Verizon has announced it will deploy long-term evolution (LTE) at 60 U.S. airports, a decision that will likely shake up wireless connection strategies at numerous airports. Most of the airports selected for inclusion in the 4G technology rollout are the same urban areas chosen for the high-speed technology.
Perhaps a harbinger of how things will actually shake out is Boston's Logan Airport, which is located some 10 miles from Verizon's LTE headquarters in suburban Boston. Logan Airport is not on Verizon's list of planned LTE airports.
Logan offers free Wi-Fi to passengers and visitors alike, so why would anyone want LTE at a price when free Wi-Fi is available?
Christian Gunning, spokesman for Wi-Fi provider Boingo Wireless, explains in more detail. "Since unlimited data accounts are being replaced with tiered pricing models, many customers will choose to use Wi-Fi when it's available to preserve their cellular 3G/4G allowances, since incremental data buckets are more expensive on the cellular network than they are on the Wi-Fi network."
Gunning says Verizon's service and Boingo's Wi-Fi service are complementary and the two firms cooperate on different levels. In regions where Boingo operates the cellular DAS network, it has been working with Verizon to upgrade the network to support LTE.
Verizon also offers Boingo's Wi-Fi service -- available in many airports in the United States and throughout the world -- free of data charges to many of its customers, using its advanced services including FiOS and top tier DSL. Boingo's Wi-Fi charges cover unlimited data usage. Non-Verizon customers pay a monthly fee.
All things being equal, the wireless move to airports is likely to favor Wi-Fi in the long run. "Ultimately, (Verizon's) 4G upgrade is a 4x capacity solution to a 30x data consumption problem," notes Gunning in an email. "With the exponentially increasing data usage from the latest generation of smartphones, the actual increase in data use is roughly 30-40x the use from more common devices."
He continued: "Ultimately, it's not an either/or proposition. Operators are beginning to see that the health of their network may depend heavily on Wi-Fi in large venues where crowds gather and turn to their networked devices. And savvy customers will opt for Wi-Fi over 3G/4G in order to preserve precious megabytes for when they need them."
The wild card in all this is the Boston airport's decision to offer free Wi-Fi. Train stations and commuter trains are increasingly being outfitted with free Wi-Fi for passenger convenience and safety reasons. What happens if other airports follow the lead of the Boston airport?
A spokesman for Logan airport noted that the facility's free Wi-Fi service began about 10 months ago and passengers like it. He added that Boingo is also popular among visitors.
While most of the airports Verizon has picked overlap with the urban areas that will get LTE, some, like Honolulu International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport, are far removed from those regions.
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