With such rapidly growing developments, airports need to start evaluating and preparing their IT infrastructure today so that they are ready for the advancements in 2025 and beyond. But just where do we start with this?

Getting off the ground

The main task of any airport IT manager is to ensure that their IT infrastructure remains operational. New technologies create huge possibilities for new services and airports want to take advantage of this in order to keep pace with the competition. Here, an agile approach is needed in order to do so quickly and efficiently. The challenge however is that this puts pressure on the airport IT manager and the IT infrastructure itself.

To prevent any negative impact on airport operations, it is essential that any new technology or service is thoroughly tested before it is introduced at an airport.

Within this context, we also need to consider economic and network factors. While active network devices and core servers are depreciated after five years and new technologies arise, passive IT infrastructure must remain in place for 20-25 years and be sized to cope with both changes and trends. This is a difficult balancing act because it requires envisaging where the world will be decades from now, then investing and building towards that.

So, the first question to ask is what will the next decade look like? In this article, I present an overview of the three main topics we think will define the future of airport IT infrastructure.

1.  Going mobile – Wi-Fi 6 and 5G

We live in a mobile world in which our desire for seamless travel through airports has created a notable shift towards the use of mobile devices and technology, both of which have grown in importance. Electronic boarding passes on our mobile phones are already widely in use and we are now beginning to see pilot projects that seek to enable passengers to use their mobile phone instead of their passports. This is a trend that will continue to grow, driven partly by the next generation of wireless connectivity provided by Wi-Fi 6 and 5G.

While these new techniques will increase the number of wireless access points in a denser grid thereby allowing for faster data transmission, they will in turn put more pressure on the supporting networks and infrastructure.

2. Big data and physical infrastructure

There will also likely be far more sensors in place across airports as we increase focus on passenger flow measurements, face recognition, as well as the use of cameras and other devices. How airports then deal with and store this data will be crucial to their continued success.

Airports are “always-on” institutions that are in a league of their own in terms of user, data and technology demands. There may be significant decisions to be made regarding how the IT infrastructure may need to change or adapt to meet these demands – or whether some of that control will be relinquished to the cloud through third parties.

Either way, in order to attain and maintain success, airport IT managers, directors and decision-makers need to tackle some fundamental questions. For example, are the storage and bandwidth requirements of the systems known? How about the capacity of the servers currently in place? Is there enough space to house any new servers, and enough power and coolant capacity to keep them running? These are just some of the key questions to be addressed when planning changes to IT infrastructure.

3. Focusing on security

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have the security dimension. There’s no point in expanding server capacity and bandwidth, or installing new technologies, if none of these aspects can be protected. Where once this security was limited to the physical world, today and certainly in the future, cybersecurity needs to be a central focus of airport management.

Cyberattacks or hacks have the potential to take down an airport’s entire operations, as so many processes rely on secure IT infrastructure. Robust system security, back-ups and contingency plans are vital for ensuring that any potential cyberattacks can be stopped or isolated without causing long-term damage to the airport’s operations.

What next?

These three trends – mobile developments in Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, big data and infrastructure, and security – are intrinsically linked and therefore impact each other. Changing or answering questions related to one automatically brings new questions and considerations to the fore.

So, in evaluating and preparing any airport IT infrastructure for the future, it is important to acknowledge the enormity and complexity of the task. But taking steps towards understanding the position of any airport, in relation to the potential airport IT infrastructure that may be needed in the future, could mean the difference between leading the way or falling behind.

Keep an eye out for our next blog post which will explore how airports can future-proof their IT infrastructure to prepare for these emerging trends.