Hong Kong airport offers a wireless LAN

The Airport Authority of Hong Kong (AAHK) rules the airspace at the Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok. Last week, the organization extended its control to the airwaves, too.

AAHK has teamed up with Pacific Century CyberWorks Ltd. (PCCW) to offer travelers wireless broadband Internet connections at the airport via a wireless LAN.

Whether waiting to board planes or milling around in transit, travelers can now surf the Web or download and send e-mails without the hassle of locating phone lines or data ports. According to Carl Lam, assistant vice president, Public Sector Business eSolutions at PCCW, all users need to have is a laptop with a wireless LAN card based on the IEEE 802.11b standard to connect to the Internet via PCCW's wireless network. For users without the modem card already, PCCW is offering Cisco wireless LAN cards for sale at HK$1,500 (US$192) inside the airport, officials said.

"Today's business travelers demand on-the-fly Internet connectivity. (This service) will provide customers with faster access, quicker download times and highly reliable connections," said Thomas Siu, president of PCCW Business eSolutions.

According to information from AAHK, more than 32 million passengers visited the airport last year, about 30 percent of whom were transit passengers, each with an average transit time of three hours.

The Hong Kong International Airport, opened in 1998, was recently voted the best airport in Asia for 2001 in an independent survey conducted by British-based airline and air-travel research firm Skytrax Research.

Three service plans for the wireless connection are on offer, according to Siu. They include a flat monthly charge of HK$500 with usage fee of HK$8 per 24 hours; a daily plan at HK$80; and an hourly plan at HK$40 per hour, he said.

PCCW has installed 40 access points in the post-immigration areas on the airport's departure level, including restaurants, airline VIP lounges and transit areas. Although an IEEE 802.11b-based network offers a theoretical maximum data transfer rate of up to 11M bps (bits per second), Lam said the airport wireless LAN delivers Internet access only at speeds of up to 1.54M bps, because the LAN is restricted by its connection to the Web over two T-1 (1.54M bps) lines. However, Lam said the company will upgrade the connection if and when the need arises.

In addition, the management also plans to extend wireless connection to the entire passenger terminal over the coming two years, officials said. PCCW's wireless LAN service will also cover other amenities in Hong Kong, including hotels, convention centers and venues frequented by business travelers, officials added.

To extend the service geographically, PCCW's Siu said the company is reaching "roaming agreements" with overseas airports to enable passengers to also enjoy the service abroad.

Last March, Singapore's Changi Airport started to offer a similar wireless Internet access free of charge, according to information on the airport's Web site. Jointly introduced by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, Lucent Technologies Inc. and Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., Changi's service allows passengers without a wireless modem card to borrow one without incurring any cost.

In its defense, PCCW's Lam said the Internet connection in Hong Kong is not free of charge either, and their service comes with a guarantee that assures access speeds of at least 128K bps per session.