An interesting battle is going on in Boston over airport WiFi. If one side wins it may spell the end to WiFi in airports — at least those not operated by the airport itself. The Boston Globe reports that Logan International Airport officials’ ongoing quest to ban airline lounges from offering passengers free WiFi Internet services is angering a growing array of powerful Capitol Hill lobbying groups, who say Logan could set a dangerous nationwide precedent for squelching wireless services:
Soon after activating its own $8-a-day WiFi service in the summer of 2004, the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, ordered Continental and American Airlines to shut down WiFi services in their Logan lounges. Massport also ordered Delta Air Lines Inc. not to turn on a planned WiFi service in its new $500 million Terminal A that opened last March. […]
Massport has consistently argued its policy is only trying to prevent a proliferation of private WiFi transmitters that could interfere with wireless networks used by airlines, State Police, and the Transportation Security Administration. WiFi service providers are free to negotiate so-called roaming deals, Massport officials say, that would let their subscribers who pay for monthly access use the Logan network. But major providers including T-Mobile USA have balked at Massport’s proposed terms, saying the airport authority seeks excessive profits.
It all sounds a bit lame to me. My experience of Logan’s WiFi in late 2004 was woeful, although perhaps that has changed, as Massport’s PR later said they were having teething troubles as it had just been installed. But it seems weak to argue that one WiFi service may not affect communications whereas others might;to charge excessively for it seems to suggest the real motive. If interference is the problem, will all those in-office WiFi networks in terminal offices be closed down, and will all onboard WiFi networks be banned too? What about buildings close to the airport?
The scary thing is that if Massport win this other airports are bound to leap aboard. And not just in the U.S. If airport authorities think they can make money out of this, I’m sure they will follow suit. I’m worried. Unless it means better and free WiFi in airports, in which case I’m all for it. Let’s face it, sometimes WiFi services are so bad in airports you feel as if it’s too important a commodity to be left to small bitplayers. More discussion of the issues here and here.
Something I’ve long dreamt of: An intelligent luggage tag.
Here’s a concept for a Bluetooth luggage tag that lights up when it’s in range of your Bluetooth gadget, helping you to identify it on the carousel. The Bluebird tag would contain additional information, so should it go astray the luggage could be returned to you. You could have separate tags for each item. (Found on blueserker.)
Now I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, not least because the Bluebird design looks so good. But others may have been here first: Samonsite unveiled a Bluetooth suitcase two years back which supposedly contains information for tracking and identifying luggae. Admittedly since then not much has happened: It’s not even clear whether the cases were ever sold. Three years ago Red-M said it was teaming up with Denmark’s BlueTags to use Bluetooth to help manage and track luggage and to help find it when necessary. I can’t find any subsequent mention of this, although BlueTags are now being used to track children at a Danish zoo, which is pretty much the same thing.
I like the Bluebird idea, but I’m not sure it would work. As soon as more than one person at the carousel has these devices, they become less useful, unless there’s some way of uniquely identifying each piece of luggage. Otherwise all you’ve got are lots of bits of flashing luggage going around the carousel. (One way around this would be for your PDA to tell you how far away your luggage is on the conveyor. But somehow that seems to have crossed some sort of nerd acceptability line.)
The other thing is that every Bluetooth device transmits a signal (unlike RFID, for example, which has a passive and an active element. The RFID tag doesn’t transmit, it only receives; it’s the scanner that transmits). So would lots of bits of Bluetooth luggage in the airplane hold be beaming confusing signals that interfere with the navigation system?
To me the biggest headache that could use a technology like this is reassuring the passenger. Using RFID or some similar technology on luggage would allow both the airline to check it has all its luggage aboard, but also the cabin crew to confirm for the passenger that their luggage is safely stowed. Airlines could even allow passengers to check for themselves, perhaps via the inflight display (key in their luggage number via a touchscreen, activating an RFID scanner in the hold to look for the item.)
Indeed, Delta Airlines this month said they were doing something like that. On July 1 it said it would use RFID to track luggage through its U.S. network. And Hong Kong’s airport last month said it was going to use RFID to track luggage going through the airport. But I can’t see airlines allowing passengers to do the monitoring, for the simple reason that if the scanner doesn’t find the luggage — either because it’s not aboard or the technology doesn’t work properly — you’re going to have a lot of very unhappy passengers insisting the plane turn around and go back to the gate. Things could get ugly.