Country-wide WiFi review

I took a bunch of flights a couple weeks back and thought I’d be able to enjoy my downtime between flights catching up on email and reading the web. Since I don’t know of any central site that tracks such things (is there a “geek airports” list with availability and price, like the geek hotels site?), here were my findings:

San Francisco (SFO) – New media business capital of the world and no wireless.

Chicago (ORD) – The business capital of the midwest, but not a wireless signal in sight.

Boston (BOS) – Major business city in New England, second only to New York City in the region, but nada on the wireless coverage in the terminals I sat in.

Austin (AUS) – Finally! Wayport access cost $5.95 for 24 hours of connectivity. Two years previous, it was free, but $5.95 ain’t bad and I got an hour’s use out of it.

Denver (DEN) – AT&T coverage through their “GoPort” service. A 24 hour connection costs $9.99. I had a few hours in Denver so I decide to do it, filling out this signup application, but I get a web server error upon submittal. I checked my credit card and wasn’t charged for the $9.99, but I did sit in Denver connection-free due to their app.

It kind of shocks me how few aiports offer wireless access, even though much of airline travel is business related. It’s an easy business model too, you just buy a $50/month DSL line and throw some base station hardware up for everyone to use, then start making 5-10 bucks a head, per day from customers. I also saw Microsoft tablet PC kiosks in Denver, as well as a booth hawking Intel’s new Centrino product. SFO also had a Centrino display, even though SFO doesn’t offer wireless access. It was interesting to see businesses such as Intel and Microsoft understand the value of engaging business travelers, even though the airports themselves do not (I also wondered, now that Google put money into Blogger, would they see value in selling blogs to business travelers in airports and why don’t they have kiosks in major hubs too?).

Last year while flying, I found only two other airports offering wifi access: San Jose (SJC) and Dallas (DFW). One other odd finding was paying $5.95 for wireless at one wayport-equipped airport (austin), then having a stopover in Dallas (also covered by wayport) required a separate $5.95 account, even though I was within the 24 hours originally purchased.

As a complete aside, I noticed on my six flights that I was surrounded by giner ale drinkers. Sure, once in a while I run into someone that loves fresh ginger, or I find a non-cola drinker that insists on it, but my rowmates on four of the flights were drinking it. Everyone was asking for it. The staff was running out of it. People were getting testy when they went without it.

The data’s a bit of an outlier, and I have the feeling I missed some trendster proclaiming it as the miracle drink du jour. So what’s the deal with it? Is it the new Atkin’s Brau? The favorite juice for sugarbusters? Did Oprah plug it as one of her favorite products out of the blue?