Winnipeg International is the latest Canadian airport to deploy a wireless network so travelers can surf while they wait for flights.

The airport’s Wi-Fi network was deployed by Telus Corp. over a period of about six months and

recently went live. Internet access is so commonplace in airports now that travellers have come to expect it, said Kelly Langevin, spokesperson with the Winnipeg Airports Authority.

“We’re getting into a technical age where access to the Internet is being widely distributed – especially in transportation areas, in airports, hotels, train stations. With the immediacy of business right now, some of our customers (require it),” he said. “It serves their needs and it’s a great enhancement to our airport.”

The WLAN may be a boon to passengers, said Chris Langdon, director of business and enterprise solutions for Telus, but the Winnipeg rollout was complicated by the fact that it will also be used for airport applications, like baggage-handling.

“There’s a barcode that gets put onto your bag that’s read electronically,” explained Langevin. “That stores a lot of information not only about the bag but the person, where they came from, where they’re going and what airline they’re on. That can also be electronically transmitted via wireless to another location in the airport.”

The WLAN will also be used by merchants that operate stores in airport for point-of-sale and inventory management applications. Other users could include the airline carriers, who could upload entertainment programming from the terminal right into the aircraft and airport workers who use the network to access e-mail and other applications.

The challenge around that is systems integration, said Langdon. “That’s probably the most technical challenge: some of the applications may not perform that well. In any wireless environment, certain things can interfere with the signal, so we spend a lot of time optimizing the network to make sure it performs.”

The network runs at speeds you’d see in a good DSL connection, he said. But the more users on the network, the more it could lag. To counter that, Telus tested the network at high capacity to make sure that none of the applications running on it suffered.

Airports aren’t an ideal environment for wireless networks, he added, since they are always a work in progress. “As there are moves and changes in the airport – as there are in any airport that undergoes construction and improvement projects – it may impact the wireless RF characteristics.”

There are naturally security concerns around airport applications, said Langdon, so enterprise users operate a VLAN over the network. Users are also encouraged to use WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and Layer 4 encryption, he added.

Telus has worked with about 10 Canadian airports on Wi-Fi rollouts, including Vancouver, Calgary and London, Ont.

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