Airport's customer Wi-fi takes off with BT
As the use of mobile devices for both personal and business purposes soars, the demand for access to data through mobile networks and through Wi-fi has risen exponentially.
Access to Wi-fi is now regarded by the public as an essential facility, particularly in places where they have some time to check into social media, stream music or video or check their email and work applications. Their expectation today is that Wi-fi will be free to use, reliable and fast.
Nowhere is this more relevant than in busy airports where dwell time is significant.
Belfast International Airport had initially provided paid Wi-fi for passengers through an external contractor. But its vision was to take it back in-house and create premium quality, free Wi-fi for customers.
Chris McGarry, Belfast International Airport's IT Manager, says they talked to a number of providers, one of which was BT who recommended a solution provided by Cisco Meraki. BT is a Cisco Gold Partner. Back in 2012 Cisco had acquired Meraki, a company that provides Wi-fi, switching, security and mobile device management via a centralised cloud platform.
The first step for Belfast International Airport was to get a premium, fast broadband connection from BT to give it guaranteed bandwidth to underpin new free Wi-fi for customers. It then installed the Meraki solution which became operative in January 2014.
Chris McGarry says: "We asked BT for a recommendation and we then talked to Meraki. We liked the way they were embracing technology as a whole. They were moving to a cloud based architecture which made it simpler and for us easier to manage our Wi-fi network.
"It started out predominantly as a free Wi-fi service in retail and catering areas but it has grown from a business point of view so that we provide Wi-fi services for airport tenants. For instance, for some of our airlines - easyJet, Virgin, Ryanair.
"From a design point of view we engaged with BT to ensure that the solution was easy to grow and scalable to handle more customer numbers and increase Wi-fi access locations."
This is vital for Belfast International Airport which has seen passenger numbers rise strongly from 4m in 2014 to 4.4m at the end of 2015 and which is looking to go beyond the 5m mark this year.
The Cisco Meraki system is managed through the cloud and Chris emphasises how simple it is to use.
"It's very easy both to manage and to monitor. It works on a 'self-healing' system - it learns things and where necessary it moves connections to other access points. It almost manages itself and we don't need to make much of an input."
The next stage for Belfast International Airport to start looking at is the analytics the system provides for high-level information on where passengers congregate and linger within the airport and various trends around customer behaviour which will be valuable to both the airport and its tenants.
According to Michael Wallace, Senior Cisco Sales Specialist at BT, the Cisco Meraki solution is a cost-effective option for customers who either have multiple sites or, like BIA, have one site with a large number of users, currently 8,000 a week and with a limited IT team who are looking to simplify the way they manage their IT systems.
"The bottom line for BIA, and for all our clients, is to ensure that their customer experience is superb and remains so no matter how demand grows in the future," he says.
Michael Wallace is Senior Cisco Sales Specialist at BT in Northern Ireland. For further information and to contact BT Business in Northern Ireland please email firstname.lastname@example.org