Lufthansa says devices are the biggest bottleneck in private 5G

Lufthansa Industry Solutions, the IT consulting and system integration arm of the German conglomerate Lufthansa Group, worked with Nokia to deploy a 5G standalone (SA) private network in an airline hangar. The company is using that network to conduct virtual inspections of airplane engines.

“5G enables us to have a reliable stream without connection drops as we move around the hangar,” said Claudius Noack, IT consultant with Lufthansa Industry Solutions. Noack was a keynote speaker during the virtual FierceWireless Private Wireless Networks Summit this week.

Noack said that in the past the company used Wi-Fi for connectivity inside the airplane hangar but the connection was not reliable because hangars tend to have a lot of machinery and metal that can disrupt the signal.

But securing compatible SA devices remains a hurdle for Lufthansa. Noack said that SA devices —everything from modems to IoT devices to smartphones —that work on the right spectrum band are still a “bottleneck” for the company.

Early adopter
Lufthansa activated its SA private network in January 2020 and it was the first SA network outside of Asia. Lufthansa used a spectrum license it acquired from the German government. In 2019 Germany allocated 100 MHz in the 3.7-3.8 GHz band for 5G local spectrum licenses that are intended for private wireless networks.

Noack said that when Lufthansa first started building its private network with Vodafone in 2019 the 5G servers and other network equipment was similar to what mobile operators were using– it was big and intended to connect millions of devices. “It was too much,” Noack said.

Nevertheless, the company was able to get the type of connectivity that it needed. “It was a major benefit for us to be able to get a stable video stream for our [airline] customers,” he said, adding that while low latency is important (the Lufthansa SA network has a latency of about 9 milliseconds), the bigger benefit is the stable connection.

Noack said that Lufthansa’s airline customers initially planned to conduct about 50% of their engine inspections virtually but because of the Covid-19 pandemic they ended up doing 100% of those inspections virtually.

“5G enabled us to do that,” he said, adding that the first time a customer used the SA network to virtually do an inspection they said the image was “crystal clear.”

Note: This article was updated to reflect that Lufthansa's private network in 2019 was built in conjunction with Vodafone.