Toronto’s Pearson International Airport will be the first showcase for an intelligent airport networking offering just announced by Cisco Systems Inc.
The technology — part of a broader announcement Tuesday aimed at airports, highway management, seaports and public transportation — is installed
in the new Terminal 1, which opens April 6, and in the airport’s existing terminals 2 and 3 and other facilities.
Terry Walsh, president of Cisco Systems Canada Inc. in Toronto, said the installation by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) — the private company that runs the airport — is the first full implementation of his company’s new Intelligent Airports offering. “”This makes GTAA the most technically advanced airport in the world as far as I can determine,”” he said.
The GTAA’s network links all three terminals and other airport buildings using a dual ring of optical fibre, and will handle data, voice and video traffic. It combines Cisco’s networking technology with applications designed for airports by SITA Information Networking Computing. Geneva-based SITA, which is owned by a consortium of airlines, airports and travel agent booking engine companies and has applications installed in 20 of North America’s 25 biggest airports, provided AirportConnect, a passenger processing application suite that allows Internet Protocol (IP) telephones to act as terminals for processing passenger data.
The technology also supports a network of video surveillance cameras and a baggage tracking system that James Burke, chief information officer for the GTAA, said will help make baggage handling more secure and efficient.
The installation also includes wireless networking. Among other things, Burke said, this will allow passenger self-service kiosks to provide more up-to-date information.
The airport’s immediate plans do not include wireless hotspots, however. Though the public wireless connections using the WiFi standard are appearing in many locations, including airports, Burke said he has not yet seen a business model for offering the service that he is confident will work at the airport in the medium term. He said better roaming among hotspot operators is one key to making the idea viable.
While all communications at the airport will run over a single physical network, Walsh said, every airline and other tenant will have its own private network thanks to virtual private network (VPN) technology that lets multiple users share the infrastructure without inappropriate access to each other’s data.
The network also uses Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), which supports the quality of service capabilities needed to ensure voice and video applications work smoothly on a shared network.
Burke said the airport will be able to reconfigure the network as needed, for instance assigning the same gate to different airlines at different times and automatically switching voice and data ports at that gate to the network of whichever airline is currently using the gate.
David Close, Cisco’s account manager for the GTAA deal, said work on the network has taken about two years, and included tying together communications islands in the separate terminals — including distinct telephone systems — and upgrading the fibre rings that tie the airport’s facilities together.
Burke said much of the technology was put through pilot tests in the existing terminals before being installed in the new terminal. Cisco also set up a pre-production test facility at the airport where hardware and software vendors can test their gear on a small version of the network before putting it into day-to-day use, he added.