Wireless Web to soar at US airports

Global Digital Media.com has scheduled takeoff of its networks, and within the next 12 to 18 months plans to have all major US airports covered

Business travelers no longer have to sequester themselves in the executive airport lounge to get Internet access. Global Digital Media.com is bringing the Internet to business travellers for use anywhere in the airport.

Soon, laptop users with wireless 802.11b LAN PC Cards connecting to kiosks with Web access points, or those with wired connections to the kiosks, will be able to hop online from virtually anywhere in the airport.

Global Digital Media has already launched the first of its networks in Philadelphia airport and should have a second service running in Boston's Logan airport by year's end.

More rollouts at all the major US airports are planned within the next 12 to 18 months, the company said.

It's a plan whose time is right, with a receptive target audience: business travellers willing to pay whatever it takes to get online, analysts said.

"The idea sounds solid," said Ken Hyers, analyst at Cahners In-Stat Group. "They're addressing a crowd that can justify paying a lot for the sake of productivity."

"The challenge will be pulling together a network and dealing with the cyclical demands from travellers as they come and go and, in some cases, stay."

A recent study from Cahners In-Stat Group showed that, after hotels and homes, airports are where business travelers want high-speed Internet access the most.

Global Digital Media also plans on servicing hotels and airlines in the future.

Global Digital Media has an agreement with CNN to use its already-established airport cable networks for infrastructure. And connected to that infrastructure are the kiosk terminals, where users can either plug in their laptops for Net access or receive the signals for wireless access.

On the wireless side, 802.11b LAN PC Cards inserted in notebooks pick up signals from the terminals, which have access points that connect notebooks to the wired network using a radio link.

802.11b is an open standard for wireless connectivity supported by the likes of Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies and 3Com -- some of the biggest names in networking. Plus, the fact that it's an open standard also means that it shouldn't interfere with any airline radio frequencies.

Another analyst, from Dataquest, said that Global Digital Media will have to differentiate itself from other emerging Net-access technologies, such as phones and PDAs, both in price and services.

By virtue of linking the network with notebooks, the new service lends itself to entertainment applications.

Global Digital Media said its pricing plans are not yet determined, but president and chief executive Richard Garnick said the company is testing the market among potential customers to see what it can bear. Pricing plans will range from per-minute and per-day to monthly and annually, he said.

Garnick said the company is trying to address "the growing need to stay connected and, more importantly, the lost productivity when you're not".

The service's other hurdle, besides rival technologies, will be more physical in nature -- basically, establishing a visible airport presence.

But Paul McGinn, an executive with MarketPlace Development -- which develops and manages concessions in airports -- says the initial reception of Global Digital Media's network in Philadelphia has been positive. "Publicly owned airports want proven and tested technologies, and establishing reliability is the hardest part of this business," he said.

"The takeoff point for [Global Digital Media] is when people can use it in any number of airports. It will be like the mobile phone is today."

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