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For much of society, free Wi-Fi has evolved into something of a right, and the trend at airports is to treat it as an amenity no different from water fountains, trams and Muzak. Nigeria is still far or yet to embrace technology that could close the gap on the unfriendliness of her airports, writes WOLE SHADARE
The commercialisation and privatisation of airports in combination with the deregulation of the aviation market have introduced new possibilities for competition among airports. This in turn has meant that there are increased opportunities for airports to develop new strategies to gain competitive advantage. Many airports proudly promote their free Wi-Fi on concourse signs, on their websites and whenever someone in the airport opens a browser.
Little things matter
As airlines consolidate and airports compete for traffic and air service, every little amenity helps to lure flyers, and free Wi-Fi is a great perk to keep consumers happy while they wait for their flights. But, citing economic factors and long-running contracts, many airports still charge for Wi-Fi or offer just a few minutes of free access.
One of Africa’s least connected countries, Ethiopia, in 2017, launched free Wi-Fi for foreign travelers at Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa. Accessing the internet is a continuously problematic issue in Ethiopia where internet penetration remains very low across the country with just 20 per cent of the over 120 million people currently online, according to the World Bank.
It is an irony that Nigeria, which has very high internet penetration among over 150 million subscribers, lacks functional Wi-Fi at any of its airports. Some airports, including O’Hare and Midway in Chicago, allow travelers to visit some tourism and shopping websites for free, but checking email or conducting business had a price. Still others are moving to a hybrid plan offering limited Wi-Fi for free, but more robust service for a fee.
Nigeria still far behind
Despite enormous work done by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and, by extension, the Federal Government, Nigeria’s premier airports, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, are miles apart from how friendly airports should be.
They are far from the ideal situation travelers have experienced in smaller countries and many of the big airports across the world that the country tries to emulate.
Not a few believe that the inability of many of the airports across the country to provide great customer experience for passengers is majorly because of the way the facilities are run devoid of great initiative by the private sector, rather, the continuation of running many of the nation’s aerodromes in a civil service style.
Emulating other better airports across the world should come with providing infrastructure, Wi-Fi and other social amenities that would make passengers travelling or transiting through these aerodromes have unforgettable experiences.
The Infrastructure are out of tune with the modern idea of airport infrastructure. Rather, many users of these airports see them simply as a vehicle through which they exit or come into the country and not because they find the airport environment conducive enough for business or social activities.
No matter the awards won by Abuja and Lagos airports recently, there are so many things lacking that should by now have jolted FAAN into providing these missing links. Despite the awards, many do not get value for their money going by the appalling services offered by the airport authority.
A few years ago, the Federal Government, through its Executive Orders, brought some reforms to the Lagos and Abuja international airports, including the harmonisation of security checks for outgoing passengers, electronic scanning of baggage and improvements in the air conditioning, toilets, car parks and sanitary conditions of the airports.
But, it is not the same story across all the airports, especially the domestic terminals. The agency may have reverted to its old self as some of the things the Executive Orders tried to correct are manifesting presently.
The experiment to provide Wi-Fi for the Lagos airport only lasted a few weeks. Even Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 (MMA2) could not go beyond the initial stage of making it free to the terminal users. The nation’s aviation industry had gone into an overdrive with news that the major airports across the country would have wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) facility.
A former Managing Director of FAAN, in 2015, Saleh Dunoma, disclosed that the agency would be providing the service in partnership with Globacom Ltd. It briefly launched at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. Sonoma said the launch was a realisation of the aviation ministry’s commitment to improving passenger experience in the country.
According to him, there had been numerous complaints about the lack of internet connectivity at the airports. He therefore urged Globacom to also extend the Wi-Fi coverage of the buildings under construction at the airport when they are ready.
In his remarks, Globacom’s Coordinator for Business Solutions, Ike Oraekwuotu, expressed the company’s delight to “bring Nigeria up to speed with one of the best trends in the aviation industry worldwide by introducing ultra high speed Wi-Fi data experience for travellers and other users of our airports, beginning with Nigeria’s flagship airport.
“Millions of Nigerians and international travellers who use the 26 airports operated by FAAN deserve a super fast and reliable internet connectivity to stay in touch with loved ones and transact their businesses even while in transit.
That is the state of the aviation industry in many of the advanced countries today. Travellers waiting at airports for their flights are able to hook up to the internet using airport Wi-Fi facilities in order to maintain contact with their loved ones, colleagues, friends and business associates.
“Airport Wi-Fi facilities have proven to be a very useful resource for cutting back on the billions of unproductive man hours spent by travellers, especially business travellers, waiting for flights at airports across the world,” he added.
He promised that the facility would be available at both the domestic and international wings of the Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt airports.
He also said the second phase of the project would cover 12 airports across the country adding that “Globacom is working hard to ensure that this is delivered in the next 10 weeks.”
The offering of free Wi-Fi has become a worldwide phenomenon proving to be particularly popular at high frequency, high volume destinations. The types of destinations where free Wi- Fi is offered vary greatly in kind and include the likes of airports, restaurants, shops, shopping malls, tourism attractions and even cities, to mention only a few.
In certain parts of the world, access to the internet via Wi-Fi and other network means is regarded to be a basic human right.
By providing free Wi-Fi at airports an opportunity thus opens up for airports to not only engage with international travellers, but possibly also for corporate or industry sponsors to engage.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) feels it’s high-time that airports got around to giving passengers free, easy to access, Wi-Fi at all terminals around the world.
Heathrow had in 2019 launched a fast speed Wi-Fi service at the airport. In partnership with Boingo. Passengers at all Heathrow terminals are now able to enjoy the new Wi-Fi experience with up to 100 MBPS (megabytes per second) speeds.
Wi-Fi in the airport has become integral to the passenger experience, making the terminal a place to visit, and a place passengers want to stay. Whether it’s booking last-minute travel insurance, pre-ordering groceries for the return home or streaming cartoons to keep children entertained, passengers have no time limit when browsing on Wi-Fi at the airport.
Much of the passenger experience is defined by issues such as baggage transportation and loss, security checkpoint experiences, and reliable high speed WiFi which are critical in alleviating airport-associated stresses on operators and travelers alike.Google+