Beijing’s shining new airport, opened by Chinese President Xi Jinping Wednesday morning, will become a key node for aviation in northern China and across Asia.

Well before airlines moved into Daxing’s one-million-square-meter, star-shaped terminal, a batch of Chinese state-owned telecommunications firms and tech giants had already been racing to set up booths and install gear to showcase and trial their latest solutions and products at the new airport, for the 45 million passengers who will pass through its gates each year by 2021.

Among the list of firms eager to gain a foothold at Daxing are Huawei and China Unicom, which have partnered with China Eastern Airlines to deploy 5G technology and facial recognition to streamline the whole process from check-in, security screening to boarding.

Chinese President Xi Jinping at Daxing’s opening ceremony on Wednesday morning. Photo: Weibo

The 5G-based smart travel system co-developed by Huawei and China Unicom with base stations installed throughout the sprawling terminal will promise a connection speed of 1.2 Gbit per second, about 100 times faster than the current 4G system, according to Xinhua and the South China Morning Post.

The backbone network is not primarily for flyers to browse the internet or download HD movies, but for ultrafast data transmission for facial recognition throughout check-in and security clearance and boarding, without the need for a passenger to show an ID or scan QR codes to access electronic boarding passes, at a time when many other airports across the world are just starting to trial e-passes.

Identity verification will be carried out by HD cameras that match the user’s face to a national ID database, and comparison and analysis can be done in 0.2 seconds, meaning a passenger does not have to pause to wait for the verification to finish when he passes a security channel, unless a red light flashes warning staff he is not a genuine passenger.

The smart solution can save flyers 30% of their time normally spent waiting in queues, on the strength of the facial image-based access control and big data analytics to reduce the need for manual passenger identification.

Xi tries out a facial recognition and clearance system at Daxing. Photo: CCTV screengrab
Pilots and passengers walk past facial recognition-enabled security screening channels during a test run at Daxing. Photo: Xinhua

The network is also behind the use of radio-frequency identification technology to help passengers track their bags in real-time on their smartphones, after they log flight numbers and destinations on Daxing’s official app or that of a specific airline.

When fully operational starting on October 1, Daxing will feature advanced surveillance technology to ease bottlenecks in security and immigration screening.

On the tarmac, ground lighting and aircraft path planning supported by internet-of-things technology will also expedite the movement of jets for about 1,000 flights a day that will fly in and out of Daxing to reduce the average time from landing to passenger unloading to about 15 minutes, at an airport with four runways and covering 47 square kilometers of land.

Huawei says it has helped Daxing become a new model in utilizing a 5G Gigabit network to lead the global smart airport push and will use Daxing as a success story to showcase the ease and efficiency to global flyers to help its business expansion overseas.

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