Free WiFi is set to land at Houston’s two main airports by year’s end.
As wireless fidelity service becomes a consumer expectation, the Houston Airport System told the Houston Chronicle it is working to develop a complimentary – as well as fast, reliable and easy to use – network for the 50 million or so travelers who pour through Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports each year.
WiFi has never been totally free at the city’s commercial airfields, which first started offering pay-only access in 2005 via Sprint.
Currently, fliers get 45 minutes of free access through Boingo Wireless after sitting through a 30-second advertisement. The city has contracted with the Los Angeles-based wireless giant since 2009, when the airport system says demand for free WiFi was not as high.
But fliers say Boingo isn’t always easy to connect to, and it costs $7.95 a day – less under monthly plans – after the complimentary period ends.
Lisa Kent, the airport system’s chief information officer, said airports have “historically” considered WiFi more luxury than necessity, but “that is changing over time.”
Free WiFi, she said, has become one of the most frequent requests from passengers who submit feedback forms.
People “all carry, or most of them carry, smartphones and tablets and laptops, and they expect to be able to access totally free bandwidth from public entities, particularly airports, where they do a lot of staging and waiting for their flights,” said Kent, who oversees the technology department.
The tech team is still working out such details as who should build and maintain the network and what exactly it should look like.
“Ideally, we would like to have a new infrastructure at least beginning to be installed by the holiday season,” Kent said.
You only have to spend some time in an airport that has free WiFi to realize just what you’re missing at Hobby or IAH. I won’t be surprised if the airports develop a tiered offering, with free service that may be slow and/or include ads, and pay service that will be faster and ad-free. Whatever the case, it’ll be better than what we have now, which is basically nothing unless you have the privilege of being in one of the airline executive waiting areas. All I can say is it’s about time.