During PTE earlier this year, Valour Consultancy had the opportunity to speak with many of the vendors that are helping to drive the trend towards smart airports. We also took the chance to discuss some exciting technologies that won’t be featured directly in our upcoming reports but are nonetheless integral to making the automated smart airport of the future a reality.
The first company we spoke with was AviaVox, a provider of automatic announcement systems, powered by a combination of smart technology and dedicated voice donors. The second was Tellabs, an organisation that furnishes airports with upgraded fibre optical LAN hardware. Although offering very different products, both companies facilitate the seamless passenger journey by providing solutions for their own unique spaces in the airport, as we’ll go on to explain.
The purpose of our visit to the three-day event was to network, discuss market developments and stay on top of companies’ latest announcements. This was in addition to collecting data for the upcoming refresh of our successful Seamless Passenger Journey report, the first edition of our new Smart Borders report and for our new Smart Airports Tracker. We strive to provide a 360-degree view of the market and, as such, are keen to speak with as broad a cross-section of stakeholders and solution providers as possible.
AviaVox contributes to realising the seamless passenger journey by tackling the dated announcement systems and processes that have become the norm in airports around the globe. The Dutch company was founded in 2003, and its flagship multi-language automated announcement technology is celebrated for having a high-quality and organic sound. This is achieved by harvesting and digitising speech fragments (from various voice donors), which can be recombined by the software in new orders to create announcements that are indistinguishable from human speech. You can find out more about this process here. Those travellers that arrived at PTE 23 via Schiphol airport would have experienced AviaVox’s technology first-hand.
Robert Hazeleger, AviaVox’s business development manager, explained to us how the system integrates into the existing Airport Operational Database (AODB) and infrastructure, meaning the service will act across terminals, gates, and other airport locations seamlessly. Because the AviaVox software is integrated into the AODB and other airport systems, it will be programmed to make relevant announcements where necessary. For instance, when a plane lands, the software can (if specified) generate an announcement or when gates become available, announcements will be generated in both home and destination languages. This is accomplished whilst abiding by strict instruction from the airline’s/airport’s specified parameters. And with the possibility of an airport sending thousands of announcements per day, it is important that this be completed in the most efficient way possible.
Another exciting feature is the way in which newly required variables can be made automatically available through everyday operations. Within milliseconds of the system detecting an operational abnormality, such as the introduction of a new airport destination, the specified destination will be made available from AviaVox’s central database in the applicable language(s). This allows the announcement system to adapt dynamically to the specific requirements of airport operations without requiring human intervention.
Championing the silent airport initiative, which primarily aims to encourage targeted announcements in airports as well as airport/terminal wide capabilities, AviaVox’s system supports the localisation of tailor-made announcements. This can be deployed in areas such as boarding (for airline procedures), through sending announcements to select mobile phones or in any airport zone where a traveller needs to be located/contacted. Targeted announcements aim to leave the passenger feeling as though the airport is a quieter place with fewer announcements, although this may be the case, it is also possible that the number of announcements may actually increase. The key is to use data analytics and automation tools to have the announcements made only in those specific areas and at the specific times they are necessary. Security announcements, gate announcements, departures, arrivals, lost/found and maintenance are common airport applications the AviaVox solution is deployed in. Additional use cases can encompass car park announcements to retail/fast food vendors, or any service that may require dynamic or canned speech.
The benefits of employing this technology are two-fold. Firstly, doing so reduces passenger stress; language barriers, wayfinding uncertainty, process confusion and flight updates are all sources of passenger stress and airport complaints that AviaVox claims to have the solution for. Secondly, AviaVox’s technology reduces the workload for agents on the ground by automating the announcement process, thus freeing up airport staff for other responsibilities. This is an invaluable asset during the current period of unprecedented staff shortages, which is in fact a significant driver in the trend towards more extensive airport automation.
AviaVox operates on every continent aside from Antarctica. Over 100 airlines have integrated its Airline-Gate-Client software, notable examples being British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM and Delta Air Lines. Similarly, nearly 60 airports have AviaVox software installed, this includes some of the world’s most active such as Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino in Rome, London Heathrow and Melbourne. Within these installations AviaVox will also collect operational data, that can be used to inform strategy going forward, a facility being used by New York John F. Kennedy as it seeks advice on silent airport policies.
Tellab’s contribution to making the seamless passenger journey a reality is through upgrading the foundational infrastructure that facilitates all airport functionality. As airport passenger traffic continues to grow, operators are attempting to cram as much technology into ever decreasing spaces. This technology, whether it be smart touchpoints such as gate systems, entertainment services or software packages (a small number of applications), aims to increase passenger processing efficiency but is often limited by outdated traditional copper LAN infrastructure. Enter Tellabs and its passive optical LAN solution. Recognising the need for faster and more reliable connectivity between devices and systems, Tellabs is maximising fibre usage in its installations and minimising copper, upgrading the airport environment with infrastructure that has greater longevity and processing power.
