Heathrow airport, it's fair to say, has its critics. So when, back in the mid-1990s, BAA began planning a fifth terminal, its vision was of a building that didn't feel like an airport terminal. Instead, it wanted one that conveyed a sense of freedom, with an infrastructure that made travel seamless and effortless. Yes, at Heathow ... that's right.
But much had changed since Terminal 4 was completed in 1986 - not least the revolution in mobile telecommunications. By the end of the '90s, millions of passengers were rushing through Heathrow each year, most of them carrying mobile phones and PDAs using services from a range of network operators that all wanted to instal their own infrastructure at the airport. Yet these network operators were using similar technology to provide similar services.
The same was true of private mobile radio (PMR) systems used by the emergency services, control authorities and BAA itself. BAA felt it needed to take more control over the infrastructure in its buildings and get rid of some of the unsightly clutter of duplicated antennae. T5, it decided, would be different.
BAA and Arup agreed that a common infrastructure, shared by all service providers, was the most elegant solution. The airport operator would instal and manage the infrastructure, and service providers would pay to use it.
Even though network operators were no longer competing on coverage and there was no advantage in having their own infrastructure, BAA's concept still had to be sold to them. But, working closely with the mobile operators and PMR users from the start, Arup was able to convince them of the benefits of infrastructure sharing. In-building distributed antenna systems (Ibdas) were installed for both mobile networks and PMR. Essentially, Ibdas take radio signals from a single source in one location and distribute to antennae placed strategically around a building to give the required coverage and capacity.
Outside the terminal buildings, coverage was provided through two 'antenna farms', each consisting of a 30m tower for mounting service providers' antennae. These towers are the only locations at T5 where external antennae can be deployed, yet they enable full coverage across the whole of T5 - a site the size of Hyde Park.
As well as helping BAA find the technical solution, Arup assisted it in developing a strategy for mobile communications at T5, drawing up contracts for use of shared infrastructure, supporting BAA in commercial negotiations and advising on how the common infrastructure should be operated and maintained. Arup also made improvements to the existing radio infrastructure at Heathrow.
Installing some 25km of 'leaky feeder' or radiating cable, another 20km of low-loss cable and hundreds of mobile phone and PMR antennae meant countless discussions, negotiations and compromises involving architects, building services engineers and BAA itself. But the final shared infrastructure was not only fully operational on day one, but the uncluttered space and light of T5 has become a template for all new and refurbished airport terminals at Heathrow and elsewhere.
'It was a great achievement for the team, who had to work sensitively with a large group of stakeholders to agree the requirements and design and deliver into a complex construction programme,' says Tom Garside, BAA's IT systems integration programme manager. 'The team went out of their way to ensure that the solution was successful.'
Arup worked closely with the disparate mobile telecoms and radio systems providers who serve Heathrow, to convince them that the shared communications infrastructure sought by BAA for its sleek new Terminal 5 was a sensible and elegant solution. Arup's input ranged from legal and commercial negotiation to the design and delivery of a complex programme that reconciled the demands of architects and specialist engineers with those of its client.
- Consider a bespoke contract for dealing with suppliers and contractors;
- Demonstrate benefits to major stakeholders from the outset;
- Make technical solutions as future-proof as possible.
Best Technology award sponsored by eg.1