Tussle Over Airport Airwaves
By Carlo Longino, Tue Jun 08 19:45:00 GMT 2004

A fight's brewing over airspace at US airports -- but it's Wi-Fi networks, not anything aviation-related, that's causing problems, which could signal a trend of landlord-tenant squabbles over wireless networks.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that at several US airports, the number of separate Wi-Fi networks set up by airlines, WISPs and the airports themselves are causing serious interference issues and leading to fights between the parties over just who controls the airspace.

Several airlines are now using Wi-Fi-based systems to track baggage in and around terminals, and airports have been a bastion of paid Wi-Fi networks. But evidently this proliferation is more than some locations can handle, causing important systems to malfunction or shut down and leading some airports to try to mediate battles between competing parties and limit the ranges of some networks, something more easily said than done.

But some airports are getting to the crux of the matter and installing their own wide-reaching Wi-Fi networks, making them accessible to anybody who's willing to pay. This makes us think their motivation is more financial than technological, since solutions exist that help disparate networks work alongside each other. The same argument could be made here as in the coffee shop Wi-Fi market: that businesses should stick to their core competencies (selling coffee and landing planes), rather than jump into the Net access business. They both should approach Wi-Fi access as an amenity to grow those core businesses, rather than as a new revenue stream.

But these spats could signal the beginning of new battles over airwave real estate, something that's not easy to control. Landlords could conceivably force tenants to pay for access to networks they provide as a part of the lease, and then dictate how they then sell or give away access to customers. It's also not unthinkable that one venue could take exception to another's network seeping in to its property -- particularly if the venue has a paid hotspot and the other is free. Warm up the lawyers and get the courtrooms ready, I feel some lawsuits coming on.