The adoption of Industry 4.0 digital technologies, such as IoT, AI, machine learning and data analytics are expected to revolutionize the operations of airports, introducing greater automation, improved processes, better tracking and handling of everything from aircraft to baggage — all with the goal of improving the passenger experience. Essential to this digital transformation will be high performing, secure and very reliable wireless communications. Neither the Wi-Fi networks currently in operation in most airports nor the public mobile networks that serve them have what is required to support the most ambitious digital transformation of the airport.
In this paper, we examine the goals of this transformation, the key requirements that will have to be met, and the strengths and weaknesses of the various wireless technologies available today — keeping in mind what is coming in the future, as well. We argue that airports have to think in terms of a purpose-built private wireless network to support their operations. This is a different approach then they have used previously, and it affords them an opportunity to step up to a new generation of private network technologies: 4.9G/LTE today and 5G tomorrow. We examine these technologies more closely and discuss in detail what airports need to consider as they embrace their digital future.