Bluetooth’s Shortcomings at Highlighting Airport Wait Times

22 Sep

Several airports have tried using hardware solutions to determine TSA security wait times. We’re still not convinced real-time waits are as important as understanding what the wait time will be like when you get to the airport. Nonetheless, there are parties who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars  implementing these solutions.

Bluetooth technology is designed to pick up signals from devices that have Bluetooth enabled. Each device has a unique signal so the device can be tracked. Airports set up the Bluetooth receivers to identify when a phone first enters a security line, and when it exits. The problem has been two fold. First, not many devices have Bluetooth enabled. Second, determining if a unique device is actually in line or just somewhere near the line has proven problematic.

The below chart shows the wait time results from a Bluetooth installation at Indianapolis International Airport. Bluetooth would tell us that there were multiple waits over 1 hour in duration for a given day. This is entirely inaccurate. Don’t believe it? Let’s look at some sample data from Bush Intercontinental Airport, where we can see how many gaps exist in Bluetooth data.

We can see the large gaps in device signals from the Bluetooth data from Bush International. This particular image was generated from Terminal D on May 31st, 2013. Many times the Bluetooth system picks up ghost devices: devices where there’s an entry or exit signal, but not the corresponding converse.

IAH Bluetooth Data Terminal D

IAH Bluetooth Data Terminal D

The quality of Bluetooth is suspect. It misses many passengers who may have their Bluetooth devices off and the system has a difficult time pinpointing device location accurately. The good news is that the Houston Airport System spent less than a million dollars on this Bluetooth system – we’ve seen tax dollars spent more poorly before.

You can see the full purchase order here: HAS Bluetooth costs