Opinion: The impact of internet culture on the airport lounge experience

Isi Iredia, enterprise account director at Exponential-e, explains what goes into ensuring business travellers have a reliable internet connection when visiting airport lounges

Time is a funny thing – think back to 2008 and it doesn’t seem that long ago at all. But in terms of technology, even the most high-tech of business travellers would have been showing off the ‘pour a beer’ app on their new iPhone 3G as they waited to board a flight. Emails on mobile were already a growing phenomenon, but our complicated relationship with technology was a lot more distant.

Flash forward to today and it’s a different world – one that does not accept that communication stops at the airport. From tired parents making sure there are enough episodes of their child’s favourite programme downloaded onto a tablet through to business travellers scheduling video conferences while in the terminal, there is an ever-increasing demand for high-level connectivity within air travel.

For many airports, the ability to deliver a consistent, multi-terminal public network is still something that they are working towards and is yet to be seen as ‘expected’. But for those paying for access to private lounges, it’s a very different story.

For business travellers with lounge access in 2018, complimentary champagne and a manicure are simply not going to cut it anymore.

As with any other networking project though, it’s not as simple as putting a Draytek router in the corner of a corporate lounge and giving people the password as they enter. Instead, there are a host of different issues – both from a technical and a staffing perspective – that managers of airport lounges need to consider as they future-proof their connectivity.

Firstly, appropriate levels of bandwidth and speed need to be implemented – the only thing more irritating to the business traveller than not having an internet connection is having one that doesn’t work. For lounges, the minimum speeds need to be around 1Gbps, giving enough speed for those downloading files or making calls via the connection without being restricted. Of course, enterprise network companies can now offer speeds a hundred times faster, but economical sense needs to be kept in mind at the same time.

The second issue to consider is the fact that even the most sophisticated of networking solutions will occasionally encounter hiccups. However, in a public setting such as an airport, where people can often spend thousands per year on tickets and lounge access, these problems can quickly lead to disgruntled travellers and amplification through social media.

It’s worth bearing in mind that lounge staff are not from a technical networking background, but usually focused on delivering a high level of hospitality, and so expecting them to be able to both answer complaints accurately and restore service is unfair.

Luckily, more advanced networking companies that specialise in these public networks now often employ a potent mixture of artificial intelligence (AI) and a managed service offering. When an issue with connectivity is encountered, AI systems can generate and send automated alerts to these teams, who can then work on the problem remotely or dispatch an engineer as boots-on-the-ground, ensuring that the problem is flagged, analysed and solved as quickly as possible.

Next has to be the issue of security – business travellers are often working with sensitive information that needs to be protected, but the network itself needs to be kept safe and secure, with questionable sites and materials off-limits and stringent security. This ensures that those using the network are the people that are supposed to be, rather than malicious actors looking to perform a man-in-the-middle attack. Again, this needs to be at the forefront of the network choices made and security centres and teams are again an offering that specialist network providers should have as an option.

If these considerations – power, troubleshooting and security – are accounted for, then the conversation can move on and ideas about solving age-old travel problems can start to be thought about. After all, how many people can hear that their gate is closing – especially now as most of those travelling will have headphones in? With a wifi network that needs passengers to log in to use it when they are in the lounge environment, some providers are beginning to test out automated gate alerts to devices, ensuring that the phone call to your boss to explain why you won’t make the meeting doesn’t have to occur.

Quite simply, new connectivity options are out there for lounge operators and can act as major differentiators for them. All that is lacking is that steer from specialist companies in regards to what can be offered and why, rather than a ‘nice to have’, high-class connectivity for business travellers is now an essential.

Exponential-e is a cloud, IT and network services provider based in the UK that offers a 100Gig Ethernet network. It partners with the likes of Virgin Atlantic and the Ritz London, among others.


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