Embracing the Internet of Things – Is Your Airport Ready?

Internet of Things

By Darryl Daniel, PMP & Jim Davis, PE, RCDD

The anxiety of airport travel may be getting some relief through the promise of technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). The uncertainty of large crowds, long lines, confusion and delays when traversing the airport is not something most passengers look forward to.  Imagine a smart, information-rich airport experience beginning at arrival and check-in, continuing through security, finding your gate, the lounge and retail experience, boarding your plane, inflight entertainment and connectivity, all the way through the hunt for your bag when you arrive at your destination.

The IoT improves and interconnects technology, shifting the focus from people-to-people to thing-to-thing communication – and airports are at the forefront of this technology revolution.  Major airports are quickly using technology to deliver safety and operational efficiency benefits, while also enhancing the passenger experience.  As Los Angeles World Airports CEO Deborah Flint said, “The future of airports is advancing at a rapid pace. It’s about 21st-century connected infrastructure—modern infrastructure that, through technology and excellent building, is providing quicker, more expedient, more certain, and more informed ways of transporting our passengers and doing business in and around the airport.”

IoT initiatives at airports have increased significantly in the last few years.  One example is Bluetooth-enabled Low Energy Beacon (BLE), a passenger guidance technology.  BLE systems have the potential to seamlessly guide a passenger through the airport right to their seat on the plane.  Coupled with video analytics, BLE can enhance passenger wayfinding and provide real-time queue process monitoring.   It can even enable smart restrooms by monitoring restroom frequency of use, capturing customer feedback, and auditing attendant visits – all things that are sure to improve the traveler experience.

Implementation of IoT technology comes with challenges, primarily cost and privacy concerns.  Successful implementation of IoT technology requires identification of appropriate network infrastructure, coordination with airport tenants and various stakeholders, anticipation of installation costs, and consideration of security and privacy concerns.  For example, Portland International Airport is upgrading their wireless infrastructure to improve public wi-fi performance.  We conducted a radio frequency study and identified several causes for less-than-ideal access point performance.  A plethora of “rogue” devices installed by airport tenants was the primary factor in degraded wi-fi service.  IoT will only further increase wireless network congestion, as more wireless devices are introduced.  By restructuring the wi-fi network and adhering to “very high density” wireless design best practices, Portland will provide better wi-fi performance, enable the use of wireless IoT devices, and overcome congestion while maximizing the available infrastructure.

Cyber security and privacy concerns in the “everything connected” world of IoT carries with it the burden of securing the plethora of connected devices and ensuring physical infrastructure is in place.  For example, proper network design protects public wi-fi connection from hackers looking for an easy path to airport systems.  Burns is currently designing network infrastructure based on secure passive optical LAN (POL) for a new passenger terminal at Orlando Airport.  Secure infrastructure carried over single-mode optical fiber provides wide bandwidth to handle future IoT devices with data traffic protected by 128-bit security encryption.

IoT continues to transform the way smart devices and humans communicate with one another.  At airports, this technology enables passengers to experience an information-rich environment that enhances their traveling experience.  With this trend, however, comes the risk of cybersecurity incidents and other network security breaches.  Airports can benefit from an investment in robust, well-thought out infrastructure that will support this proliferation of technology.  Increased connectivity creates operational efficiencies and improves the passenger experience.  Is your airport ready?