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U.K. Researchers Study Distributed Antenna System for Airports

The group is developing a network infrastructure that will provide ubiquitous wireless coverage for RFID, as well as for a broad range of other equipment.
By Rhea Wessel
Nov 18, 2009Airports and other large, complex infrastructures have diverse communications needs that include complex and often varying service requirements, traffic profiles and user expectations. A project known as TINA (The INtelligent Airport) aims to develop a self-organizing, next-generation advanced wired and wireless network that will meet the expectations for future airport environments.

The TINA system is designed to handle a wide range of fixed and mobile equipment, including RFID readers, security cameras, biometric sensors, and explosive and chemical detectors. It is also built to provide logistical support for passenger information and entertainment services, airport retailers, transport services and runway operations. With such a capability, the system is expected to meet other application requirements as well.

Sithamparanathan Sabesan
This three-year research project is being conducted by the University of Cambridge, the University College London (UCL) and the University of Leeds, with funding provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The project is managed by Ian White, a professor of engineering and head of Cambridge University's School of Technology. At Cambridge, White works alongside Michael Crisp, Richard Penty and Sithamparanathan Sabesan, a researcher at the university's Centre for Photonic Systems. The team collaborates closely with Bill Krug of Boeing.

According to the group, airports will require extremely advanced adaptive computing and communication systems to provide users with mobile, secure and automatic means of conducting business. One prime application area is in international travel, which necessitates any solution being implemented on a global scale.

The main focus of the research carried out by Cambridge University's Engineering Department, under the TINA project, is to support passive RFID technology that is expected to be of particular interest in airport applications, on a radio-over-fiber distributed antenna system (DAS) that will also simultaneously carry other wireless services, both current and future. One of the many advantages of radio-over-fiber is the inherently wide bandwidth, enabling all common communications standards to be supported simultaneously on a unified infrastructure. Since the system allows radio frequency identification to be supported alongside these services on the common infrastructure, ubiquitous RFID coverage can be provided with little additional cost.

It is anticipated that passive RFID tags in airports will be used to track a wide range of objects, including luggage and commercial goods, as well as on intelligent boarding passes and access-control tags, and for goods-location support in airport shopping areas. The use of these RFID tags can also aid the detection and identification of possible threats by intruders, and will improve efficiency and security through the active tracking of passengers and employees. The RFID system must be in a form that can be readily integrated with other systems, such as CCTV-based vision systems, in order to ensure maximum robustness and security. Other applications include the location of checked-in passengers who are either missing or late, which should help reduce passenger-induced delays, and thus speed-up aircraft turn-around times.

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