Among the fastest-growing destinations for air travelers passing through Munich Airport, one of the busiest in Europe, is not on the map - it's in cyberspace.
Since it deployed a Cisco wireless local area network (WLAN) within its terminal buildings, the German airport's operator, Flughafen M|nchen GmbH, has seen Internet access figures jump from 20 users a month to 200 a day, despite the fact that the operator is now charging for what was introduced as a free service.
One reason for this increase in popularity is the ease with which users can go online. Simply switch on a laptop, equipped with a built in Wi-Fi WLAN card, open your web browser and you will find yourself at the Munich Airport portal.
But the other big draw - and an area where Munich Airport is at the forefront - is that users can access a range of service providers, including the one that they may already be a customer of for their private or work mobile phone service.
This multi-service provider model uses Cisco Service Selection Gateway technology to offer connections through T-Mobile and Swisscom today, with others soon to come. Vodafone customers can also get free WLAN connections in the airport thanks to a separate arrangement with Lufthansa.
This model was only developed in recent months and it is perhaps not surprising that it was introduced first in Germany. IDC research earlier this year noted 327 percent growth up until the end of 2002 in the European WLAN market, with Germany leading the way in the number and range of wireless hotspots.
Being able to get online while on the move, without wires, is an everyday occurrence for a large and growing number of Germans.
Alongside Munich Airport, which is Germany's second largest air hub with capacity for 50 million passengers a year, important WLAN deployments are being implemented in the airports of Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Hannover.
Earlier this year Lufthansa became the first commercial airline with an in-flight network, when it began offering high-speed Internet access for transatlantic travelers on a plane serving the route from Frankfurt to Washington, DC, for a trial period between Jan. 15 and April 15, 2003.
The infrastructure to achieve this was based on Cisco technology which, in flight, allowed passengers to send and receive e-mail and access an Internet portal run by Lufthansa and Tomorrow Focus, AG.
After more than 50 flights, Lufthansa reported an average of 150 Internet-access users per trip, with as many as 80 users supported at the same time. The airline also offers WLAN connections in its club lounges, through the service provider Vodafone.
As well as Germany's biggest airline, the country's biggest hotel - the Berlin Estrel - has gone wireless. The building has 20 Cisco Aironet 350 Series access points around its glass atrium lobby and adjoining convention area, as well as 150 wired broadband connections.
The access points are connected through Cisco Catalyst(r) 3500 Series XL switches to a Cisco Secure Access Control Server that provides a central point of control for all user authentication, authorization and accounting from a Web-based graphical interface, ensuring maximum security across the wireless connections.
Step out of the hotel for a coffee and you will even be able to log on without wires at Starbucks, which offers connectivity through the service provider T-Mobile. Other hotspot operations around the country include:
* The Lindenlohe Orthopedic Hospital in Schwandorf, Bavaria, building on a 52-year heritage with the introduction of WLAN to improve patient care by giving doctors access to decision-support data from anywhere in the building - including at the operating table.
* The retail giant METRO Group using wireless as one of the technical showpieces of its visionary Future Store concept in Rheinberg.
* Duesseldorf's old town Rhine riverbank area going wireless, in a project again in association with ISIS Multimedia Net.
Although the reasons for Germany's love affair with WLAN are unspecified, what is true is that the wireless trend is at present largely being driven by companies in the travel sectors.
"Airports are one of the places business travelers most want to have wireless connections. It's where they often start their journey," said Johann Goetz, the technical project leader for Munich Airport's WLAN platform.
It is clear, too, that hotspot operators view WLAN as an important differentiator for their business - in Munich Airport's case, the wireless project followed survey information showing passengers wanted more Internet access.
And at the airport, at least, they are not expecting the technology to stand still. "We are already thinking about walled-garden applications, such as working with one of the German TV stations to put television programming out over our wireless LAN," said Goetz.