Rio airport’s Olympic feat: wireless network, mobile and IoT

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In August, some 90,000 fans will pass through RIOgaleão Airport in Rio de Janeiro every day on their way to and from the Summer Olympics, and a new mobile app will help them navigate the airport’s busy hallways, shops and terminals. The mobile app is slick and easy to use (see below), and passengers should be pleased.

But they’ll have no idea about the Herculean effort that went into it: a massive network overhaul, a mobile app appealing to diverse cultures, Internet of Things (IoT) technology in the background, and mountains of data used to improve the customer experience—all tied together under a ticking clock.

“The time frame was very critical due to the size of the endeavor and the deadline for the Olympic Games,” says Alexandre Villeroy, CIO of RIOgaleão Airport.

Let the games begin: first up, a new network

Despite fears of the Zika virus outbreak—26,000 Zika virus cases have been reported in Rio de Janeiro this year—and famous athletes withdrawing from the games, the Summer Olympics is still expected to draw 500,000 people to Brazil. Many of them will step foot in RIOgaleão Airport and become potential mobile app users.

RIOgaleão Airport's mobile app.
RIOgaleão Airport’s new mobile app

The airport’s legacy network, though, wouldn’t have been able to support the mobile initiative at this scale, so the IT team needed to do a forklift upgrade. Villeroy chose Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Aruba network technology and channel partner Ziva. Aruba boasted one of the best Gigabit wireless solutions, and its technology could support different operational protocols.

Villeroy and his team spent nine months, from lab testing to services migration, installing the new network backbone. The IT team ran several tests on a new networking protocol at HPE labs in Palo Alto, Calif.

Related: Orlando Airport a Beacon for Mobile Customer Experience

When it comes to supporting a mobile app, an airport’s network has to be on top of its game. “Airports are challenging due to density—many people with many devices, many in constant motion—structural challenges that can impede radio frequency, and other potential sources of interference,” says IDC analyst Nolan Greene.

These devices don’t automatically connect to the best access point, resulting in slower speeds and unreliable connections. Aruba software, however, keeps mobile clients connected to the best access point as they roam within the Aruba wireless network, says Pavel Radda, senior director of corporate communications at Aruba.

Aruba software also gives IT teams an advantage by monitoring metrics and predicting network behaviors.

“With the massive number of devices connecting to the network, IT teams need detailed visibility into the access layer—at the user, device, and app level—to keep productivity high and ensure business continuity,” Radda says. “Aruba’s network visibility technology can monitor a broad set of metrics proactively, such as the time it takes for a mobile device to associate with a Wi-Fi radio, authenticate to a RADIUS server, obtain an IP address through DHCP, and resolve names for DNS services.”

On the mobile app front, RIOgaleão Airport is using Aruba’s Mobile Engagement, more than 3,000 Aruba beacons and the Meridian Mobile App Platform. The airport’s marketing team led the mobile user experience design, while Accenture Digital helped with mobile app development, design and integration.

Going for the gold: customer data and relationship

The mobile app gives passengers a wealth of information and services: navigation, flight status, push notifications, and discounts from airport vendors. The airport is looking for ways to speed up check-in, security and boarding via the app. And the app has a built-in feedback loop that lets passengers comment about the app.

The mobile app will also be used to gather quantifiable passenger data, such as navigational queries and most searched places, says Renata Pinheiro, marketing and communications director at RIOgaleão Airport. Eventually, she wants to offer benefits, such as promotions and new services, tailored to individuals based on their characteristics and habits inside the airport.

This is a new playing field for airports.

“Traditionally, airlines own the relationship with passengers, so it’s difficult for the airport facility to develop that relationship and learn who these passengers are and what kinds of services appeal to them,” Pinheiro says. “With the app in place, we’re hoping to gather more knowledge about our passengers so we can cater to their needs and wants more effectively.”

Internet of Things: Olympic-class teamwork and speed

While mobile customer experience takes center stage, IoT is quietly being driven behind the scenes to speed up operations. RIOgaleão Airport already has smart air conditioning, smart lighting and smart water systems. Villeroy says his team is looking at connecting the mobile app to smart boarding gates and smart business management system equipment, such as escalators and elevators.

RIOgaleão Airport
RIOgaleão Airport before the crowds

“As for IoT, we are at the beginning of planning but can foresee some applications using the implemented infrastructure of WiFi and beacons,” Villeroy says.

While IDC’s Greene didn’t have visibility into RIOgaleão Airport’s IoT part of the project, he says, generally speaking, IoT is a major impetus for wireless local area network (WLAN) upgrades these days.

“Managing IoT on the WLAN can streamline the management of network endpoints, while enforcing standard security and access policies,” Greene says. “Standardization is important because IoT devices act without human intervention, so having singular visibility and granular access policies can shut down pathways to breach the network through IoT devices.”

Will the airport stand on the podium?

Whether or not Villeroy’s IT team and Pinherio’s marketing team win a gold medal for their efforts won’t be known until after the Summer Olympics when a performance assessment can be made. Did passengers download and use the mobile app? Did customer data lead to a better customer experience? Did Internet of Things really improve operations?

There’ll be many ways to measure success, not just hard Reals driven by the mobile app. Given RIOgaleão Airport’s emphasis on speed, IDC’s Green says a key measurement will be consistently high performing data rates as the number of users and devices soar. For the mobile app, Pinherio will be evaluating key metrics.

“The consequent increase in downloads and visits, the positive feedbacks about the services and the reduction of operational breaks are what will give us the project’s success guidelines,” Pinherio says.


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Tom Kaneshige is editor of Five2ndWindow, Penton’s independent news site helping marketers and line-of-business executives get ahead of the mobile disruption happening to the customer experience. You can reach him at tom.kaneshige@penton.com.

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