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Unified communications takes off

Kanika Goswami | Aug. 4, 2008
Airports around the world were gearing up for the future and the Mumbai International Airport (MIAL) was presented with a chance to do some catching up.

Unified communications (UC) seemed a logical fit largely because it would allow airport planners to merge and streamline services -- an apt philosophy when you're embarking on a huge project. "This (need for common infrastructure) made the management team at MIAL decide that everybody needed to ride on a single infrastructure," Anantheswaran recollects.

"As an infrastructure service provider at the airport, a robust IT network plays a key role," says Reddy.

But the common infrastructure/service provider approach had one hitch: the airport needed to ensure as close to zero downtime as possible. If, for example, a lack of connectivity disrupted check-ins, it would have a telescopic effect down the entire line operations, delaying everything.

Going UC would need bold decision making. But the time was ripe for bold revenue-making decisions.

Turbulence Ahead

To say that the Indian aviation industry is going through some turbulence would be a euphemism. They have been in so much trouble and have received so much media coverage that ATF has become water cooler conversation.

The rising price of airline fuel, about 30 percent of an airline's cost, is hurting more than just the airlines. As managers at airlines battle to keep their business afloat, they're beginning to up prices, consolidate, and trim the number of destinations they fly to. Air Deccan recently withdrew 18 flights, SpiceJet cut the number of its flights by about a sixth. Go Air went from 1,000 flights a month to 800. Jet Airways has stopped flying routes like Mumbai-Nagpur and Mumbai-Ahmedabad.

These cutbacks affect even hot destinations like Mumbai airport, which used to handle about 740 flights a day before the fuel crunch, and is now down to about 650. Since airports make a substantial amount of their revenues from these flights, airports are beginning to feel the pinch.

Anantheswaran saw a way to help. With UC he would have 100 percent network availability for applications such as a single backbone for voice, video, CCTV, data and radio. He could charge airlines for many of these services. He also envisioned wireless hotspots, self-service portals, and video conferencing booths, which he could charge passengers. Additionally unified communications could help streamline airport processes and infrastructure -- and reduce cost.

Anantheswaran looked at others who had trod the UC path before him. There were none in India -- not at the scale he was attempting. The Halifax Stanfield International Airport was a possible role model. The airport had implemented UC in 2006 to run a network of voice, video, data and wireless communications on a single, airport-wide system. It took Halifax two years to achieve full ROI and it also saved US$15 million (about Rs 60 crore) in space.


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