Optics is the digital fiber of tomorrow’s airport

Guest Author by Guest Author | Jun 24, 2021

By Richard van Wijk, Global Aviation Practice Lead, Nokia

Committed to providing an efficient, enjoyable and safe travel experience for passengers, airports have always been at the forefront of advances in technology. Industry 4.0 digital technologies represent the latest evolutionary trend for the designers of tomorrow’s airports; IoT devices, sensors and cameras, along with artificial intelligence, will help airports expand their operational awareness, automate processes and improve their end-to-end efficiency — ushering in the era of Airport 4.0.

Moving big data inexpensively

All of these processes transfer data, sometimes large amounts of it, so the backbone of any airport’s digital transformation starts with its LAN. Today’s LAN technology is also evolving as the industry moves from traditional CATx-based LAN solutions to fiber-based passive optical LAN (POL) solutions. The costs associated with an optical LAN solution are significantly lower than CATx solutions. In big facilities such as an airport terminal, for both solution hardware and software, optical LAN reduces total cost of ownership (TCO) by up to 50 percent compared to a similarly scaled CATx solution.

TCO calculations can be slippery, but in the case of POL, it is conceptually straightforward. An electrical CATx LAN requires the signal to be boosted. At a minimum, Ethernet has to connect with an access switch every 100m or so. In practice, it is closer to 90m.

With passive optical fiber systems, the signal can be reliably carried without intermediate electronics for 20km or further. This is the simplest way to understand the cost efficiency of this kind of system; a typical POL in an airport terminal consumes about 40% less power because it has no need for intermediate electronics.

More space for revenue generation

There are other savings. By eschewing access switches and, to an extent, distribution switches, the need for wiring closets or equipment rooms also goes away. These small rooms may seem insignificant, but they contain a lot of electrical equipment that needs more electricity to keep it cooled. They can account for up to four percent of the airport footprint, which with POL becomes available for other things, like generating revenue from passenger services.

Evolving connectivity

For those of us that have grown up with wiring closets, it is hard to imagine the sheer simplicity of an optical LAN. It uses passive optical splitters — “passive” in this case meaning “requiring no power”. Thus, a single fiber coming from the central server room can connect to a splitter, which can then be connected to a large number of end devices. Optical splitters, because they require no power or cooling and are relatively small, can be installed in the ceiling infrastructure.

The real advantages of optical LAN relate back to achieving Airport 4.0; optical LAN systems have tremendous capacity to carry data and they will be upgradable in the future without having to replace the cabling. This is one of the biggest differences between POL and CATx LANs.

For instance, many older airports will be considering the replacement of their current CAT5 cabling with CAT6 or CAT6A for their backbone — if they haven’t already. CAT6A cabling can carry 10Gbps, like today’s POL systems, but they are pushing the limits of the electrical cabling at those speeds. In time, airports will be faced with new technologies that will increase the need for bandwidth and an infrastructure that is able to cope with the capacity demand.

A single strand of optical fiber cable, in contrast has nearly limitless carrying capacity. In the immediate future, there are new 25Gbps POL systems coming, but the limit is not coming from the fiber. The most advanced active optical systems today can reach just over 1 Petabit on a single strand. In other words, once the fiber is in place, you will never have to replace it. And given the costs, associated with pulling and replacing expensive copper cabling, the long-term cost savings of optical systems are enormous — as is their potential to provide the digital fiber for the most ambitious of your Airport 4.0 goals.

Watch this webinar to learn more on how your airport can reduce TCO, maximize space usage, and improve sustainability with passive optical LAN.


Richard van Wijk is the global aviation practice lead inside Nokia. With over 25 years of experience in Telecommunications business development & consultancy, Richard has been instrumental in many projects for a number of companies like Lucent, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia: From contracting the first SDH/DWDM projects to contracting the first LTE Air to Ground Aviation project and private wireless networks for Airports in Europe.


This is sponsored content. Sponsored content is provided by third parties including airports, members of ACI, World Business Partners, and others. The views expressed and/or presented by these third parties through sponsored content are their own and may not represent or reflect the views of ACI, its management, Board, or members. Readers should not act on the basis of any information contained in the blog without referring to applicable laws and regulations and/or without appropriate professional advice.

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