Telcos need hand-holding on private 5G for industry, says Air France
Traditional network operators, as well as network vendors, do not have the in-house expertise to serve the enterprise market with industrial-grade private LTE and 5G networking. They need hand-holding by market specialists, in the form of enterprise customers and system integrators, if they are to be any more than a conduit for networking gear.
This was, in effect, the message from Air France today, as it reflected on the initial pilot and final deployment of private LTE networks at three Paris airports, in conjunction with Groupe ADP (Aéroports de Paris) and its Hub One digital tech unit. Ericsson was appointed to spec the pilot in 2017, and has remained in place ever since, as the network provider for the final installations.
But Air France suggested the collaboration with Ericsson, in its early days at least, made clear the difference between building nationwide public cellular networks and fine-tuning bespoke small-scale private versions, in distinctive locales with unique requirements.
Speaking at the 5G Realised event in London (September 9), Christian Regnier, enterprise technical architect for critical wireless at Air France, commented: “The main issue was the need to find the ecosystem between the enterprises and integrators, which know about [the customer environment], and the operators.
“Because, there were providers of LTE, but they were providers for operators. They did not know the enterprise environment very well. It was really the first step for us. Thanks to the proof-of-concept with Ericsson in 2017… [we discovered] it was not so easy to ask a provider like Ericsson to come into an airport [to design a network].”
Regnier said the customer group, comprising the two ADP businesses as well, engaged “a couple of distributors, integrators”, alongside, to balance Ericsson’s radio expertise with working knowledge of airport environments, extending across logistics maintenance sites, runways and hangars, as well as the terminal buildings.
“The main [challenge was to have] the best expertise regarding the radio, aligned with the business needs – and not just with broadband expertise, like with an operator. Because an airport is small – it is not a town or a country – [with different] needs for the airport, and the airline. That’s where we had to explain what to do, which was part of the proof-of-concept.”
Regnier’s commentary was in response to a general question about the role of the traditional telecoms set in the industrial space, as a new battleground in the developing 5G landscape. It reflected on the first teething problems as the two sectors came head to head – at an early stage in the industrial 5G narrative.
In France, frequencies in the 2.6 MHz band have been offered to metropolitan businesses by regulator ARCEP. Paris airport operator ADP has a 10-year licence; so does Air France, by extension, and electric company EDF, separately. SNCF and Airbus are in discussions, by all accounts.
The deal between ADP / Air France and Ericsson is for private LTE, upgradeable to 5G, at Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Paris-Orly and Paris-Le Bourget airports. The new system will serve over 120,000 airport employees and contractors working at the three sites, and around 1,000 companies of differing sizes and sectors.
Hub One will manage and set up the network on behalf of ADP and Air France. Ericsson’s technology will enable Hub One to comply with security requirements from France’s National Agency for Security of Information System, according to the original press statement. No mobile operator is involved; the setup uses privately-held spectrum.
Regnier made clear that licensed spectrum was critical to the setup, in response to another question at the session. He did not stipulate whether this should be spectrum licensed for private usage (whether from regulators or from operators), but his comments implied the prospect of radio interference (“pollution”), whether in unlicensed spectrum or in licensed bands on public networks, would not do.
“For us, licensed [spectrum] is really interesting for the security aspect, to be sure we are alone to use this [resource] – that we don’t have to share with everybody, and no one can come to make some trouble,” he explained.
“For example, we’ve had some trouble with the Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi doesn’t use licensed spectrum, and in the end we discovered some issues with the antennas, due to the fact that if some people want to connect – sure it is not possible, because we have a professional SSID, but – it is for us a pollution of the spectrum, and it is not the best to product. We have a lot of passengers in the airport, and maybe a lot of them would be able to connect [in unlicensed spectrum].”
Ericsson has said the deployment will be completed “across all outdoor spaces” at the airports by the end of 2020 and indoors across all public and reserved areas for professionals working at the terminals by the end of 2021.