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Houston's terminal wired for success.

When the Leland International Airline building opened at Houston Intercontinental Airport on May 15, 1990, its communications infrastructure as well as its physical architecture were described as unique, the frist of its kind in the world.

After over a year of successful operations, other airport representatives are still lining up to inspect the Houston terminal, hoping to mirror that success.

Its uniqueness centers around what the airport industry cells "common-shared areas," a European concept with an American twist.

In the United States, airport generally assign specific ticket counters to specific airlines. The same is true of boarding gates and baggage claim areas. The airlines pay a fixed fee to the airport for the facilities, regardless of whether they use them to their fullest capacity.

Because of this physical arrangement, most U.S. airport floors and ceilings hide a labyrinth of cable. This morass of cable is usually due to growth and change, where every airport tenant requires dedicated wiring for its own specific telecommunication needs. A proprietary reservation system requires that every service point have several outlets connected to shielded or unshielded twisted pairs, coaxial or twin axial cables or fiber optics.

Common-shared approach

At Houston's new Leland International Airline Building, ticket counters and gates are usually shared. For example, Carrier A will use an assigned gate for a 9 a.m. depature, Carrier B will use it for a 10 a.m. arrival, and Carrier C may use it for a noon departure. The airlines can save money, paying for areas on a usage basis only, and the airport makes more efficient use of physical space.

To use this "common-shared area" approach effectively, however, a universal cable system that would support all the telecomm needs of the airport was required after a competitive selection process.

AT&T's Systimax Premises Distribution System (PDS) was chosen. This system runs both copper and fiber to the ticket counters as well as airline back offices, and it won 100% participation from our airport tenants who supported the program.

It is a modular system of unshielded, twisted copper pair cable and 62.5/125 micron fiber-optic cable, connectors and components.

It wasn't easy to convince airlines and other tenants to participate in our universal cabling system. Working with the airlines' specifications, a cable plan was developed. Before buying into the plan, the airlines and their hardware vendors challenged the Aviation Department to prove that the cable would in fact support their needs; numerous telecomm and data specialists carefully inspected Systimax's capabilities. It was hard work for everyone involved, but the result was worth it. In only eight months, the department planned, designed and installed the cable as the physical terminal was being constructed.

Sucessful team efforts

Because of the diverse requirements of all the tenant services, versatile PDS-- to allow for a cable design that would grow with the terminal--was needed. Therefore, the Intermediate Distribution Frames (IDFs) were positioned 300 feet apart, partitioning the 1,800-foot building into 300-foot sections.

Cables were not run any more than 150 feet to the right or left of the IDFs. A certain number of cable pairs were also dedicated for each area, anticipating terminal activity and growth.

A "short jumper" concept was implemented. Each jumper group was assigned a different color. Everything was coordinated, and there was no need to run cross-connect jumpers for long distances. This design admittedly requires a great deal of administration and attention, but keeping tabs on frame and switch balances is necessary to control the terminal's growth.

The sucess of the design and construction was due to continued support from our cable vendor, consultant and Houston officials. Director of Aviation Paul Gaines was crucial to obtaining the necessary finances and city support. Gaines and others were originally concerned by the amount of cabling, hardware and investment needed to do the job.

His frist comment was, "We're in the airport business. You have to show me why we should be in the telephone business."

But once it was demonstrated that we needed to proceed in this manner, to operate a common-shared terminal successfully, it became clear that there was no way around it. The airport had to be in "the telephone business" in order to satisfy airport tenants and their customers.

Equipment needs

Common equipment (phones, terminals, etc.) was installed at all ticket counters, boarding gates and baggage areas, all supported by PDS cabling. In the administrative back offices, each airline kept its own equipment, and through the PDS we designed individual local area networks (LANs) that could be integrated to the common-shared equipment. The LANs also could be integrated with other airline equipment or hosts at other sites.

There are now a dozen LANs running over the Systimax cable, with room for almost infinite growth.

The PDS cable is not only supporting the airlines and the common-shared areas which are equipped with CUTE (Common Usage Terminal Equipment) terminals. It also supports PBX service; voice mail/voice message; cable management; public, courtesy and information phones; voice/data work stations; security for doors, loading bridges, telecomm rooms, emergency exist; elevator voice and alarm communication; closed-circuit television, surveillance cameras and monitors, as well as the public address systems; computers dedicated to the U.S. Customs, Immigration and Agriculture services; air-to-ground radio communications and ground-to-ground radio communications; and flight information display and dynamic signage.

Since opening in May 1990, we've turned some heads in the industry, including Philladelphia International Airport which recently implemented a similar cabling structure.

Other U.S. and European airport representatives visit regularly to explore the system for their own future growth plans. They can see proof at the Leland International Terminal that the days of cable being stretched out anywhere, like spaghetti, are over.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Cable & Wiring; the communications infrastructure at the Leland International Airline building at the Houston Intercontinental Airport
Author:Davila, Rudy
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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