The new Wi-Fi network that AT&T Wireless is building at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will replace the existing network which is owned and operated by Wayport: Wayport appeared unaware of the new network or the impending cancellation of its relationship with the airport.
The airport will own the network that AT&T Wireless is building and AT&T Wireless isn't charging the airport for the equipment or installation. The Wi-Fi network comes for free as part of AT&T Wireless's contract to install cellular equipment that will improve cell coverage inside the airport.
Airport officials have not decided who will operate the new Wi-Fi network but they are clear about the future of Wayport's network. "Wayport will depart," said Bob Parker, a SeaTac spokesman.
Wayport has operated the network at SeaTac for over four years. Its contract ended last year and since then it has been on a month-to-month contract with the airport.
"Wayport owns those hotspots. We imagine they will come in and remove them," said John Faulkner, aviation business manager for SeaTac. He hopes that the Wayport network can be shut down at a time that will correspond with the completion of the new network to avoid a breech of service. The new network should be finished by early 2005, though an AT&T Wireless spokesman said he expects it to be completed before then.
Wayport seemed unaware of the changes taking place at SeaTac. "We know they're talking to AT&T. We haven't heard anything official," said Dan Lowden, vice president of marketing for Wayport. "We look to continue to work with SeaTac in the way we are."
Wayport could be in the running to operate the new network, though it's more likely that if Wayport is involved in the future network it would be through roaming deals with the company that ultimately will operate the network, Faulkner said. As part of the request for proposals to build the cellular and Wi-Fi networks, the airport gave participants the option of bidding on the Wi-Fi operations business as well. AT&T Wireless was one of the bidders that expressed interest in operating the network but the airport has not yet decided who will operate the network. "We want to do the business planning to figure out how to parcel out the network and structure the revenue model," Faulkner said.
SeaTac wasn't unhappy with the service from Wayport but the decision to build a cellular network in the airport offered an opportunity to build a more extensive Wi-Fi network, Faulkner said. "The infrastructure and installation costs are shared when they are installed at the same time," he explained, adding that installing both networks at the same time resulted in a 60-percent cost savings. "It was a great opportunity to increase revenue and increase customer service," he said.
The new network will cover more of the airport, including parts of the parking garage where shuttle bus businesses, for example, may be able to take advantage of the network.
Faulkner hopes that the extended coverage plus opening the network to other businesses in the airport will result in better usage on the new network. He says that the Wayport network didn't meet Wayport's hopes. The original deal was constructed such that Wayport paid the airport for every passenger that got on a plane at the airport, regardless of if those passengers actually used the network. "A year ago they asked for a reduction because the usership numbers didn't achieve what they expected. It seemed to us that they were a little disappointed," Faulkner said.
Wayport also recently lost their access to the LaGuardia (New York) and Minneapolis/St. Paul airports when its partnership with Concourse Communications fell apart. Concourse was using Wayport as its middleman to resell access to other wireless ISPs; now Concourse sells this access directly to iPass and others, but not currently to Wayport.
Wayport is focused on building networks in both hotels and airports and expects to continue adding about 50 hotels per month in the future, Lowden said. While some hotels don't charge for in-room wired and hotel-wide Wi-Fi access, the medium- to upper-end hotels continue to levy fees and that's the market Wayport targets, Lowden said. Last month 300,000 people logged onto the Wayport network.
Wayport's remaining airports include Dallas and Austin, both of which overlap with T-Mobile coverage dating back to competition among the founders of Wayport and now-defunct MobileStar; Buffalo-Niagara; and Bay Area airports San Jose (full airport coverage) and Oakland (limited areas). Wayport also operates Laptop Lanes office centers in nine airports.