Calgary airport deploys a multi-purpose wireless LAN

Travelers using Calgary International Airport can pull out their laptops and PDAs and get connected to the Internet in virtually any location throughout the terminals, thanks to a recently implemented wireless LAN (WLAN).

The airport started looking at its wireless options about two years ago when it identified that it had some coverage issues, explained Paul Lawrence, director of information technologies and telecommunications at the Calgary Airport Authority (CAA), the not-for-profit body responsible for the Calgary Airport.

“We wanted to address [those issues] on the wireless cellular level and we knew that Wi-Fi was already here so we wanted to also advance that capability within the airport at that time,” he said.

The airport had been fielding inquiries from travelers over the past year-and-a-half as to when the airport would start providing wireless access, Lawrence noted. He added that the airlines were also specifically interested in being able to use wireless for some of their applications, mainly their maintenance programs.

The CAA worked with both Telus Corp. and Telus Mobility to implement the WLAN. Telus Mobility was responsible for building the public hotspot and Telus corporate was focused on building the managed wireless LAN solution that will be used by airport workers, explained Chris Langdon, director of wireless business solutions at Telus Mobility in Burnaby, B.C.

“There is a private wireless LAN that the internal users of the Calgary Airport would access to get [connected] to their back end systems wirelessly in a secure manner. There is a public edge also, another virtual LAN that the public can access — and never the twain shall meet. The public can’t access the systems that the internal Calgary airport personnel are using and similarly, the internal airport isn’t interested in accessing the public Internet.”

Although Langdon admits that with any wireless technology there might be some small holes that don’t have coverage, Telus has tried to deploy access points in such a way that most of the airport receives Wi-Fi access. He added that the public WLAN, which comprises roughly 123 different hotspots, will provide access to all areas of the airport where travellers are free to roam, including restaurants, car rental kiosks, departure lounges and arrival areas.

The private side of the WLAN will be used by the tenants and various businesses at the airport, including airlines, food and service providers, and potentially retailers, said Donovan Volk, national marketing manager, wireless business solutions at Telus in Calgary. Because the entire airport is blanketed with Wi-Fi access, Volk said such thorough coverage will enable the CAA to deploy more advanced services in the future, including radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging and voice-overIP.

Currently the airport can support roughly 4,000 simultaneous users, Volk said. “You are never going to get 30 or 40 people per access point everywhere in the airport but the capacity is definitely there.”

Lawrence predicted that at first the public hotspot will be used more frequently than the private, but in the long run the reverse will be true.

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