump if I go over my monthly allotment of bits.

The best airport wifi system I’ve seen so far is the one at the Continental club, and a few scattered airports I don’t recall: the wi-fi just works. It’s open, free and requires no logging in or going through a promotional gauntlet. Maybe that’s not “secure,” but are any of these paid systems secure either? One can be a bad actor over any of them.

I would think there is a market opportunity here for a creative approach — one that might be paid but doesn’t require becoming a member of something. Making it possible to just get on the Net with no hassle and no promotional BS would make a lot of travelers happy.

4 comments

  1. Joel Berman’s avatar

    I also fly from BOS quite frequently and have found the Wi-Fi to be spotty and slow. I also sometimes use the United Lounge and it is usually OK. If I am in a hurry I use my LTE, but even that does not always connect. I think there is a parallel though between the bandwidth providers and the content industry.

    Just as the RIAA and MPIA are completely blind to the changing world and have not only failed to prevent so much of their business from moving to Netflix and Amazon and iTunes and Pandora etc., the telcos have no figured out that they are in the data business, not the voice business. (I use VOIP such as facetime, skype, tango and others more often than I use “normal” calling).

    And there is no need to mention the symbiotic relationship between the bandwidth and content providers. 5GB of LTE as a limit says I will never watch movies over the cellular network.

    So just as Amazon and Google and Netflix and Apple have completely pwned the movie and recording and book publishing industry, they will have to find a way to provide more bandwidth via some metro network technology. It is a shame the RIAA/MPIA were and are so fscking ignorant, an it is a shame that the Verizons and Sprints and T-Mobiles and AT&T’s seem to be just as unaware. But I am sure we will see a much better alternative emerge over the next few years.

    Necessity will give birth to a practical solution, the politicians will do everything they can to slow it down and satisfy their lobbyists, but there is too much money to be made for this discouraging bandwidth/connectivity problem to remain much longer.

  2. Walt French’s avatar

    You are, as you must know, far from the only person to discover Off days by any provider. And it’s slightly unsurprising: monopoly services are typically over-priced, so free ones will tend to scrimp vis-à-vis what a competitive wifi shop, e.g., Starbucks when Peet’s is just down the block, will offer.

    The oddity for me is that, as a Delta SkyClubs member, I can log on either as “Guest” or under my member ID. The login doesn’t use cookies (AFAICT) so every time, I have to re-type my member ID, and confirm my understanding of the Terms of Service, which I never read.

    I have been a Delta (NWA) frequent flyer for approximately 12 years. Every week or so, the same thing.

    Non-members simply click a button that offers the equivalent of “Let’s Go!” This is because membership is a loyalty thing, I guess, and they are asking me to re-confirm how loyal I am to them.

    None of this is anything compared to the hassle of leaving my iPhone in wifi mode and going into the SF bart system. An app — say, my Bloomberg app — will try to use the known wifi signal, but has no way to tell that its requests are being redirected to a logon page. I have to go thru either a 45-second logon, or disable wifi, just to glance at market conditions or news. If I *DO* logon by requesting an ordinary page in my browser, I get redirected to the logon page, all right, but have no way to go back to the website whose address I typed in; it’s been hijacked out of existence.

    The support page says that they provide service to pagers. How quaint. It’s set up to be worse than useless for somebody with a post-2007 mobile phone, who catches a ride for a few minutes.

  3. Bryan Alexander’s avatar

    Definitely a case of market failure. Surely there’s a better way to do this then Boingo or weak small fry.

    I’m very fond of airports with free, decent WiFi, plus electrical outlets. Burlington, for instance, or San Antonio, where I’m typing this now.

  4. Blombud’s avatar

    Leaving the tech part aside, I just think that sometimes people try too hard to come up with creative solutions. The best companies know that they need to strive to fullfill consumer needs in the simplest possible way. Because that’s what we ALWAYS want. And usually we are more than willing to pay for it.

Comments are now closed.