The Vancouver International Airport Authority in British Columbia has just completed a four-year project in which a single IP network was built to support voice, data and video airport communications systems that used to run on 30 networks.

One of the biggest challenges was making the IP conversions in an airport that's closed only three hours a day, says Kevin Molloy, CIO and vice president of simplified passenger travel at the authority. "We couldn't shut down for a month for a rollout," he says. The project, estimated to cost about US$4 million, will reduce annual network costs for 22 airlines and Vancouver airport itself by 33 percent, from $7.5 million down to $5 million, he adds.

The most recent additions to the airport's IP network were 1100 IP phones, all installed in January, that are used by ticket agents and airport workers, Molloy says. The phones and the IP backbone are all provided by Cisco Systems, with design services from Vancouver-based Telus Communications.

Telus and Cisco worked with the airport to set up a test lab to ensure that the IP phone launch went smoothly, says Judy May, industry solutions manager at Cisco.

The converged network has brought together seven airport networks and 23 networks used by airlines, Molloy says. Some of the functions on the new network serve 1000 closed-circuit security cameras and 1500 televisions, as well as 60 self-service check-in kiosks inside the airport and another 20 at hotels and convention spots in Vancouver. The wireless baggage-security reconciliation system and the airport's public Wi-Fi hot spots are also on the new backbone, he says.

The airport authority and several airlines created the common kiosks by following an international standard used by several kiosk manufacturers, Molloy says. The kiosks, which are shared by all of the airlines, have helped convince the airlines to give up their networks.

The authority was able to save costs by consolidating so many networks, and it could then build in network redundancy and split the network core across two terminals, Molloy says. Every edge switch is redundant, and phones and check-in counters are wired so that a disruption of the network on one side of the airport will knock out only every other check-in counter.

In addition to plans for new IP phone applications, the authority is weighing wireless voice over Wi-Fi, which would be used by airport workers carrying cell phones. Molloy estimates that voice over Wi-Fi could cut $250,000 annually from the $400,000 spent each year on cellular service. "That absolutely interests us," he says.

The IP network and the common kiosks support a range of new value-added services, Molloy says. For example, automatic border-patrol services are now available on the kiosks, which are fitted with iris-scanning cameras that a passenger can use to bypass long customs lines once an initial background photo and security check have been logged into the system. Already, 4000 passengers have signed up for the service.

In addition, the authority has sold its kiosk service to smaller, regional airports that can't afford to build new networks, Molloy says.