Leader: IT at the heart of T5

Hoping the hard work will be worth it for Heathrow's new terminal

Hoping the hard work will be worth it for Heathrow's new terminal

The construction of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport is a massive project that will mean some big improvements for passengers starting in 2008.

These will include pervasive wireless internet access, a private mobile network and a super-fast automated baggage handling system.

With any luck, they will result in fewer queues, the ability to be more productive while waiting for your plane and overall a less stressful travelling experience. But such a slick operation will only be successful if all the IT is working properly.

Information systems are a huge concern for the BAA team that's masterminding the £4.2bn project. Although building started in 2002, the IT team has only a short amount of time to set up the £250m worth of systems and equipment that will fill the terminal.

This requires quite a juggling act. In attempting to make systems as secure as possible, you must use proven technology. But you can't decide on your technology too early - if you do, the technology becomes obsolete or its flaws become known and exploited. Plus, as the site staff told us, if you put the IT in before the building is secure, it tends to get stolen.

Wi-fi at the airport

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One example of a technology T5 will have to wait on is RFID. BAA CIO Paul Coby has said the wireless tagging technology will not be used on the baggage system immediately because of cost and logistics difficulties, though it could be added in future.

In any construction project these days, IT integration has become a major part of the process. With T5, BAA tells us the IT systems represent the greatest risk for the project. There are 100 shops that need network connections, and the airport itself will have wireless services, flight information boards, mobile networks, CCTV and building management systems. And, what's more, all these things must have a certain amount of scalability.

Old buildings mean shoehorning technology into a space that is unfit for the purpose. New buildings provide an opportunity to include years of scalability and better services for people - a tall order but with promise of great return. And that's just what T5 is aiming for.