Most Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) understand they need to upgrade to all-IP communications networks and many have already started the network transformation process. Other ANSPs have delayed the decision to get started for various reasons. But they can't afford to wait any longer.
ANSPs that continue to delay their transition to an all-IP communications network are putting their current network operations at risk. They're also limiting their ability to evolve to more efficient and cost-effective ways of working. And they don't have the modern communications foundation needed to digitally transform and take advantage of more advanced technologies and automation opportunities as they become available. These technologies are crucial for ANSPs to increase airspace capacity and resilience, optimize flight trajectory for fuel consumption, flight time and carbon emissions, minimize the number of flight delays and cancellations, ensure passenger, crew and aircraft safety and security and embrace the emergence of aerial vehicles such as drones.
The old adage, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” doesn't apply to legacy ANSP communications networks. These circuit-switching networks may be functioning today, but their lifespan is limited. Much of the equipment in these networks has reached end-of-life and is supported by vendors in only a minimal way.
When you are in a business where lives depend on the communications network, continuing to operate with network equipment that may be difficult or impossible to replace or even repair is risky business.
Global ANSP network transformation
ANSPs that don't upgrade to all-IP communications networks in the very near future also risk falling behind their global counterparts. At Nokia, we've already helped several ANSPs transform to take advantage of IP-based networks and the benefits they deliver. The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is just one example.
The IAA regulates air traffic in the North Atlantic region, one of the busiest air traffic regions in the world. The organization plans to migrate all of its critical services to a next-generation system, and a specialized IP and multiprotocol label switching (IP/MPLS) network is an important part of its efforts to achieve that goal.
Nokia worked with the IAA to deploy an IP/MPLS network that provides the capacity needed to support new and more demanding air traffic control (ATC) applications. Our networking products were specifically designed for this level of mission-critical application.
We also helped the IAA take advantage of one of the great benefits of IP/MPLS networks: the ability to continue using legacy, non-IP applications over the network. This capability is crucial to ensure applications such as end-to-end communications between radar stations continue to seamlessly operate.
IP/MPLS networks can carry a mix of IP-based and legacy applications because they support network segmentation using virtual private network (VPN) services and circuit emulation and legacy interfaces, such as V24/RS-232, E&M and FSX/FXO. VPN services allow each application on the network to operate separately from other applications with its own quality of service (QoS), as if it was on a separate physical network. With segmentation, real-time, safety-critical applications such as voice can be transmitted with the highest QoS, while applications with less demanding performance requirements – weather systems and IT business systems, for example – can be transmitted with lower QoS.
Circuit emulation and support for older interfaces allows existing applications, such as radar, VHF and emergency communications, to continue operating over the IP network for years to come. When the time comes to shift these applications to IP-based systems, the transition is smooth and easy.
The IAA has already put its IP/MPLS network to work and is successfully delivering mission-critical voice and radar services to controllers across North Atlantic airspace sectors as part of live trials.
Migration priorities are known and proven
If fear of being a first-mover delayed your upgrade to an all-IP communications network, you can rest assured those days are over. Based on Nokia's experience working with the IAA and a number of other ANSPs, The company is able to outline the three key areas to focus on to ensure successful network transition.
First is the integration of legacy platforms. Getting legacy time division multiplexing (TDM) applications and services up and running on the new network is the first priority because it's essential to avoid disruption to ANSP operations. For seamless continuity of service, network segmentation is used to support legacy platforms with the required QoS, high availability and resiliency. And there are no compromises to performance or safety after migration to the new network.
Second is security. Defense-in-depth security must be implemented end-to-end in the network. With defense-in-depth security, multiple layers of defensive security mechanisms are used to protect access to the network and the data it carries. The various layers of security controls include identity access and audit compliance, as well as security orchestration, analytics and response. To counter the many cyber threats in today's world, aviation network security must advance from the manual and reactive measures still used in many networks today to more automated and predictive security measures.
Third is the need to increase capacity. To support ATC applications today and tomorrow, the IP/MPLS network must increase data capacity and throughput. These increases are essential for ANSPs to keep aircraft smoothly flying through the skies today, and to support increasingly sophisticated ATC applications in the future.
The future at your fingertips
With an IP/MPLS network, the ATC applications we're referring to in the last point become possible. Take remote tower operations as an example. ANSPs can gain significant efficiencies by providing ATC services for remote towers, and the upgraded IP/MPLS network underpins the opportunity.
The IP/MPLS network supports the combination of data, voice and video communications remote tower operations require. It also supports the delivery of the mechanisms needed for multiple systems, devices and sensors to provide the information air traffic controllers need to make the right decision for remote tower operations at the right time. The network supports these communications in a resilient and secure way that's based on mature and proven IP/MPLS technology.
For example, CCTV is extremely important for remote tower operations, and it requires point-to-multipoint connections. Because IP/MPLS networks supports IP multicast, the network can deliver these mission-critical video streams to multiple locations and servers. Network segmentation ensures the video streams get the QoS they need for efficient delivery.
Network resiliency is also crucial for remote tower operations. An IP/MPLS network can be architected with two core networks for the highest possible availability. In addition, a single piece of IP/MPLS network equipment can give ANSPs the flexibility to use various network transmission media, including fiber, microwave and service providers’ leased lines. This allows ANSPs to build a ground-to-ground network that includes support for remote tower operations.
The IP/MPLS network can also be extended to include a data center fabric. The potential to extend the network into the data center fabric allows ANSPs to step even further into the future when they're ready. Now they can use the network to take advantage of cloud computing for applications such as video management systems and analytics, as well as data management systems for air traffic service. For example, a video camera at a remote airport can more effectively use the end-to-end network connectivity to send its data directly to the virtual compute pool in the ANSP data center for analysis.
Technology never stands still
Networking technologies for aviation are continuously evolving, so ANSPs who continue to delay their network evolution to all-IP are increasing the risk as it will be more difficult and more expensive to leverage the latest technology advances.
ANSPs with modern, IP-based communications networks that improve security, reliability and service continuity and enable seamless migration of legacy services will be in the best position to take advantage of new opportunities that emerge.