Saudi airport upgrades TETRA communications

When in-building coverage for non-standard TETRA frequencies was needed to enhance public safety communications at King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia, Zinwave was able to provide a solution within a very quick timescale

Saudi airport upgrades TETRA communications

King Fahd International Airport (KFIA), located in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and covering a geographical area of approximately 776km², is the largest airport in the world in physical terms.

It serves the region’s major cities and industrial areas – Al Khobar, Dhahran, Dammam, Ras Tanura, Qatif, Saudi Armaco and Jubail Industrial City. It has two parallel runways that are capable of accommodating larger aircraft, including the Airbus A340-600 and Boeing 747-400.

Although initial plans to construct the airport began in 1970, actual building work did not start until 1983. While the airport was used to serve the Allied Forces during the original Gulf War, KFIA did not open as a commercial airport until 1999.

Expansion plans

The airport currently processes around five million passengers annually, but due to its proximity to major oil fields and the general urbanisation of the area, there are ongoing plans to significantly increase its passenger handling capacity to over 16 million by 2038.

To facilitate these expansion plans, the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA), which is responsible for the management of all commercial airports in Saudi Arabia, has taken the decision to review and modernise KFIA’s existing TETRA network to enhance public safety security for travellers and staff. To date, KFIA’s TETRA network had been running on an analogue-based system and there were inconsistencies in signal output.

The GACA went out to public tender for the project in 2010 and Saudi Bell Group, an established and well-respected systems integrator, was selected as the preferred supplier. The project involved:
• Designing a digital-based TETRA network
• Re-cabling the TETRA network
• Augmenting the existing optical fibre network in the airport
• Supplying state-of-the-art TETRA equipment
• Interfacing the network with PSTN, VHF and the ground-to-air communication system
• Providing reliable in-building TETRA coverage

Shortly after the tender was awarded, the Saudi Arabian Government authority responsible for frequencies allocation substituted the initially assigned frequency band of 380-400MHz with the 350-360MHz band, which is considered to be a non-standard TETRA band.

Tight deadline

Saudi Bell Group’s existing supplier was unable to accommodate these frequencies without undertaking major development work to its overall system. The GACA required that in-building wireless coverage had to be installed within stipulated timeframes so Saudi Bell Group had to source another provider.

After carrying out extensive research the Group selected Zinwave Ltd, a UK-based company, as its preferred supplier, because it was able to immediately supply a turnkey solution that was frequency agnostic. Zinwave’s in-building wireless technology is truly wideband and is able to support multiple TETRA and cellular frequencies between 150MHz and 2700MHz on a single hardware infrastructure.

Its design is able to accommodate a single or dual-star architecture and is made up of four basic components; a service module which interfaces with the TETRA base station; a hub chassis, for the configuration, management and distribution of different services needed; and a number of remote units which are distributed around the building to ensure signals are transmitted throughout the airport to optimise usage for facility staff.

Not only could Zinwave’s technology support non-standard frequencies, the company was also able to ship the entire system within tight timescales to meet the deadlines stipulated by the GACA. In addition, the system’s ability to support multiple cellular frequencies also made it an attractive proposition for the GACA, as when the provision of existing cellular coverage (currently done by the operators themselves) is finally reviewed, the infrastructure used to support the new TETRA service is also able to support all cellular services, ensuring maximum return on investment.

TETRA network

The new TETRA network will be used for all aspects of public safety including maintenance support, emergency support and counter-terrorism support, so the Zinwave system, which is made up of one primary hub, four secondary hubs and 33 remote units, will be installed in areas of the airport that are frequented by the general public, the Royal Family and maintenance personnel.

Areas that require in-building coverage include: 
• Six-storey passenger terminal, including 15 gates and 11 bridges (total area - 327,000m²)
• The Royal Terminal, including four bridges (total area – 28,980m²)
• Public mosque (total area – 46,200m²)
• Multi-storey car park spread over three levels (total gross area – 192,258m²)

The GACA also required TETRA coverage to be available in the airport’s extensive utility tunnels for health, maintenance and safety reasons. There were some concerns about the system’s ability to perform optimally in the extreme temperatures experienced in Saudi Arabia. However, after carrying out extensive tests in the different tunnels, the GACA was satisfied that ambient tunnel temperatures remain within equipment operational guidelines and that safety and communication services would not be compromised.

As a result of the changes to TETRA frequencies, the overall project has experienced some delay but it is hoped that Zinwave’s system will be installed and commissioned before Ramadan. The new TETRA network is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.


Zinwave 3000 - key features

True wideband: Supports any service, protocol and modulation scheme 

Low component count: An in-building wireless network can be built to support any mix and any number of services

Lowest cost per square metre: Comprising of a single hardware layer, the system becomes more and more cost-effective compared to a traditional solution with each additional service

Future-proof/No costly upgrades: Additional services can be added without the need for supplementary hardware, therefore avoiding further cost and disruption

Easy planning and installation: Self-calibration and auto-configure features simplify design and deployment

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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