With efficient mobile roaming, Frankfurt Airport operational goals take flight

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By Lee Johnson


Lee Johnson

International airport management company Fraport owns and operates the Frankfurt Airport, one of world's busiest international transportation hubs. The site covers nearly 5,000 acres, handles nearly 60 million passengers a year and has the highest cargo traffic in all of Europe.

The hub is renowned for its on time departures and efficiency, thanks in part to a strict 45-minute turnaround policy for each aircraft. However, widespread mobile application and data access issues made it difficult to get this speed-focused initiative off the ground.

Initially, baggage handlers and other workers on and around the tarmac were unable to move efficiently between networks making it more difficult for them to get the information necessary to do their jobs. Baggage handlers, for example, need wireless access to know which gates to handle, the amount of baggage to move or store, and the optimal loading pattern for each type of aircraft. But even the shortest interruptions in a network session could cause applications to fail, forcing workers to log in again and re-launch applications.

In addition, overlapping wireless coverage areas occasionally caused devices to switch from one Wi-Fi network to another with unfortunate consequences. In particular, cargo workers, who frequently travel around the airport in vehicles equipped with Panasonic G1 Toughpads, found that applications would often quit as they traveled from one wireless zone to another.

Finally, when Wi-Fi is unavailable, some workers' devices switch to a private cellular network. However, applications don't handle the change in network type smoothly, creating another point of failure. This was a serious concern for airport security workers monitoring the vast airport property, making it difficult for them to complete and transmit reports using their Panasonic CF31 Toughbooks. And even bus drivers experienced issues receiving dispatch information on their dashboard-mounted Toughpads, resulting in passenger pick-up delays.

Fraport addressed these issues by installing NetMotion Mobility mobile virtual private network software on the Toughbooks and Toughpads of its mobile workforce. Mobility ensures that devices stay connected to either Fraport's Wi-Fi network or its private cellular data network despite all of the airport's challenging network conditions.


Frankfurt Airport | Source: Wikimedia

Mobility keeps application access alive and stable through coverage gaps, and even when users suspend and resume their devices. It has improved application responsiveness, user productivity and, over time, helped to prevent data overages by optimizing and managing data transmissions across the cellular network.

Fraport's IT department and mobile workers also realized the productivity benefits of uninterrupted connectivity to the airport's wireless networks. "From the user perspective, our goal was to make it very easy to use the rugged devices," said a solutions developer for Fraport. "Our staff doesn't need to be technology-savvy to stay connected and use our applications. The Toughbooks and Toughpads simply work now."

Fraport also takes advantage of the policy management capabilities of NetMotion Mobility. By creating policies or rules managing the user experience with mobile devices, Fraport's IT team can control how and when application data is delivered to workers. One of the policies Fraport IT created ensures quality of service for application delivery. This means that regardless of bandwidth availability, core applications will be prioritized above all other data traffic to the devices.

Fraport frequently uses NetMotion Mobility's network roaming report to show the roaming "events" for all Mobility-enabled devices. If, for instance, they see a high incidence of roaming to the Wi-Fi network at a specific time, they can infer that a problem may exist with the cellular network. This information lets Fraport IT work more effectively with their mobile data provider.

"We see NetMotion Mobility as an integral part of our mobile strategy," said a Fraport spokesperson. "Since implementing NetMotion we have gone to zero trouble tickets related to application crashes or connectivity issues. NetMotion solved these problems."

Lee Johnson is director of global marketing at NetMotion Wireless.

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