Lufthansa doubles-down with second private 5G trial – with help from Vodafone
More detail has emerged about the private industrial 5G operations Lufthansa has pegged to its new holding in the 3.7-3.8 GHz spectrum in Germany, with Vodafone emerging, as well as Nokia, as early partner for the German airline’s technical services division.
Separately of Nokia’s proclamation yesterday (February 27) it has provided telecoms gear for a new private networking setup at one of Lufthansa Technik’s engine shops in Hamburg, both Vodafone and Lufthansa Technik made their own announcements, revealing a separate project using the same spectrum.
Vodafone said it is “launching” a second 5G campus network with Lufthansa Technik at the site, covering an 8,500 square-meter aircraft hangar. It described the network as “independent” of its own public network in Germany, with data retained and processed in a “small data centre” on site.
Lufthansa Technik said both the 5G trial networks comprise its own antennas and servers, which show ‘LH-Technik’ as the network provider in handset displays, and can only be accessed by Lufthansa Technik.
Vodafone said the private setup will enable Lufthansa Technik workers will be able to use high-resolution virtual and augmented reality technologies to work more precisely on the interior of aircraft fuselages.
Lufthansa Technik made its own statement on the matter, describing two separate projects using private versions of standalone 5G, with Nokia and Vodafone, alternatively. Both are live, and both are tied to its own spectrum holding in the 3.7-3.8 GHz band, which German regulator BNetzA is leasing for dedicated enterprise usage in the country.
It said it has has set up two separate private 5G networks at its Hamburg base, “with different technology and network providers”. Lufthansa Technik is the first company outside Asia to operate a “fully-fledged” standalone 5G network, based on 3GPP’s (Release 16) standard for standalone 5G New Radio (NR), in an industrial environment, it claimed.
Vodafone commented: “For the first time in the industry, network technology is completely self-sufficient. From the server to the core network to the antenna, everything runs completely independently of [public] mobile radio infrastructure.”
Vodafone’s precise role in the project remains unclear. Lufthansa Technik owns its own spectrum, and is operating both the 5G trial systems, making Vodafone’s resource and service offer – spectrum and network management – surplus to requirements. Vodafone stated Lufthansa technicians can configure the network as required, including to adjust the ratio between upload and download speeds.
It is also unclear which vendor has supplied the radio equipment and core network for the second test site. Lufthansa Technik said their identity will not be disclosed as part of the agreement with Vodafone.
But Vodafone Germany made a statement about the bigger role of 5G in the Germany economy, and its primary desire to support growth of the technology in sundry vertical markets. “The German economy needs 5G,” said Hannes Ametsreiter, chief executive at Vodafone Germany.
“We can do 5G. As a 5G partner, we want to help our industry to maintain an international top position in the future. Those who focus on new technologies today will be at the forefront tomorrow.”
In its own press announcement, Vodafone Germany suggested it collaborated on the design of the architecture for the second test network at the Hamburg site. It added: “Vodafone supports the 5G network as a service and technology partner during activation and during ongoing operations.”
Ametsreiter said: “We support our partners in bringing 5G into everyday industrial life as early as possible. To the factories. In the business parks. And even in airplane hangars. With individual campus networks that we tailor perfectly to the needs of our partners. ”
Lufthansa Technik described the logic behind its decision to trial standalone 5G operations and management in its own spectrum, instead of going to Vodafone for a proto-slice of its current LTE networks, and potentially a slice-proper of its future 5G network.
It stated: “This enables higher security and a completely free configuration, which allows the company’s own 5G networks to be adapted exactly to the requirements of the respective evaluation projects, for example in the ratio of upload and download bandwidth.”
But it also maintained the projects are trials, only, with temporary supply arrangements, designed to assess the value of industrial-grade 5G to the company.
A spokesperson commented: “Our objective is to evaluate 5G technology in general, and not the providers of it. We want to know only what the benefits of 5G will be to our company. These are two completely different projects, with totally independent networks and hardware. They are being completely managed by our own IT teams.”
It said, however, the company will roll industrial 5G, privately owner and operate, to other Lufthansa Technik sites if the twin trials are successful. “If 5G proves successful with the users in the two innovation projects, the technology will be rolled out to other divisions in the near future so its advantages can be used in daily aircraft maintenance operations.”
Lufthansa Technik detailed the twin projects. The work with Vodafone has seen a standalone 5G network constructed in a Hamburg hangar to enable staff to mix office-based digital twins and with workshop-based augmented reality to build cabin interiors.
“By means of live data transmission, the technicians on site always have the opportunity to check the current position of all planned components and, additionally, to coordinate any necessary changes with the developers through collaborative video functions,” it said.
Nokia, as described in yesterday’s writeup, has provided the networking gear for a ‘virtual table inspection’ at one of the two engine shops in Hamburg, which uses a 5G-enabled video-link to live-stream engine overhauls between customers and its Hamburg engineers.
The idea is the new private 5G network, offering “industrial grade” reliability, alongside ring-fenced latency and bandwidth performance, precludes customers from physically attending inspections in Hamburg; instead they are able to provide high-definition video feeds of their engine overhauls in their own facilities to the Lufthansa Technik team in Hamburg.
The virtual table inspection (Nokia) is “several hundred metres” away from the virtual cabin work (Vodafone), noted Lufthansa Technik. Both projects have a very high demand for bandwidth for wireless data transmission, which could not be covered adequately by the previous 4G and Wi-Fi technologies, it said.
5G offers data transmission of up to 10 Gbps compared to a maximum of 1Gbps for 4G/LTE, it said.“The public 4G upload rate was often no longer sufficient for high-resolution video streams, and the Wi-Fi standard, as an alternative, is not designed for a change of location between individual cells, which previously often led to connection terminations,” the company stated.