5G Flying – New Network Turns Airport into Real-Life Research Site

5G Flying – New Network Turns Airport into Real-Life Research Site

Hoosiers have been hard at work to revolutionize the aviation industry. Right now, there’s a unique 5G project underway in Indiana that aims to modernize just about everything about the ways that airports operate. It’s going to be “out with the old” and “in with the new” in some seriously game-changing ways. And it’s all going to start with a ground-up revamp of airport communication systems.


How Things Work Today

Currently, a majority of airports rely on sensors and network systems that are built with hardwired connections. This requires a lot of expensive infrastructure like physical connection points, hubs, and trenches for things like copper or fiber-optic cabling. Alternatively, airport operators can opt for point-to-point radio frequency links or public cellular connections, but those come with fees, limitations, and potential reliability issues that could create major problems. A better solution is needed.


The Proving Ground

This past spring, a big partnership was launched to test new ways for airports to improve their networks. Global companies Ericsson, a communications service provider, and Saab, a defense and security company, have teamed up with the Purdue Airport (LAF)and the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) to create a new “Lab to Life” project. This new “proving ground” at LAF is going to bring together numerous academics, researchers, and business leaders that will be working together to develop a new generation of 5G airport communications networks.

Essentially, the partners are going to be creating a new private 5G network that can be tested in high-performance, real-life scenarios. Each entity has a unique role in this project.

Ericsson is going to contribute the 5G network technology that PRF will operate at LAF. This is going to be a 4G and 5G dual-mode core private network tailored that can be tailored to meet specific industry needs. Saab will be the first industry partner to use this dedicated 5G network.

Saab is investing in this project through the installation of its Aerobahn platform, which improves efficiencies for airlines through things like ramp management, event management, airport security operations, and aircraft tracking sensors.

Purdue, in addition to providing the use of its airport, is also contributing additional research capacity through the “lab to life testbed” in the Discovery Park District. It is expected that more collaborators may join this project in the future as new ideas and applications begin to take shape.

All of this amounts to a rather large-scale project at one of our state’s most important aviation sites. LAF is the second-busiest airport in the entire state of Indiana. Somewhere around 125,000 aircraft operations take place at this location annually. The results of this could change everything about how airports operate.


How Will This Benefit Aviation?

Consider a scenario where an airport operator is conducting a major renovation or equipment relocation. As we’ve mentioned, most airport locations are packed with physical telecommunications infrastructure that will constitute a major project hurdle for builders. Infrastructure like this is essential and can’t be disrupted during any construction phases.

That’s why a new wireless system like the one in development at LAF has a lot of folks paying attention. Wireless options create much greater flexibility for operators, and demand for these kinds of options has been steadily increasing throughout the industry.

“We are witnessing an uptake in global demand for digitalization at airports that requires stable, secure, and high-performing wireless networking,” said George Mulhern, head of Ericsson Enterprise Wireless Solutions. “This unique collaboration enables trials and industrialization of 5G applications and use cases that help solve aviation market needs – improving flight safety, enhanced passenger experience, as well as increased efficiencies and cost savings.”

Erik Smith, president and CEO of Saab in the U.S. said, “This platform is intended to showcase how state-of-the-art airport systems can work with 5G technology. By combining airside and landside operations to improve airport efficiency and planning, the platform at Purdue will help us continue that journey.”

University officials are understandably excited too, as the entire partnership offers lots of new educational opportunities for students and researchers.

Troy Hege, vice president of innovation and technology for PRF, said, “The combination of Purdue’s operational airport, research faculty, and students with Ericsson’s Private 5G network and Saab’s sensor arrays and operating systems is an innovation and education asset that is unlike anything else that exists today.”


Big Things to Come

It’s safe to say that several truly big innovations could be coming to the aviation industry soon once the project happening at LAF takes off. Greater flexibility and capability throughout facility communications will be an important step to take airports to the next level, and Indiana is right at the forefront of making it happen. It’ll be very exciting to watch this project grow over the coming years.

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