Fujitsu has completed a £34m network infrastructure project for Heathrow's Terminal 2, as part of a £2.5bn transformation at the airport that will see technology at the centre of the passenger experience.
The four-year partnership started in 2010 and has seen Fujitsu implement a wireless LAN infrastructure comprising 130 communications rooms, 420 Cisco switches, and 1,700 help points and phones, all connected with 40km of backbone cabling.
The terminal's IT infrastructure caters for 26 airlines and 20 million travellers a year, and has been designed to deliver an efficient and positive customer experience, according to Neil Clark, chief information officer at Heathrow.
"IT is absolutely at the heart of pretty much everything we do," Clark said at a briefing attended by V3.
"We really focused on using technology to automate that passenger experience as much as we can. We're looking at technology to help us drive an efficient operation. We've got technology now running through every part of the passenger experience."
Clark cited a trial of data to assess and manage crowd dynamics in the departure concourse as one example of technology being used to improve the passenger experience.
"Using the technology that we've got, we start to see a greater number of people congregating than we would normally expect. And if that hits a certain threshold it can provide real-time alerts to the operational team," he explained.
Another example is at the security checkpoint before the departure lounge. Clark explained how data on passenger footfall can be pushed to the mobile devices of security guards, giving them real-time data on the flow of passengers through security and identifying any bottlenecks in the process.
"Our vision is that you should be able to walk from kerbside to aircraft without breaking your stride. That's what we're aiming for," said Clark.
"That's what people are after now, this seamless flow through. So we're looking at how technology can help all elements of that."
Clark explained how the team co-ordinated with Fujitsu to create a test centre that models the plans for the terminal before implementation to prevent the problems that blighted the opening of Terminal 5.
"We had one overriding objective which is that we didn't want technology to be an issue on opening, and part of that means we didn't want to introduce new and unproved technology on day one, because that's where terminals generally fail," he said.
Given that the overhaul of Terminal 2 began in 2010, it was inevitable that the rapid pace of technology innovation has leapfrogged over the infrastructure implemented by Fujitsu.
"Four years is a lifetime in the IT world so it is a constant battle between how future proof we can make the technology we are putting in, so that on day one it isn't legacy," said Clark.
He went on to outline how technology is changing passenger expectations and presenting the Heathrow IT team with a "unique challenge".
"Passenger demands are changing really quickly in terms of what they expect [from] connectivity and bandwidth," he said.
"So one of our challenges was how to stay ahead of the game; how to provide the sort of facilities that everyone wants these days."
Clark explained that these demands were forecast, and that the capability was built into the WiFi network to cope.
Asked what he would have done differently given the recent trends of big data and the Internet of Things, Clark said that more focus would have been put on exploiting the flow of data to and from mobile devices.
"I think that, given where we are now, we would have embraced more mobile information," he explained.
"So being able to give passengers the ability to have information on their own device, [or] to go to specific points and get real-time information that's personalised for them."
Clark explained that his IT team is looking at building on the existing infrastructure to integrate such mobile data capabilities with the goal of allowing passengers to seamlessly pass through the terminal and "get on the aircraft in the way they want".
Heathrow is not the only airport to overhaul part of its IT infrastructure. Gatwick refreshed its infrastructure in June to embrace cloud computing, and ditched BlackBerry smartphones as part of a bring your own device initiative.
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