High capacity, high speed 5G connections are launching around the world, enabling a host of new services at the world’s airports, and even on aircraft.
There are countless applications for 5G networks which range from improving passenger experience to better air traffic management and more efficient airport operations. Some of the most compelling include automation and IoT (internet of things) applications. While 5G networks are still only beginning to be trialed around the world, it is expected that they will be a common part of our daily connected lives as soon 2024.
According to a mobility report published the World Economic Forum by telecom company Ericsson this January, 5G networks are set to reach 1.5 billion subscribers by 2024, covering over 40 percent of the world’s population and enabling more than 22 billion internet of things connections.
SITA’s Gilles Bloch-Morhange, ATS Products & Solutions, Head of SITA Platform, put forth his own prediction for 5G applications in aviation in a company post last year writing:
“Areas I see where this will make a big difference include baggage handling, catering, turnaround optimization, passenger flow and resource management. For example, being able to monitor and optimize every single vehicle’s usage around the airport will deliver considerable savings in fuel costs and overall resources, including labor. 5G will also accelerate the growth of smart airports, with next generation facility and building management. Areas I see where this will make a big difference include baggage handling, catering, turnaround optimization, passenger flow and resource management. For example, being able to monitor and optimize every single vehicle’s usage around the airport will deliver considerable savings in fuel costs and overall resources, including labor. 5G will also accelerate the growth of smart airports, with next generation facility and building management.”
In a working paper published last year, ICAO reported that Civil Aviation Authorities around the world are researching the benefits of higher capacity 5G for air traffic control applications, global aircraft tracking and in the tracking of Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs) also known as drones. Drones present a particular challenge to air traffic management infrastructure and airport security as the numbers of them used in consumer and enterprise applications grow.
China is advancing many of these aims with 5G initiatives as part of aviation infrastructure growth.
A new 5G-enabled aviation base in Shenyang has been employed for drone applications for image and data gathering, postal delivery and surveillance. The 5G network will also support advanced air traffic control of drone systems.
Guangzhou Baiyun Airport became China’s first 5G-covered commercial airport this January with a 5G base station built by China Unicom’s Guangzhou branch using Huawei’s Lampsite radio coverage solution. It was tested with speeds as high as 1.14 Gigabites per second, which around 50 times the speed of a 4G network.
Huawei has also partnered with Turkcell to establish a 5G DIS (digital indoor system) network at the Istanbul New Airport.
“We offer up to 1 Gbps speed, and we also provide 100% indoor 4T4R coverage in densely populated areas such as check-in counters, departure lounges, and tax-free shops, bringing world’s leading indoor coverage experience to our subscribers,” said Gediz Sezgin, chief technology officer of Turkcell when the network installation was announced at 2018 Mobile Broadband Forum.
This February, Manchester Airport and Vodafone collaborated on a 5G demonstration by offering passengers visiting the Vodafone ‘blast pod’ at Terminal One a free Entertainment Pass, which let them download episodes of Tin Star in as little as 45 seconds. While limited in scope, this trial gave travelers a view of the future of ‘Bring Your Own Entertainment’ as the technology becomes more broadly available.
This April, Ericsson and Italian telco TIM also launched a 5G demo at the baggage claim in Terminal T3 of Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport. It offers travelers a live, immersive bilingual tour of Piazza Navona using virtual reality headsets. TIM and Ericsson plan a future roll-out of a 5G network throughout the airport.
Last December, Helsinki Airport became the first airport in the world to roll out a 5G project—quite literally. The airport worked with Swedish telecom provider Telia to launch a dedicated 5G network in the non-Schengen area of Terminal 2 and also trialed a 5G powered autonomous service robot.
”The robot can deliver real-time video stream from the terminal and enable for example monitoring the terminal area through remote or autonomous control and see that everything is running as it should. The robot can also guide passengers in the terminal, and we aim to try different use cases during the project”, said Heikki Koski, Chief Digital Officer, Finavia.
”5G will start with enterprise customers, especially for industrial automation and remote control. The low-latency connection and massive capacity of 5G will serve the airport well with its masses of passengers and data, and with the focus on security and fluency of services,” added 5G Program Director Janne Koistinen, Telia Finland.
Gogo has announced that it will launch a 5G air to ground network for business and commercial aviation, by 2021.
“We expect to launch Gogo 5G at the same time as the terrestrial telecommunications companies are deploying the same generation of technology on the ground — a first in the inflight connectivity industry,” said Oakleigh Thorne, CEO of Gogo. “Gogo 5G is the next step in our technology evolution and is expected to deliver an unparalleled user experience, pairing high performance with low latency and network-wide redundancy.”
The 5G network will rely on Gogo’s existing infrastructure of more than 250 towers and will use unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4GHz range, along with a proprietary modem and advanced beamforming technology.