The issue around available space is compounded when we consider the area that traditional LANs require and the sheer number of connected devices or touchpoints there are in airport ecosystems. With such poor bandwidth available from copper cables (an average of 300 Mbps vs fibres 10 Gbps average), overlapping systems are required to connect the myriad of necessary touchpoints in the airport environment. Moreover, these overloaded systems require bulky cooling units, terminal points and power connections at regular intervals (often stored in telecommunications rooms). This is in stark contrast to passive optical LAN solutions, that have the option to extend up to 20 kilometres before terminals and other necessary infrastructure is required. As a result, the typical areas reserved for LAN will become far less crowded and many telecommunications rooms obsolete, meaning these spaces can contribute towards retail or passenger processing. Additionally, installation and energy costs will be reduced, in turn contributing to airport sustainability targets.
Aside from giving space back to the airport, fibre optic LAN solutions are considered robust (they can go live during construction), require less material, and facilitate faster hardware deployment. Security is also greatly improved, with the system having no local storage, built-in encryption and fewer user touchpoints; there are less places to breach the system, better connectivity and expensive encryption software is made redundant. Typically network failures will even go unnoticed, as the system’s redundancy feature resolves card swapping issues automatically, ensuring network connectivity remains. You can learn how this works in an article written by Karen Leos (Vice President of Global Sales & Professional Services) here.
Tellabs’ passive optical LAN solution is ensuring that some of the largest airports across the US and Europe, such as Dallas Fort Worth, Chicago O’Hare and Paris Charles de Gaulle are able to tackle the challenges of 2023 and beyond. Opening in the latter half of 2022 and coming at a cost of 2.8 billion dollars, Orlando International (MCO) airport’s 1.8 million-square-foot Terminal C future proofed its LAN by choosing Tellabs and prioritising sustainability and efficiency. Advanced baggage processing systems, automated security lanes, multimodal biometric boarding gates, entertainment services (including 32-foot-tall screens) and self-service solutions such as check in kiosks are a small fraction of the (bandwidth hungry) connected areas/touchpoints in MCO. Some of the companies involved in bringing Terminal C to fruition are Vanderlande Industries, Burns Engineering and, of course, Tellabs whose 10-gigabit connectivity solution is essential for the functionality and interoperability of touchpoints throughout the airport.
The initial installation of fibre infrastructure may seem costly, but Tellabs is confident that over its lifetime, airports will see a significant cost reduction. This is due to fewer capital expenses, reduced power consumption and because of the greater available space that comes with fibre infrastructure (when compared to copper). Due to the ever-increasing technological innovations that are present in the airport environment, it is likely that the majority of large airports will require fibre optic LANs in the near future. At the very least, it is hard to imagine any new terminal or airport constructions opting for copper infrastructure when fibre is available from the get-go. For AviaVox it is a similar story. Although the initial implementation of the system will incur an additional cost, this is recouped through passenger satisfaction and human resource (time/effort) re-allocation. This solution is already very popular in airports, as can be seen by its large installed base. The only obvious threat being if airports do truly go silent and choose to focus on alternative means of managing passenger flow based on visualisations and other cues e.g., flight information display systems (FIDs). Even this development has been anticipated by AviaVox however, as their systems include a feature called PAStream, that allows passengers to receive announcements in text on their smartphone.
Although the seamless passenger journey can be achieved in the absence of these two companies, the experience for passengers and airport agents is similarly improved by the presence of their solutions. Tellabs is making the core infrastructure that connects the diverse components necessary for seamless travel more reliable and capable, in the face of ever-growing connected data hungry advancements. AviaVox, focussing more on human operations/management, is making the airport journey more amicable. By automating and targeting announcements towards those travellers that they are intended for, the airport is perceived to be less chaotic and more navigable, meaning passenger stress is reduced along with agent responsibility.
As described, these two organisations are facilitating the implementation of the seamless passenger journey in smart airports – a topic that we focus on in our eponymously titled report, which we have recently begun updating. Now in its second edition, this study provides analysis and discussion related to the adoption of self-service and automation equipment in airports, enabled by biometrics and digital identity. This, as well as new approaches incorporating mobile, off-site processes and other alternative solutions are also explored. Readers of this report will have access to granular forecasts on the current and future installed base and annual installation of passenger touchpoint hardware and their associated revenues. Data will also be provided on the total addressable market, penetration rates, and biometric attach rate with splits by region, airport tier and fitment type. A proposal outlining the full scope and proposed coverage, alongside information on how to tailor the research to your unique requirements can be found here.