Private wireless: A foundation for digital transformation
Thomas Rehberg, Head of Aviation and Public Safety at Nokia, gives his expert view on airport digitalisation.
Airport digitalisation, also known as Airport 4.0 can help airports become more competitive by enabling them to embrace paperless operations, enhance their operational and situational awareness, and reduce costs. But starting the, sometimes challenging, journey to Airport 4.0 requires the alignment of many airport stakeholders and the support of the digital applications they need. That means airports must provide pervasive, reliable, secure, broadband wireless connectivity everywhere. It will play a critical role in realising their Airport 4.0 ambitions by linking all stakeholders, processes and systems.
Guaranteeing or improving turnaround times really matters, especially at the ramp. And digital process automation can deliver improvements. However, airports face challenges in helping airlines and airport services companies reliably connect devices to their backend systems, so they can support these advances.
Traditional connectivity choices come up short as enablers of automation. Wi-Fi suffers from the shadowing effects of aircraft wings — and does not always support proper handovers from indoors to outdoors. Also, as they operate on unlicensed spectrum, performance is unpredictable. Public cellular services have never been designed to meet the requirements of airport operations. Their best-effort nature results in unreliable wireless connectivity, including coverage gaps and no guaranteed quality of service.
New advancements in wireless technology now allow airports to start deploying private wireless networks based on LTE or 5G technology. These networks are purpose-built for the enterprise and keep services and data within the airport exclusively for airport operations. Passengers cannot connect to the networks, access is controlled by the airport.
An LTE/5G private wireless network provides the foundation for Airport 4.0, and its pervasive connectivity makes it simpler to embrace digital processes. Airports can then increase their operational and situational awareness, for more efficient resolution of incidents and minimised impact on turnarounds. The network also offers an ideal solution for increasing asset location flexibility and providing quick, cost-effective connectivity to new assets.