Köln Bonn Airport looks to leverage private 5G connectivity to drive innovation

As a commercial and cargo airport, Köln Bonn is looking to modernize with a wireless network that could connect the entire airport area, improve efficiency and be able to handle large volumes of data in near real-time. Once we put the private 5G network in place, we’ll innovate together to create use cases that will improve visibility and tracking and, in future, improve the efficiency and safety of the airport as well as reducing its carbon footprint.

Client profile

Köln Bonn Airport is an important commercial airport in Germany, both for passengers and for cargo. In 2019, before the outbreak of COVID-19, around 12.4 million passengers passed through the gates. Air cargo expanded during the pandemic. In 2020 around 863,000 tons of goods were handled.


Creating connections with secure, wireless technology

Köln Bonn Airport’s area of operations is a city in miniature. It stretches over 1,000 hectares – an area that includes the runways, terminals, airport buildings and hangars – and can accommodate 14 million passengers a year. The leadership team’s aim is for the airport to be completely climate-neutral by 2050.

Communication is essential to managing the airport and getting planes safely into the air and ensuring safety on the ground. Things change fast, so the underlying network solution must have the agility to support operations while also contributing to the climate- protection strategy.

Maintaining an airport is labor-intensive and many routine tasks are done manually, such as inspecting the runway to make sure it’s clear of debris, inspecting airplanes before they take off and checking fences. Because of the size of the airport, employees drive to these locations to do inspections, taking up time and fuel. Manual inspections also come with the risk of hazards not being spotted.

To counteract this, the airport wants their network to enable applications that will give them visibility of issues affecting safety without having to send an employee out every time.

As the operational area makes wired infrastructure impractical, we explored the implementation of a private 5G network.

"Having continuous connectivity and our own high-speed mobile network will open up a range of completely new possibilities for our processes and services. This will not only be of benefit to our airport operations but also to the businesses that are based here and to our passengers."

Sebastian Müller
CIO, Flughafen Köln Bonn

Early adoption of private 5G sparks innovative use cases

As one of the first airports to adopt private 5G, Köln Bonn Airport has a unique chance to explore the opportunities that the network offers. We worked with the airport, Cisco, Airspan and Microsoft not only to implement the necessary infrastructure but also to build use cases that explore what’s possible with secure, low-latency, high-bandwidth data transmission – in real time – over 1,000 hectares.

We supported the airport for the entire project, from applying for a license and coming up with different use cases to designing the architecture and implementing the necessary software and hardware. This included surveying the site and buildings and strengthening the network signal with additional antennas to achieve perfect mobile-phone coverage across the airport.

The first use case explored was sharing the data from smart meters that monitor the consumption of water and electricity for tenants at the airport, including service providers and retail stores. These allow the airport to monitor usage and plan for future consumption. The second use case combined handheld devices with software to perform quality checks. The private 5G network allows this information to be shared with all stakeholders, even when the meters are far from the airport terminals or on runways where physical network infrastructure is impracticable.

Private 5G is secure by design and can connect IoT devices to the rest of the airport. These characteristics form the base of future potential use cases. The airport is now exploring the use of video devices to monitor the 20km fence around the airport.

Combined with AI and machine learning, this technology will alert them to changes to the fence and show what’s happening in real time, so they only have to send a team if something is out of the ordinary.

Future use cases include automated runway inspections and monitoring the runways for any foreign objects or damage to further improve overall safety.

"Partnering with NTT has allowed us to take advantage of their extensive experience as we advance our modernization strategy. With the network provided as a service, we're able to focus on co-innovating new use cases to improve safety and operational efficiency."

Sebastian Müller
CIO, Flughafen Köln Bonn

Modernization overcomes the limits of cabled networks

Private 5G provides a secure, wireless network that can handle large volumes of data in real time. It also guarantees bandwidth even when the public network is congested. 5G enables better connectivity and improved processing of rapidly growing data flows, which enables the airport, airlines, ground staff as well as other companies to work together more effectively.

Reliable network cover for the whole airport

Private 5G provides cover where cables can’t go. It connects the entire airport, including runways and fences that are far from the terminals. Since the network is not dependent on cabling, changes can be implemented fast.

Using data to boost efficiency

Connectivity allows the airport to share information (for example, about inspection results) in real time. This means that possible issues can be shared and addressed right away.

It also reduces the amount of driving needed to perform routine tasks, which assists with sustainability.

Setting the stage for further innovation

The network covering the airport provides the base on which many applications can be built to improve safety and monitoring in future. With a connection and the IoT, anything is possible, from intelligent luggage checking to automated vehicles on the runway.

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