SFO plugs into free Wi-Fi service

Multitasking travelers at San Francisco International Airport could soon have the benefit of free wireless Internet blanketing the entire travel hub.

A pilot project that’s being considered by SFO and T-Mobile would make the airport one of the largest in the nation to provide free wireless Web access across all terminals.

Travelers who want to access Wi-Fi at SFO currently have to pay $7.99 a day to log on to the T-Mobile service. A pilot program would provide the same access for free, according to SFO spokesman Michael McCarron.

If the partnership with T-Mobile proves to be successful, the airport would pursue plans for longer-term free wireless service. McCarron said the airport didn’t have a timeline yet for when free wireless could be available, but the hub is seriously interested in pursuing the plan based on strong customer support for the idea.

“We’ve had a lot of passengers commenting to us that they’d like to have free Internet,” McCarron said.

If SFO does opt to go the route of providing free Wi-Fi permanently, it would join a growing group of national airports that offer the service, including hubs in Boston, Cleveland, Phoenix and San Jose, according to Sean Broderick of the American Association of Airport Executives. Broderick did not know exactly how many airports provide free wireless service, but he said the hubs are typically smaller-size operations. If SFO goes with free wireless, it would be one of the biggest hubs in the nation to offer the feature airportwide.

Like SFO, Logan International Airport in Boston, the most recent to implement free wireless, initially had an agreement with T-Mobile to provide paid service. After a two-month free trial period during the holidays, in which Internet usage increased sixfold, officials at Logan decided to pursue the free service full time, according to airport spokesman Matthew Brelis.

For now, the airport will absorb the cost of the free Wi-Fi, with the hope that future sponsorship and advertising opportunities on the Web will cover the costs, Brelis said.

Mineta San Jose International Airport has provided free wireless service since May 2008, according to spokesman David Vossbrink. Initially, the airport hoped to attract sponsors or advertisers to help cover the costs, but those efforts have been abandoned.

The airport spent about $90,000 to install the wireless equipment, and upkeep of the infrastructure costs about $30,000 to $40,000 annually, a cost Vossbrink says is well-spent.

“We’ve had nothing but compliments since going with free wireless,” he said. “We’re Silicon Valley’s airport, and we feel we owe it to our customers to provide the type of service they’re used to and they deserve.”


Up in the air

San Francisco International Airport is considering offering free wireless Internet access.

$7.99 Current cost per day of Wi-Fi service at SFO

Free Cost of Wi-Fi service under plan sponsored by T-Mobile

Boston, Cleveland, Phoenix and San Jose Other airports offering free Wi-Fi

Sixfold Increase in usage during holiday trial period in Boston

$90,000 Amount San Jose airport paid to install Wi-Fi equipment

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