Vodafone-Lufthansa deal shows telcos don't need spectrum to operate mobile networks

Nick Wood
By Nick Wood

Mar 2, 2020

via Flickr © Priit Tammets (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Priit Tammets (CC BY 2.0)

  • German airline rolls out standalone private 5G network
  • Voda takes on role of technology and services partner
  • Technicians use AR to help them furnish aircraft cabins

Vodafone Germany has announced it has launched a private standalone 5G network for airline Lufthansa, even though Lufthansa is the one that owns the spectrum.

The telco said it has taken on the role of service and technology partner to support the deployment and operation of Lufthansa's network.

"The German economy needs 5G. We can do 5G. As a 5G partner, we want to help our industry to maintain an international top position in the future," said Vodafone Germany CEO Hannes Ametsreiter, in a statement. "Those who focus on new technologies today will be at the forefront tomorrow."

Lufthansa's private 5G network covers an 8,500 square metre aircraft hangar – big enough to house four large aircraft – at Hamburg airport. It can support throughput of more than 1 Gbps, and latency of less than 10 milliseconds, made possible by the fact that the core network and application/storage server is located on site.

In a three-month trial undertaken before the network officially launched, Lufthansa technicians furnishing aircraft used augmented reality to provide a 3D visualisation of how the cabin would look once fitted out.

"With this support, the technicians on site have the opportunity to always check the current position of all planned components and thus work even more precisely. In addition, they can spontaneously coordinate with the component developers in their offices and workshops using collaborative video functions," explained Vodafone Germany.

With a private network, Lufthansa can also tailor its parameters – such as uplink and downlink speed – according to its needs. If its first experiments go well, Lufthansa plans to extend private 5G coverage to more areas of its operations, such as aircraft maintenance.

Role-playing games

Vodafone Germany's announcement is a timely reminder that telcos still have an important role to play in private networking, even in cases where they're not even providing the spectrum.

It's timely because only last week we reported on some interesting developments in the Connectivity-as-a-Service (CaaS) market that pretty much sideline telcos.

In one instance, CBRS provider Federated Wireless announced it will begin offering private cellular networking services – either on 4G or 5G – via Amazon Web Services' and Microsoft Azure's respective cloud marketplaces. At no point did it mention the need to have a traditional telco on board.

While a traditional telco might not be a prerequisite, a telco that can reinvent itself as a DSP can take on the role of systems integrator and technology and services partner – as ably demonstrated by Vodafone Germany.

"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 aircraft hangars. With individual campus networks that we tailor perfectly to the needs of our partners," Ametsreiter said.

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