The digital wireless journey takes flight

Richard van Wijk by Richard van Wijk | Jan 28, 2021

The irony of airports is that while they are all about leaving the ground, severing our ties to the earth and flying through the air, they are themselves very wired and tethered operational environments. Airport hubs can conceal thousands of kilometers of copper and fiber optic cables needed to support their operations. But the freedom of the air beckons. As part of their digital transformation journey, airport operations are untethering themselves and taking flight with private wireless.

Digital journey

Airports today recognize that there is an opportunity to reduce costs, increase operational efficiency, and provide a better and touchless customer experience by digitalizing many of their operations and processes. Early adopters of information technology, airports are still heavily paper-based and many of their processes have not been digitally integrated. They now have an opportunity to take digital to another level, harnessing data, artificial intelligence and the cloud to automate many of their processes.

The digital automation trend, referred to as Industry 4.0, is making many new use cases possible. Digitalization of processes and assets is enabling improved decision-making between stakeholders by streaming operational data in real-time. It enables airport authorities and their stakeholders to, for instance, monitor assets and better predict the need for maintenance. Embedded and mobile sensors and cameras substantially improve situational and operational awareness for airside operations, increasing safety and security. Digitalization is also enabling the automation of processes and the use of tele-remote operations.

Many of the use cases for increased digitalization require ubiquitous mobile connectivity. Not that the thousands of miles of cabling will become obsolete, but high bandwidth, secure, low latency wireless communications will provide the “last mile” access for many devices.

Industrial-grade private wireless

Currently, many airports use Wi-Fi for operations and for passenger connectivity services. Wi-Fi is good enough for passengers wanting to check their email or flight status, but advanced digital operations will require a more robust “industrial-grade” private wireless solution using LTE or 5G. This will take the load off of the passenger Wi-Fi network, but more importantly, it will provide the predictability and deterministic performance that operational technology (OT) requires.

Private wireless is based on mobile wireless standards, so it supports mobile operations from marshall cars to deicing to baggage scanning. It can also be controlled to provide a specified “quality of service”, whether it is high bandwidth or low latency for designated partners or applications. For instance, in an emergency, first responder services for the airport can be supported with increased number of camera feeds, data transfers and critical push-to-talk/video services. Private wireless is highly secure because LTE and 5G use SIM cards or eSIMs to ensure that only designated devices have access to the network, and all traffic is encrypted end to end.

First steps for 5G

One early adopter pioneering a private wireless approach is Brussels Airport, which has recently deployed a 5G-ready network with Nokia and local operator Citymesh. Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Company said: “Brussels Airport confirms its pioneering position in digital innovation by installing its own 5G-ready network as one of the first sites in Belgium and as one of the first airports in Europe. In addition to allowing a further optimization of the airport’s operations, 5G technology will also enable us to accelerate digital innovations and facilitate the integration of future technologies.”

With so many moving parts, today’s airport hubs will only achieve end-to-end digital transformation if they deploy a robust, secure and predictable wireless operational environment. An LTE or 5G private wireless network will prove to be an essential platform for developing greater efficiency and intelligent services in the future. This will not only reduce costs, enable airports to harness AI and the cloud, but it will vastly improve the experience and safety of passengers as they embark on their own journeys.

Download the whitepaper – Airport private wireless solutions – to discover why private wireless networks are the best choice for digital airports.

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.

Richard van Wijk

Richard van Wijk

Global Aviation Practice Lead, Nokia
Richard van Wijk has over 25 years of experience in telecommunications, business development, and 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.
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