The arrival of the 5G next-generation wireless air interface could bring significant opportunities for the aviation industry as competitive forces will push its deployment even in the absence of a clear business case. The 5G network significantly increases capacity and is designed for flexibility, providing high-throughput, low-latency, high-availability, low-power communications to meet user needs.
Mirroring the previous roll-out of 4G, this fifth generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks is being championed as offering faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before. It will be hugely important for the long-term development of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, but its business case remains around mobile broadband usage and in particular the increasing demand for video content, increasing mobile data usage and the need for greater network capacity.
Research from a couple of years ago by mobile and wireless intelligence expert CCS Insights, predicted ahead of the arrival of 5G that the demand for connections would surpass one billion in 2023, growing to close to 3 billion by 2025, of which 98% would be on mobile phones or other mobile data devices.
CHART – CCS Insights predicted back in 2018 that South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia would lead the 5G roll-out with ‘fast’ global adoption as 5G devices ‘proliferate quickly’Source: CCS Insights Market Forecast 5G Connections, Worldwide 2018-2025
With download speeds of up to 400MB per second, 5G will be a “game-changer” according to air transport industry IT provider, SITA, which believes the “potential for innovation is huge” with airports, airlines, and passengers using the force of 5G in very different ways.
The company has made six predictions based on what it describes as “unique IT insights and emerging air transport industry technology trends”. They follow recent 5G trials seen at both London Gatwick Airport and Beijing’s new Daxing International Airport services which SITA says “signpost our entry into a new era of ultra-connected air travel”.
It is not that long ago that we first celebrated the arrival of 1G and each subsequent generation of network has brought with it a significant milestone in the development of mobile communications. 1G was first introduced in Japan in 1979 and relied upon analogue radio systems, which meant users could only make phone calls. It was not until 1991 that the digital 2G network arrived and allowed SMS and MMS messages to be sent, later also adding email to the equation when GPRS was introduced in 1997.
The step to 3G networks revolutionised mobile connectivity and the capabilities of cell-phones and were much faster and could transmit greater amounts of data than the previous generations. These are still used today, but only when the latterly introduced 4G offering that brings up to five times faster network speeds, is unavailable.
The arrival of 4G permitted better latency (less buffering), higher voice quality, easy access to instant messaging services and social media, quality streaming and make faster downloads and has helped facilitate our switched-on world. The following infographic from international digital security company, gemalto helps explain the evolution.
As SITA acknowledges in its 5G predictions, 4G opened the door to IoT, but 5G now takes this to the next level. The IT provider is already using 4G for IoT applications for several applications around its biometric passenger processing solution and baggage management, but the uptake of 5G will provide many more opportunities.
“5G is already enhancing our existing applications at airports, for aircraft communications, airport operations, baggage management, and of course passenger processing,” explains Gilles Bloch-Morhange, VP SITA Platform.
SITA predicts that by 2025 5G “will be the lifeblood of IoT” and will soon be commonplace at airports and the idea of everything intelligently connected to everything will be viable. For those of us not necessarily technologically minded IoT is simply a system of interrelated computing devices that have the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
5G connectivity will be much more fluid and flexible than previous generations and its networks will enable massive data flows, providing secure, real-time, predictive and historic information. As SITA highlights, today’s 4G technology can manage around 10,000 devices in each square kilometre; a 5G network can manage a million.
This, it explains, means collaboration between airports, airlines, ground handlers, air traffic managers and concession holders will be easier and effective. “Multiple objects at airports will interact with people and objects will interact among themselves,” it explains.
The result will be the intelligent monitoring of queues throughout the airport and tracking and controlling autonomous vehicles that assist the travel journey, including those that interact directly, but also indirectly with passengers.
Elsewhere, SITA predicts 5G will help power air transport-specific Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications that could “solve major pain points at airports and borders” such as supporting biometric usage, and intelligently predict potential capacity pinch points. It could also “drive operational efficiency, increase ancillary revenues and cut costs” and could enable “flying data centers” that permit next-generation aircraft to exchange vast amounts of data around the airport and at the gate.
SITA also predicts that 5G is likely to replace the commonly used digital radio communications service, a transformation from a voice-enabled system to one that airport staff will be able to access real-time rich video updates and live feeds based on evolving scenarios and locations.
For passengers, the benefits are obvious and will deliver on the “digital traveller promise,” says SITA. “Real-time augmented reality and personalised mobile services will be provided, combining all data exchanged from the various applications and interactions with the building and objects. The airport will provide passengers with relevant, contextualised information and services to assist and entertain them,” according to the IT provider.
In simple terms this translates into the fact that HD films will download in seconds, entire series will be available to watch offline almost instantly and passengers will be able to live stream sports events in crystal clear quality, no matter how busy the airport. That has got to be positive for the customer experience!