Network Eases Growing Pains

Vancouver International Airport Authority's integrated voice, data, and video network supports self-service kiosks and wireless baggage systems.

Paul Travis, Managing Editor,

April 9, 2005

3 Min Read

Several years ago, managers of the Vancouver International Airport Authority thought they needed to build another terminal. "The check-in concourse was in complete chaos," says Kevin Molloy, CIO and VP of simplified passenger travel at the airport. "We couldn't check them in fast enough."

What the Canadian airport really needed was a plan to deal with the growing number of passengers and to cut the costs associated with check-ins, baggage handling, and other support services it provides to the 22 airlines using the facility. The answer, managers decided, was converging integrated voice, data, and video communications onto a single, combined wired and wireless network.

Kevin Molloy hopes the network will ease Olympic traffic.

The nearly completed network, based on Cisco Systems equipment and designed and installed by Telus, has helped to triple the number of passengers the airport can serve thanks to self-service kiosks where passengers can check in to any airline. It even put some kiosks at hotels, at car-rental agencies, at convention centers, and on cruise ships. "We are able to handle 20% more travelers with 30% fewer staff," Molloy says. "Our check-in time is now less than a minute. It made the lines disappear in the terminal."

Shifting to a single converged network posed problems. Each of the 22 airlines using the airport operated its own communications network, and the airport authority had seven of its own for tasks such as baggage handling. "We showed them that we could save around $2.5 million a year by collapsing their networks down into one core network and that we could improve operations by introducing self-service."

Today, the single network supports the communications needs of all of the airlines and the airport's internal systems, and it connects 1,100 IP phones, 1,000 closed-circuit cameras, and more than 1,500 TV screens. It also allowed the airport to deploy the 60 self-service kiosks--which can be used to check in to any airline--in the terminal and off-site. Self-service kiosks on cruise ships, which are connected to the airport by satellite, are a first for the travel industry, and "the cruise industry has asked us to make that technology available to other ports," Molloy says.

The airport has spent around $4 million on the core network and around $10 million total, the cost of which is folded into the overhead that the airport charges each airline to use its facilities. The core network operates at 1 Gbyte per second, with 100 Mbyte-per-second links to each desktop and kiosk.

Wireless capabilities let passengers waiting in the terminal surf the Internet with their laptop computers, and the airport plans to install 46 public Internet kiosks. There is a kiosk with a biometric iris scanner that helps ease customs processing, and employees use wireless handhelds to scan and time-stamp bags as they travel from check-in to an airplane's baggage compartment. That information and the bag's location are transferred into a database, which makes it easier to find and remove a bag, as required by international law, if the passenger who checked it in never boards the plane.

Another reason for the network change is that Vancouver will host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, which will cause a huge bubble of passenger traffic. Molloy is banking on self-service kiosks in hotels, train stations, and other locations to ease the burden. So far, around 85% of eligible passengers use the self-service kiosks, says Judy May, a specialist in transportation systems at Cisco Systems.

Now that the full-scale deployment is almost complete, the Vancouver airport will try to resell the know-how behind shared-airline and off-site kiosks to other airports, especially smaller ones in Canada. "It will provide another revenue stream for us," Molloy says. "And many of them are feeder airports to us. By leasing the self-service capabilities to them, we can offer the customer a more consistent experience from beginning to end."

About the Author(s)

Paul Travis

Managing Editor,

Paul Travis is Managing Editor of Paul got his start as a newspaper reporter, putting black smudges on dead trees in the 1970s. Eventually he moved into the digital world, covering the telecommunications industry in the 1980s (when Ma Bell was broken up) and moving to writing and editing stories about computers and information technology in the 1990s (when he became a "content creator"). He was a news editor for InformationWeek magazine for more than a decade, and he also served as executive editor for Tele.Com, and editor of Byte and Switch, a storage-focused website. Once he realized this Internet thingy might catch on, he moved to the InformationWeek website, where he oversees a team of reporters that cover breaking technology news throughout the day.

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