Gatwick Airport ploughs $15 million into IoT network
Cathal Corcoran, CIO, Gatwick Airport

Gatwick Airport ploughs $15 million into IoT network

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has finished installing a new £11 million ($15 million) IT network at the UK’s second largest airport.

Gatwick Airport said the new network will allow it to take advantage of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The aim of the network is to improve efficiencies and business operations throughout the two-terminal site. HPE and its Aruba Networks brand completed the installation over an 18-month period, during which the airport continued to operate as normal.

Overall, the new infrastructure will support 250 onsite businesses, 30,000 members of staff, and 45 million annual passengers. 

A plane-load of tech

HPE and Aruba have deployed IoT sensors to measure metrics such as waste bin levels, check-in desk occupancy, table availability, and even pond water levels.

Officials will be able to make use of passenger flow analytics, as well as heat maps that identify queueing and performance improvement opportunities.

The programme has also implemented machine learning and facial recognition systems to improve security processes throughout the airport. Staff will be able to use these to track late or lost passengers.

Marc Waters, managing director of UK & Ireland at HPE, said these technologies will ensure that the airport keeps running smoothly and providing high-quality services. “Transitioning from old to new networks while keeping the world’s most efficient runway operating is like performing open heart surgery on a patient while he is running,” he said.

“All parties have worked seamlessly, while the airport remains fully functioning, to avoid any impact to the day-to-day running of the airport and its millions of passengers. This transition will be one of the most impressive to have taken place in recent years. We’re very proud to have led it.”

Major upgrade

Gatwick’s old network relied on a limited number of data pathways, but the new simplified and fully meshed design provides 10 times the number of links for data to traverse the airport, making it much more resilient to disruption.

By removing bottlenecks and potential single points of failure, and by deploying a backbone based on many multiples of 40Gb connections, Gatwick’s new network represents “a step change in resilience and performance”, said HPE.

Gatwick’s chief information officer, Cathal Corcoran, said this level of power will allow it to improve customers’ experience of the airport.

“We’ve seen record-breaking passenger growth since 2010, and to make sure our passengers have the best experience possible, we needed a new network that could handle our expected future growth numbers,” he said. “The network’s capability has been uplifted by such a scale that it now matches that of an ISP. 

“We also needed a much more resilient, self-healing, and fault-tolerant network, and one that is capable of handling future technologies that process considerably more data. HPE’s combined network offering provides this and more, as it ultimately supports our vision of an IT infrastructure for a decade.”

Internet of Business says

An impressive achievement for Gatwick and HPE, which future-proofs the airport for increased technology demand over the next decade. But perhaps the most noticeable change for many passengers will be access to free 30MBps WiFi – and improved baggage reconciliation systems for anyone whose suitcase has gone astray.

In March, it was reported that Gatwick will be trialling an autonomous shuttle bus service this summer, to take people between its South and North terminals, alongside its existing driverless train service.