Despite the growing availability of Wi-Fi hotspots in transit and inside transport terminals less than 25pc of business travellers are taking advantage of the technology, a Gartner study of 2,000 US and UK executives has found.
The study showed that only 25pc of US and 17pc of UK business travellers are taking advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots have been available for several years and makers of laptop PCs now offer built-in Wi-Fi. However, Gartner has found users are abstaining from using the technology because of educational, cultural and financial reasons rather than technological apprehension.
Nevertheless, Gartner said Wi-Fi could prove to be a beneficial differentiator in a competitive travel market if these barriers can be overcome, as Wi-Fi will be less costly for airlines to implement than other in-flight enhancements.
“Some airlines such as Lufthansa and SAS in Europe and ANA, JAL and Singapore Airlines in Asia are offering wireless internet access to their passengers but, although the service is accessible, there are a number of technical and business issues that are obstructing growth regardless of the mode of transport,” said Delia MacMillan, research vice-president at Gartner.
Despite the growing availability of the supporting infrastructure and technology, Gartner’s survey found that respondents consider in-flight access to the internet and email less of a priority than comforts such as more personal space, bigger baggage allowance and better entertainment. Additionally 78pc of US travellers and 75pc of UK travellers said they would welcome the chance to be out of contact for a while whilst in the air. Even on the ground, 30pc of US travellers and 32pc of UK travellers said that they have no need to use Wi-Fi hotspots.
“Whilst Wi-Fi has come a long way, our survey shows that many business travellers remain uncertain as to why they should use Wi-Fi, what equipment they need, how they can connect and what they will be charged,” said MacMillan. “If Wi-Fi providers really want to attract new customers they must convince both end users and organisations of its benefits.”
Of the 25pc of US travellers and 17pc of UK travellers who do use hotspots while travelling on business, the respondents were happiest with the speed of connection, ease of use and overall value. They were least happy with the price of the services and the limited availability of hotspots in useful locations.
“Many organisations will not reimburse their personnel for Wi-Fi access charges, as these fees are often not covered by their telecom contracts. If airlines can commit to lower prices then the provision of Wi-Fi access could prove a key attraction to business travellers,” MacMillan added.
Financial issues outweighed worries about security in the survey with only 16pc of respondents in both countries expressing concerns about security.
The limited exposure to the technology among business travellers could change as mobile devices with built-in Wi-Fi become more widespread. Additionally, Gartner predicts that by the end of 2005, half of the laptop PCs in use will have Wi-Fi capabilities either built-in or added using PC cards.
Full Wi-Fi-enabled services on airplanes have been available for more than a year on some international routes via Connexion by Boeing, which provides Wi-Fi connections to the internet via satellite. However, airlines using this service are currently only able to access satellite coverage in the northern hemisphere.
“On-board Wi-Fi has also been used by passengers for voice over internet protocol calls from planes, although the service is not optimised for this purpose,” said MacMillan.
In-flight Wi-Fi, Gartner recommends, could yield airlines a more rewarding return on investment than traditional in-flight entertainment or better baggage allowances.
“Internet access is potentially much cheaper for airlines to introduce than other items such as more personal space, bigger baggage allowances or better entertainment,” MacMillan said. “Hotspot providers need to encourage usage by ensuring adequate, reliable connectivity and making it simpler for customers to connect and pay.”
By John Kennedy