Brussels Airport has signed a deal with the Finnish telecoms company Nokia and the Bruges-based wireless experts Citymesh to install a private network on the airport grounds allowing the latest 5G technology of faster internet.
“Brussels Airport confirms its pioneering position in digital innovation by installing its own 5G-ready network as one of the first sites in Belgium and as one of the first airports in Europe. In addition to allowing further optimisation of the airport’s operations, the 5G technology will also enable us to accelerate digital innovations and facilitate the integration of future technologies”, says Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Company.
Among those possibilities, Citymesh said in a statement, are driverless vehicles, track and trace technology and whatever the rapidly-developing technology of the Internet of Things has to offer.
Citymesh is already preparing the launch of the first phase of another private network, this time in the Port of Zeebrugge. It also provides the technology for city-wide wifi networks (limited to 4G for the time being) such as the ones in the city of Bruges, on the Brussels metro network, and currently in the process of being installed in towns and cities like Sint-Niklaas, Merelbeke, Blankenberge and Ostend.
“The value the network will bring to Brussels Airport clearly showcases the importance of private deployments,” said Mitch De Geest, CEO of Citymesh. “We are excited to support them in a variety of real-life use cases which were impossible to achieve with wifi or on the public networks. Together with Brussels Airport, we are pushing towards new frontiers which will allow industries all over Belgium to create a competitive edge by tapping into private mobile connectivity scenarios.”
In the first phase, due to be complete by March next year, the technology will be limited to the outer areas of the airport complex, before in the second phase being made available internally. There is at present no indication whether or when 5G will be available to members of the public using the airport.
The 5G technology is at present still in the test phase, and before it becomes widespread the authorities will have to tackle two related problems: the faster forms of 5G – speeds of 1-2 gigabytes a second – have a frequency range reaching into the “extremely high frequency” range which some worry can be harmful to health. In addition, the range of this form is short, so more masts are needed, which is bound to lead to protests, especially in highly concentrated city areas.
At the moment in Belgium, testing is being carried out by the internet providers, with Proximus and Huawei carrying out the first test in public in Haasrode near Leuven. The first private network was set up by ICT company AE and Ericsson for the students of the PXL university college in Hasselt, to allow them to carry out research into the possibilities 5G offers. Apart from those, testing is also being done by Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia.