Honolulu Int’l Adds Free, Unlimited Wi-Fi for Passengers

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)
Kristin Vanderhey Shaw
Published in: 

Whether travelers visit Honolulu for business or the spectacular sun, sand and surf, most bring along multiple electronic devices to keep in touch with friends and associates. 

Before December 2017, travelers passing through Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) could access the airport’s Wi-Fi network, but it came at a price, and they were on the clock. As digital usage trends continued to curve sharply upward, it became clear to the team at HNL that passengers needed better access to high-quality, unlimited Wi-Fi.  

 “We were looking to enhance the passenger experience at all the airports in Hawaii, and providing free unlimited Wi-Fi is one of the amenities we wanted to offer,” says Tim Sakahara, public information officer for the Hawaii Department of Transportation. “Travelers want to be able to log on for various reasons, like looking up restaurants, flight information, hotel accommodations and sharing their experiences via social media.”


Project: Free Passenger Wi-Fi; Distributed
Antenna System 

Location: Daniel K. Inouye Int’l Airport 

Network Operator: Boingo Wireless

Terms: 10-yr contract; Boingo pays Hawaii Dept. of Transportation percentage of annual revenue for advertising, retail & roaming 

Cost: No capital outlay for airport; project cost supported by roaming, carrier leasing on DAS
network & advertisements sold by Boingo

Timeline: initial phase completed Dec. 2017;
final phases completed May 2018

Now, HNL offers free, unlimited Wi-Fi service with funding support from online advertising. Since the new service launched, the airport has facilitated more than 1.5 million Wi-Fi connections. With 20 million passengers enplaning and deplaning annually, Sakahara anticipates Wi-Fi usage to increase even more—especially since the new service was phased in gradually and has only spanned the entire airport since May. 

Connected Passengers Are Happy Passengers

After issuing a request for proposals to find the right partner, HNL chose Boingo Wireless, which operates wireless networks in airports, stadiums, campuses, military bases and commercial properties throughout the United States. The previous vendor HNL had used for many years was a local company that could not meet the growing demand, explains Sakahara. Boingo offered the depth and breadth of service the airport was seeking, along with a proven track record, he adds. 

In addition to upgrading internet service at HNL, the Hawaii Department of Transportation plans to upgrade Wi-Fi service at all four of the state’s other commercial airports: Kahului Airport (OGG), Hilo International Airport (ITO), Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) and Lihue Airport (LIH). According to Sakahara, improvements are scheduled to be complete by the end of the year. In addition to managing communications for the state’s airports, he also oversees communications for its highway and ports, including 10 commercial ports that import essential supplies to the islands for residents and visitors alike. 

At airports, Wi-Fi is the No. 1 requested amenity for travelers, notes Boingo Vice President Danielle Aiello. “To most passengers, connectivity is as important as the air they breathe,” she quips.  

With mobile data consumption at an all-time high, connected passengers are happy passengers. As such, connectivity has become a required amenity for airports to offer, says Aiello. 

 “Free and unlimited Wi-Fi is something travelers had requested, and in many cases, have come to expect,” agrees Sakahara. 

Improved Connectivity & Revenue 

In order to receive free, unlimited internet access at HNL, passengers view a static ad or watch a 30-second (or less) video. Alternately, they can purchase a one-day or monthly subscription through Boingo for faster, ad-free service. 

The sales team from Boingo Media secures high-engagement Wi-Fi sponsorships with brands and deploys targeted ads by terminal, by language and by time of day. According to Aiello, Boingo Media is the world’s largest Wi-Fi advertising network.

From a business perspective, the ads help fund the cost to provide free Wi-Fi at the airport. HNL agreed to a 10-year contract, and Boingo pays the Hawaii Department of Transportation a percentage of revenue from advertising, retail and roaming. Because the wireless company also supplies the equipment to run the Wi-Fi system, there was no capital outlay for the airport. 

The state transportation department also contracted Boingo to install a distributed antenna system (DAS) to boost cellular signals in all five Hawaii airports. The cellular DAS network is now live and will improve signal strength and increase capacity to improve mobile coverage for travelers, regardless of which wireless carrier they use.

Improving Wi-Fi and cellular service can result in better coverage and lower cost, says Aiello. “When you have network convergence, you have more spectrum,” she explains. “It’s a better user experience across the board. Venues are opting for both Wi-Fi and cellular solutions because of skyrocketing demand for mobile data service.” 

Just One Piece of the Puzzle

The recent Wi-Fi improvements dovetail with other HNL projects detailed in a plan that looks five to 10 years out. Recently, the airport broke ground for a new concourse. 

“Our goal is for the overall passenger experience to be positive, and having service like this contributes to that,” says Sakahura. “The Hawaii Department of Transportation is making huge improvements to the facilities of the structure, the gates, the restrooms and more. There are a lot of exciting improvements to boost the passenger experience.”

A statewide airport modernization program rings in at almost $3 billion, with the bulk of funds focused at HNL.

Sakahara says that the airports are transforming in myriad ways, including aesthetically. “We updated all the gates and terminal names, refreshed our gate numbers, and added new signage,” he says. “Everything inside and outside is being changed for better wayfinding and a fresher feel at the gate.”

New, more efficient rental car facilities are planned for HNL and OGG, which is located on the island of Maui. Passengers will no longer be required to take shuttles to off-site facilities, because the consolidated car rental centers will be centrally located at the airports. At OGG, an electric train will take passengers directly to the new rental car center, thus reducing roadway congestion by eliminating the need for shuttles. 

Passpoint, Boingo’s next generation hotspot technology, makes connectivity at the airport more convenient. As passengers move from automobile to curb and train to gate, the airport’s Wi-Fi automatically connects them without the need for separate log-ins or passwords. This technology will also help HNL get ready for 5G, notes Aiello. 

“The next generation of cellular network technology will be a game-changer,” she predicts. “It will leverage both Wi-Fi and cellular and look at technologies like Passpoint to facilitate seamless connectivity. 5G represents a shift in mobile services and will have a big impact on the Internet of Things. It will be key for successful and smart airports to keep up with technology trends.”

Sakahara has already noticed a shift in public sentiment at HNL. He reports that passengers are surprised and delighted to discover that the airport now offers unlimited free Wi-Fi. 

“We are focused on making the airports more useable and efficient,” he remarks. “We’ve added more retail shops, a cultural garden, more sidewalks, new restaurants. All airports want to improve the passenger experience, and the new free Wi-Fi helps with that.”  


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