Rio Airport Updates Network and Indoor Navigation

As the gateway to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, RIOgaleão-Tom Jobim International Airport will be on the world stage this year, welcoming an estimated 1.5 million visitors to Brazil for the games.

The airport is huge—more than 500,000 square meters—and busy: Some 17,000 people work there, 27 airlines operate out of two terminals, and more than 200 vendors of all kinds serve passengers and employees. Managing such an enterprise is a complex, demanding job that is heavily dependent on technology, says Alexandre Villeroy, the airport’s CIO.

When the RIOgaleão organization took over as concessionaire in 2014 under a 25-year contract, it was immediately apparent that the disparate legacy networking solutions in use couldn’t keep up with the airport’s operational needs—or with the growing demands of its passengers, visitors and airport vendors.

“It wouldn’t have been possible to run the business for the next 25 years with things as they were,” Villeroy reports. “The network was unreliable, performance was poor, and we had many complaints from vendors and passengers.”

The new leadership saw the need to invest in the airport’s infrastructure to correct those issues and to allow for anticipated growth—particularly with the Olympics bringing a huge upsurge in traffic in the very near future. “We normally have about 45,000 passengers a day, but on the heaviest travel days during the games, we expect up to twice as many,” Villeroy notes.

Undertaking a Major Network Upgrade

The RIOgaleão organization had several ambitious goals: to improve the performance and reliability of the network, streamline internal airport functions and improve the passenger experience with a new mobile app. In conjunction with a 100,000-square-meter expansion, the airport undertook a major network upgrade.

“After evaluating a number of options, we found that Hewlett Packard Enterprise offered the best solution on the wired side, and its Aruba division had one of the best gigabit wireless solutions,” Villeroy says. Discussions with HPE started last July.

The organization decided to upgrade to HPE data center systems and Aruba campus networking solutions. That includes the Aruba Mobile Engagement solution with more than 3,000 beacons and the Meridian mobile app platform, which features wayfinding to help passengers navigate the airport. The upgrade included a 40GB backbone that replaced a 10GB one, as well as more than 18,000 network connections and more than 1,000 high-resolution security cameras.

Switching to a new protocol was a major concern. “One reason we went with HPE is that its hardware could run different protocols in parallel, so we could run the previous protocol while establishing the new one,” Villeroy notes. “We ran a test last summer for a month or two, then in October started moving server by server to the new protocol.

“We are now completely switched over. Migration was smooth, which was key for us, since we couldn’t disrupt daily operations.”

The results have already been gratifying. “The network is stable and faster, and vendors in the airport have given us very good feedback,” Villeroy reports. Passenger complaints about spotty WiFi are a thing of the past. “They tell us our WiFi is first-rate,” he adds, “fast and easy to access.”

The airport’s new operations center benefits from faster processing and fewer delays. Ground control can track the position of aircrafts precisely using GPS, Villeroy says, enhancing safety and efficiency in the very busy airport, which has more than 400 aircraft arrivals and departures every day.

Future improvements to internal operations are already under discussion. They include control and management of Internet of things (IoT) devices such as air conditioning and lighting.

Mobile App Allows Indoor Navigation

On the passenger side, RIOgaleão recently introduced a free mobile app for iOS and Android devices that allows indoor navigation with turn-by-turn directions in Portuguese, Spanish and English. Passengers can also use the app to track flight status, pay parking fees and more.

Additional features will be offered in the future to speed check-in, security, boarding, baggage check and other processes. Villeroy wants passengers to spend less time in line and more time enjoying the airport.

“It’s crucial for us to give passengers an environment that becomes part of their journey, a place where they want to spend more time and money,” he says. “The new network helps lay the foundation for that enriched experience.”