Lufthansa Technik's 5G Campus Network for Aircraft Inspection

Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND) is a service provider for IT consulting and system integration and is one of the 25 largest IT consultancies in Germany. It is a Lufthansa subsidiary that helps its clients with the digital transformation of their companies. Its customer base includes companies both within and outside the Lufthansa Group, as well as more than 300 companies in various lines of business.

Lufthansa Technik AG provides worldwide maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for aircraft, engines, and components. It is a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group. Headquartered at Hamburg Airport, its other important German sites are in Frankfurt Airport and Munich Airport. Last year it had 4 billion euros in revenue and has over 20k employees worldwide.

At the Future Enterprise Network Conference 2023, Dr. Claudius Noack and Lasse Tiede, both IT-Consultant at LHIND gave a talk titled, 'Interactive 5G live experience with practical results in an industrial environment. Possibilities and potential of a new technology.' The talk touched on their 5G Campus network deployment experience and expertise, looking at their first network deployed for Lufthansa Technik.

Lufthansa Technik has been operating its own 5G campus network since 2020. At that time, it was used for the first time in a Hamburg workshop for aircraft engines, where the CFM56 and V2500 types are overhauled. Here, 5G made it possible to reliably use high-resolution video streams in the visual inspection of engine parts. In times of massive travel restrictions during the Corona crisis, this so-called "Virtual Table Inspection" (VTI) quickly advanced from a test project to a business-critical infrastructure, because customers no longer had to travel to Hamburg to have their engine parts inspected.

Back in 2021, Nokia did a press release on how 'Nokia 5G private wireless networking moves from trial to permanent deployment for Lufthansa Technik', available here. The video below provides a great insight on what 

Maik Voigt, who worked as IT Project Manager at Lufthansa Technik has also written a detailed post on this topic on LinkedIn here. Quoting from that:

Especially in times of increasing travel bans or restrictions, the remote solution used in our Engine Services business unit for the inspection of removed engine parts quickly proved to be a lucky choice. Although it already existed as a test case before the introduction of the 5G campus networks, it was never able to fully develop its potential in practical operations due to the inadequacies of the Wi-Fi networks used. In particular, the numerous disconnections when switching between individual Wi-Fi cells or degraded video resolution due to insufficient upload bandwidths left some engine customers with little confidence in the virtual solution. This was understandable from the department's point of view, as repair decisions made with the tool can easily reach the six-digit Euro range and thus require a lot of confidence in the tools used. As a result, customers usually opted to have their engine parts inspected in person on site: That is until travel restrictions made this impossible.

The introduction of the 5G network in the engine overhaul business therefore came at exactly the right time, because now almost all table inspections had to virtually take place. And thanks to the various advantages over the previous Wi-Fi, this was successful from the very beginning. To be clear: We no longer experienced any connection interruptions at all. The bandwidth we optimized now allowed such high upload rates that even high-resolution video streams could be delivered to the customer without loss from our side (provided, of course, that the customer's Internet connection is sufficient).

The result was crystal-clear images of the inspected engine parts, and thus a much better visual information-basis for decision-making on the customer’s side. The overwhelming visual impression could moreover be confirmed by the extensive measurements we took. Even at locations with high metal density, we were still able to achieve a consistently stable connection with at least 4 x 25 Mbit/s upload, thus fulfilling a core requirement of the 5G network for the virtual table inspection. The latency of the 5G connection in the engine overhaul shop did not reach the 1 ms often promised by the telecommunications industry but was nevertheless found consistently below 100 ms. On average, it reached around 10 ms. In addition, the use of our own 5G frequency, which we had applied for from the German Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur), eliminated any interference or disruption from other radio networks or devices nearby.

The search for suitable 5G-capable user devices for the engine overhaul application was far less straightforward. When the network went live, only a limited number of 5G-capable smartphones were available on the market, even for operation in a non-standalone network, and were therefore difficult to acquire. At that time, a 5G tablet, which was discussed for certain users as an alternative to the commonly used smartphone in a gimbal mount, due to its larger screen, was not available. Even towards the end of 2020, when more and more 5G-capable smartphones and tablets entered the market, the situation improved only slightly, as it turned out that numerous smartphone manufacturers blocked their products for use in non-public campus networks. This was a lesson we had to learn the hard way, especially since we were rarely able to draw comparisons with public 5G networks due to their numerous differences.

Another 5G campus network went live around the same time at Lufthansa Technik's VIP & Special Mission Aircraft Services business unit, where private and government aircraft are outfitted with custom, high-end interiors. Even though this network did not prove to be as business-critical in crisis times as that of the previously mentioned Virtual Table Inspection, the use of 5G technology not only met but even exceeded the expectations set in the VMOD project by providing extremely high transmission bandwidths of more than 1 Gbps.

VMOD is an augmented reality project that, among other goals, combines virtual 3D data of cabin furniture with the live video image from the aircraft cabin. This way, it enables the users to precisely fit virtual cabin elements (that have already been designed on the computer but are still to be manufactured) into the real conditions of the aircraft cabin. Unlike the Virtual Table Inspection, which required a high upload rate, VMOD depended on a high download rate to the end device (tablet) in order to be able to download the extensive CAD data in real time and display it smoothly. The free and easy optimization of bandwidth distribution in a dedicated 5G campus network hence proved to be an advantage also in this case.

You can read the detailed post here.

Based on the 5G private campus network deployment experience gained, LHIND is offering their expertise to help others deploy private 5G networks. In a recently released white paper "Private 5G networks in companies: fast, secure, reliable", Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND) explains the differences between individual standards and uses application examples from different industries to show the possibilities and opportunities of the private campus network for companies.

Unfortunately the paper is only available in German and can be downloaded from here.