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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.

For passenger processing, MIAL has a concession agreement with Sita, where Sita maintains operations, invests capital, and offers to tie up with all airlines. Sita then pays a fee to MIAL. "Our target is to make more than Rs 15 crore in 2009-10," says Anantheswaran, "Currently, the airport spends around 1.5 percent of its revenues on IT. By offering new services to external users (airlines and travelers) the airport wants to bring this down to zero, and create a self-sustained IT organization."

If the figures add up, the logic that these services could turn MIAL's IT department into a self-sustaining business enterprise -- putting MIAL on the same platform as a Bharti Airtel -- could work.

But if you want to play Bharti, you have to deal with Bharti's problems, one of which was ensuring uptime with redundancy. MIAL's technology backbone took care of that. "Every fiber backbone has a dual route: from a data center to each hub room there are two fiber routes. This ensures that if one cable is damaged, the second route is taken up automatically within 15 milliseconds, unlike traditional technology, which takes between two and three seconds. If a user is in the middle of a telephone call, he or she will not even realize a fiber has been cut," Anantheswaran says.

Another problem that came with being a service provider was the size of infrastructure. The hub rooms, which distribute cables to every VoIP phone, data port, check-in counter etcetera, were 50 meters in radius -- and MIAL had 16 of them. Sparing huge amounts of space for data center and the hub rooms, was a daunting idea. "Unless we clearly show revenues coming out of the space we were taking up, it is going to be very difficult to justify the move," says Anantheswaran.

And that wasn't where the costs ended.

Business Ticket

The network cost MIAL Rs 10 crore and will require Rs 7 crore more over the next three years. Anantheswaran concedes that the UC deployment costs much more than running three separate networks for voice, radio and data. But he is convinced the benefits far outweigh the costs. "One thing is very clear," he says, "since we were building such a massive network, we wanted voice on it too. Although the cost is higher, manageability and operational efficiency from UC is far higher."

But he knew it would require something more than 'efficiency' to get the expensive technology past management. Clearly, he would have to make revenue-cost comparisons.

"On the first phase of the UC network, we spent about Rs 12 crore. In a traditional network, we would have spent about Rs 8 crore. Sure, UC is more expensive upfront but I will save a crore or two on operational efficiencies each year," says Anantheswaran. "Since this is our first year for revenue generation, we are not setting very aggressive targets. But from year two, we are targeting about Rs 12 crore to Rs 13 crore a year," he states.


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