Productivity flying high on Vancouver airport network

The Vancouver International Airport Authority is counting on a single high-speed network and a recently completed voice-over-IP (VoIP) rollout to keep its communications grounded despite soaring passenger traffic.

The airport trotted out its network implementation as part of Cisco Systems Inc.’s annual Partner Summit in Vancouver earlier this month. Cisco provided the equipment for the airport’s new network, while Telus helped with the implementation.

Vancouver International’s plans to move to a unified Cisco network began in 2001, but the airport did not finish shifting its voice traffic to the new network until last month, said Kevin Molloy, chief information officer and vice-president of Simplified Passenger Travel at the Airport Authority. “We took a cautious approach,” Molloy said.The biggest challenge was for the airport to stop thinking of its new IP phones as dumb handsets and instead view them as integrated devices.TextWhile the data portion of the network was up and running by early 2003, Molloy didn’t want to take any chances with the voice traffic. The airport tested the voice system internally in the IT department to kick the tires before merging its existing voice network with Cisco’s data network.

There were no major technical hurdles in the voice implementation, Molloy said. He added that the biggest challenge was for the airport to stop thinking of its new IP phones as dumb handsets and instead view them as integrated devices.

For example, when an airline employee processes the last person for a particular flight, the employee must check the airport directory for the flight departure gate and its phone number to let airline employees at the gate know check-in is complete, Molloy said.

In the future, he said, the airport plans to tie its flight databases into its directory system so check-in personnel can just type in a four-digit flight number to contact the gate.

In addition to supporting Vancouver Airport’s 1,100 IP phones, the network connects 1,000 closed circuit cameras, more than 1,500 television screens, self-service check-in kiosks and wireless Internet access for travelers.

The network also runs a wireless baggage remediation system airlines use to scan and track luggage, as well as biometric iris recognition technology that lets pre-approved travelers bypass border lineups.

The airport has extended its check-in service to local hotels, where guests can check in for flights before leaving for the airport via a kiosk connected to the airport network through a high-speed Internet connection and a VPN-enabled Cisco switch.

The airport’s network wasn’t always so powerful. In 2000, the airport ran seven discrete networks for processes including baggage handling and flight displays. In addition, each of the 22 airlines operating at the airport ran their own network.

The airport realized that to handle its growing passenger burden, expected to be over 16 million passengers in 2005, it had to simplify its network. So in 2001, the Airport Authority came up with a strategy to collapse all 29 networks into one. The airport issued a request for proposals in late 2001, with Cisco and Telus emerging as the winners.

The most attractive part of their proposal was “the ability to do complete end-to-end with one company’s equipment,” Molloy said. Other proposals included edge switches from one company and core switches from another. “We had to have something stable to convince 22 airlines to give up their networks for ours.”

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