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Airlines, airports battle over Wi-Fi spectrum oversight

Airports in Boston, Denver and L.A. are ground zero in the airwaves battle

By Bob Brewin
June 18, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The airport authority-controlled Wi-Fi networks at several airports are shaping up as ground zero in an emerging battle between airlines and airports over the use, regulation and management of wireless networks at the facilities.
A wireless network at Logan International Airport in Boston, a similar system at Denver International Airport (DIA) and others planned for the Raleigh-Durham International and Los Angeles International airports are at the center of a fight over the unlicensed wireless spectrum used to support a wide range of applications, from passenger Internet access to remote check-in kiosks.
When Logan turns on an airportwide Wi-Fi network next week, airlines and their passengers will have to pay to use the network, something United Airlines Inc. views as an "unnecessary expense," according to Mike Mader, a ground systems radio engineer who handles Wi-Fi installations for United.
While passengers can choose whether or not to pay for access to Wi-Fi hot spots at Logan, airlines, which use Wi-Fi networks to support key applications such as bag tracking, have no choice, according to Barbara Platt, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Port Authority. Massport, which operates Logan, requires airlines and other airport tenants to use the Universal Wireless Ethernet System (UWES) installed at the airport, Platt said.
United, a division of UAL Corp. in Elk Grove Township, Ill., has installed its own Wi-Fi networks to support bag-scanning operations at numerous airports, including its Chicago hub. But Mader said the carrier will have to use the Massport network under the mandate imposed on all airport tenants. That's not as cost-effective as United installing and operating its own network, Mader said.
Platt said the UWES provides for better management of the wireless spectrum at the airport and "ensures Wi-Fi runs smoothly for all users." Platt declined to provide pricing details.
TWI Interactive Inc. in Brighton, Mass., developed the Logan network in partnership with Electronic Media Systems Inc. in Miami. TWI said its five-year contract guarantees Massport a minimum payment of $200,000 in the first year of the pact and as much as $300,000 in the fifth, up to a maximum of 20% of gross revenue. That revenue could exceed $1 million annually.
Chuck Cannon, a spokesman for DIA, said payments from its Wi-Fi contractor, AT&T Wireless Services Inc. in Redmond, Wash., could run about $250,000 per month. Like Massport, DIA maintains that it needs to manage the Wi-Fi spectrum in the unlicensed 2.4- and 5-GHz bands to ensure frequency and spectrum coordination, according to Jim Winston, director for telecommunications at the airport. DIA is owned and operated by the city of



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