Vital on-the-ground wireless service

Christchurch International Airport is a rapidly growing, multiple award-winning and 24/7 operation which hosted six million passengers, plus their friends and family, in the past year. It is the gateway to New Zealand’s South Island, the country’s fastest growing entry point for the rapidly growing number of Chinese visitors and is a vital hub, particularly for trade and tourism.

The airport is the largest single centre of employment in the South Island, providing jobs for 6,000 people on the campus in fulltime, part-time or casual roles, plus tens of thousands of other related roles across the South Island.

Wi-fi is a critical service for highly mobile airport staff and tenants and, with so many travellers coming in and out of the airport, free public wi-fi is considered integral to the airport’s reputation for excellent customer service. Many travellers commented on the airport being New Zealand’s first to offer unlimited free wi-fi, something the airport considered an important point of difference. It’s also very popular, with 2,800 unique sessions per day; that’s more than 1.8 million sessions over 12 months.

The Challenge

The airport’s existing solution was ageing and had multiple issues. The hardware vendor was approached to help and recommended our South Island wi-fi Infrastructure team. That was in 2012 and since that time we have developed a strong relationship with the airport tech team, working on a range of projects. One included taking over a short range wireless Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) implementation to track how long it takes passengers to move through different parts of the arrivals process. We’ve also expanded the wi-fi infrastructure into new parts of the campus and we provide on-going support.

The always-on operational nature of the airport means extremely detailed and comprehensive change controls must be in place to minimise the risk of costly and unacceptable disruption.

The Datacom Difference

We responded quickly in the post-earthquake environment. The initial project involved decommissioning multiple older services and moving all control of wi-fi Access Points to a fully centralised service. We then carried out a major upgrade of the firmware to resolve some longstanding issues. A large amount of time was spent lab-testing all elements of the upgrade prior to performing any changes to the production network.

After working together for three years, the airport’s wi-fi infrastructure is performing well and centrally managed, allowing for statistics gathering and troubleshooting from a single pane of glass.

The tech staff have full visibility over the number of connected devices and the quantity of data being passed, and the wi-fi network security systems locate any rogue devices.

We continue to provide full reporting, including accurate data regarding coverage areas and level of service in each area which is important when the airport re-sells the service to their tenants.

Trust in the relationship has built to the point where our staff now feel as comfortable at the airport’s offices as they do at Datacom, knowing they are adding value in both places.

“The first time I personally met with the Datacom Wi-fi team, I was impressed both with their knowledge and professional attitude."

Craig Rickard, Technology Services Manager - Christchurch Airport