Munich airport outlines multiprovider WLAN strategy

Munich's international airport, Flughafen München GmbH, is taking what is believed to be a unique approach in Europe to offering high-speed wireless Internet services to airline passengers. It plans to provide WLAN (wireless LAN) infrastructure to service providers that, in turn, sell broadband access to passengers, hotel guests and conference attendees at its vast new location outside Munich.

"Our core business is to provide IT and telecommunication services to our aviation customers," said Michael Zaddach, vice president of information systems at Flughafen München, Monday at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo sponsored by Jupitermedia Corp. in Munich. "We feel WLAN service providers are better positioned to offer this broadband Internet service to consumers than we are."

The airport has been testing WLAN technology, based on the 802.11b standard, for around a year, according to Zaddach. Cisco Systems Inc. is providing the equipment.

During the pilot, two wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), Megabeam Networks Ltd. in London and Monzoon Networks AG in Regensdorf, Switzerland, provided free WLAN service.

Response to the service, especially from companies like Siemens AG and SAP AG with huge mobile workforces, has been "huge, without promotion," Zaddach said. "I wonder what it would have been like with promotion."

Beginning in January 2003, users will have to pay a fee, which has yet to be set.

Flughafen München is in talks with a few other service providers, including T-Mobile International AG, Zaddach said. Although the airport refuses to sign exclusive deals, it will allow Lufthansa AG to select its own provider in a new terminal to house the airline. Like the other WISPs, however, that service provider will also have to pay to use the airport's WLAN infrastructure.

Service providers will have to pay the airport a fee to use the wireless infrastructure and a percentage of their revenue. Zaddach declined to disclose financial details, saying only that the airport plans "to make money from this service."

Nor would he discuss pricing schemes for users, arguing that this was an issue for the service providers.

"We opted for a multiprovider strategy for a couple of reasons," Zaddach said. "For one, we think competition will drive down prices. For another, we view roaming as a crucial service and one that no service provider alone can adequately provide, at least no yet."

As for quality of service, Flughafen München will guarantee a set amount of capacity to the service providers and access to users but not the speeds at which they can surf, said Wenceslao Munoz, director of e-commerce sales strategy at the airport.

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