T-Mobile Unwires Airport Lounges

T-Mobile USA, the wireless part of Deutsche Telekom AG, has made recent headlines with its roll out of hotspots in the Starbucks Coffee chain and plans for the same in Borders Books and Music stores stores and cafes in 2003. Now the company is targeting mobile professionals on the road.

T-Mobile has entered into an agreement with the three largest airlines in the United States, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. The mobile provider will be building 802.11b-based hotspots in over 100 clubs and lounges run by the airlines throughout the nation’s airports. About 40 American Airlines Admiral’s Clubs are already served by T-Mobile Wi-Fi access.

The lounges for each airline are limited to members of their frequent flier clubs. The company hopes that with the right approval from airport officials, hotspots will be extended to the gates for each airline as well.

Extending Wi-Fi to the airport gates is a matter of ownership, not technology, according to Frank Ramirez, Director of Business Products at T-Mobile. “A while back [airports] made a bundle of revenue through slot-machine type telephones. Then the wireless carriers came in so those revenues dried up. Everyone’s looking for the opportunity to make some money and realize the value of their assets. In the gate area, the degrees of ownership are less qualified.”

Who owns the lounges is clear. The airlines also, obviously, own the planes, but Ramirez said T-Mobile is “not close to announcing” anything having to do with in-flight wireless Internet access yet. The company is satisfied with knowing that about 20 million business travelers pass through the lounges and clubs of the three airlines — all potential customers for T-Mobile’s “Get More” wireless services.

The company expects to have 2000 hotspot locations nationwide by the end of 2002. In 2002, the company will expand into about 400 Borders Books and Music, but Ramirez says they’ll have well over 2400 hotspots by the end of 2003.

“We represent about 40-60 percent of the access points installed that are available on a reliable basis,” says Rameriz. “I don’t know if we can maintain that percentage, but it’s a land grab and we’re taking the principle real estate.”

T-Mobile offers a number of service plans for Wi-Fi users, including an unlimited national for $49.99 a month, unlimited regional for $29.99 a month, and a pay-as-you go for $2.99 for ever 15 minutes of use. Ramirez says the company will soon offer a $39.99 national plan to existing customers of T-Mobiles GPRS voice or data services.