Weaving wireless magic

By Denise Murray on Nov 10, 2005 4:29 PM
Filed under Software
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Wireless web and email access was once considered the domain of the travelling business person -- a must-have in executive lounges -- but it is becoming irresistible and even the average pleb wants it while waiting for flights.

Wireless web and email access was once considered the domain of the travelling business person -- a must-have in executive lounges -- but it is becoming irresistible and even the average pleb wants it while waiting for flights.

In mid October the new domestic and international airport terminal opened in Adelaide, boasting the first free wireless web access throughout an airport precinct in Australia.

Adelaide-based ISP Internode installed the wireless network, which provides free web access and basic email -- Hotmail or Gmail -- to all travellers, and full access to VPN mail client for Internode customers.

In the past financial year the old airport served 5.4 million passengers, and Adelaide Airport Ltd (AAL) expects passenger numbers to increase by 6 percent in the new terminal.

“We have a visitor/passenger ratio of 2:1 so about 15 million people use the terminal each year,” says AAL’s corporate affairs manager John McArdle.

The pitch

Integrator Internode had done a lot of work for the Airport Corporation over the years providing other telecommunications services.

So when plans for the new terminal were announced, Internode broached the wireless subject. “We had a conversation with Adelaide Airport Ltd,” says Internode’s strategic development manager John Lindsay. “We gave them a bit of a briefing about how it could work and the benefits. They had discussions with a number of organisations that do wireless internet and found our offer to build it all and give away the internet access free was strangely compelling,” he says.

Offering something for free is one thing, Lindsay says, but it counts for very little of you do not have a proven track record behind you.

Internode, in conjunction with Adelaide City Council and Mnet, established the wireless CityLan network in the Adelaide CBD back in 2002 for the World IT Congress.

“Because we have the successful CityLan network, we were able to establish that we were credible. If we were doing it from scratch and didn’t have anything successful to point to, it would have been much harder,” says Lindsay.

The process
Being a new building, Lindsay says the airport had excellent structure cabling so the wireless installation only took a few days and cost $37,000.
Internode's Lindsay: Internode had credibility in wireless space

“There are seven wireless access points from Cisco -- the Cisco 877 -- which is actually a DSL modem and wireless access point,” Lindsay says.

“For speed of deployment, we put a small DSLAM (DSL Access Multiplexor) in the comms room in the terminal building and we actually run it as a DSL site,” he says.

This approach is unique, enabling Internode to use the existing telephony cabling that was installed in the construction of the airport building, instead of using Ethernet cabling like you would for an office building, he says.

“That solved the problem where the longest runs are over 600 metres of cable,” he says.

While there is fibre available in the airport terminal, it would have meant putting in transceivers on the end of the fibre, incurring more costs.

“It was considerably cheaper to deploy a small DSLAM. This is something other integrators could do quite easily. There are a number of vendors that have DSLAMs that are designed to put into comms rooms or apartment buildings, Lindsay says.

Internode used a gateway product from Colubris Networks for the authentication and access control. “We bought the equipment from Integrity Data and the access points are all from Cisco,” he says.


The airport terminal is about 850 metres long end-to-end, which poses challenges when running networking around it.

Lindsay says the well-designed structured cabling system had wiring closets all over the terminal linked with optical fibre and copper, which helped overcome that.

Internode also faced the challenge of installing equipment in a construction site environment, complete with hard hats, people working overhead, and occupational health and safety people breathing down their necks.

The stipulation to have Internode staff go through site induction and safe work-practice training could have significantly slowed things down. They got around that by working with a company that already met those requirements.

“One of the ways we were able to move more rapidly is that Computer Site Services were doing the structure cabling installation, and because we already had a working relationship with them over the years, we actually subcontracted some of the work to Computer Site,” Lindsay says.

With security paranoia rampant in airports, there were some places where wireless communications weren’t allowed.

“Wireless access is terminal-wide except for a couple of areas which Customs people particularly didn’t want it to work in,” Lindsay says.

John McArdle, Adelaide Airport’s corporate affairs manager, says from AAL’s point of view, the only stipulation was that any new systems were not to interfere with existing radio or security frequencies -- “nothing that adversely affected existing operational frequencies,” he says.

After installing and providing the wireless access at no cost throughout the terminal, one of the challenges for Internode was to find some way to make it worth their effort, but getting advertising space was harder than they thought.

“In an environment like an airport, every square metre of the floor, walls and ceiling is somehow accounted for and the revenue opportunity has already been maximised. So placing signage [for our ads] is actually a real challenge, because every available piece of space has been sold to an advertising agency,” he says.
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This article appeared in the Issue 184, 31 October 2005 issue of CRN.

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