Las Vegas McCarran International Airport next week will officially begin offering complimentary Wi-Fi access to the public. Parts of the network have been operating in test mode for the past several weeks, airport officials said.
By Jan. 4, some 90 percent of the public areas in the airport will be covered by the new wireless local area network, which comprises switches and access points from Aruba Wireless Networks Inc., according to airport officials.
Several regional airports offer free Wi-Fi, but McCarran—among the 15 busiest airports in the world—is the largest to offer the service at no cost to travelers.
Airport officials said they considered charging for the Wi-Fi services the way most major airports do, but could not find any revenue models that seemed fair to passengers.
"This is a little bit uncharacteristic for us, providing something for free," said Randall Walker, director of aviation for Nevadas Clark County. "Maybe someday when the market matures and becomes more the business model for cell phones, we might start [charging a fee for Wi-Fi.] But right now, were offering it for free because we didnt like the business models that were available."
Several wireless hot-spot providers such as Wayport Inc. and T-Mobile U.S.A. Inc. offer Wi-Fi at multiple airports. Customers have a range of payment options ranging from $6 to $10 for a single connection to $30 to $50 per month, depending on the contract agreement.
But not all major airports offer services from the same hot-spot providers, and not all travelers can justify paying for a hot-spot contract—especially travelers who just spent a week in Vegas.
"The thought of someone wanting to get wireless in the airport and paying 10 bucks for a one-shot deal didnt seem like good customer service," Walker said.
Setting up the network cost $70,000, Walker said, adding that the airport kept down costs by hooking up the WLAN to its existing computer network.
McCarran plans to use the WLAN for other airport services as well. Wheelchair dispatchers will use the network to convey passenger pick-up information via PDAs, Clark said.