• News & Views Details

  • Portall Infostystem Pvt Ltd
  • Published Feb 20, 2019


Felicity Landon considers the progress and promise of 5G technology for ports

Broader, faster, better — last year, Björn Pistol, head of port strategy at Hamburg Port Authority, discussed Hamburg’s role as a pilot for the European Commission’s 5G communications programme and said: “The establishment of 5G will be a fantastic help for our Smartport project.”

As the port has said: “The beautiful new world of digitisation collapses when data cannot be transmitted.” 5G, with transmission rates of 1.25 GB per second, clearly eclipses solutions based on fixed cabling or traditional mobile networks.

So where have we got with 5G, where are we going, and when will we get there?

“5G is being perceived as the communication benchmark of the future and as a completely novel network concept that is the combination of terrestrial and mobile networks,” says electronics and communications engineer Vineet Malhotra, director of Mumbai-based Kale Logistics Solutions. “In addition to increasing broadband width and speed, 5G is expected to support an extensive array of use cases that all have diverse speed, latency, security and capacity requirements.”

The port industry and the logistics sector will likely benefit immensely from 5G, says Mr Malhotra – it has the capability of offering a higher level of security, reliability and speed beyond those of the current networks and can provide a port with an entirely new set of application options. “5G is an ideal platform for standardised and seamless communications. A connected port is becoming a reality with 5G, as it brings in more vessels, more trade and an increase in sustainable development.”

Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications for the port’s engineering team would be connected via 5G mobile broadband, for example. “The engineers would be supported in their day-to-day work with an easy mobile access to construction plans and other technical installations within the port area. This AR/VR equipment would be connected to a central application server through the 5G mobile network, using a dedicated network slice. The 5G slice for the AR/VR device would provide a high data throughput to enable fast delivery of documentation and pictures or video material.”

German pioneer

Among those already ‘on board’, he highlights Hamburg as a key testing ground. Hamburg Port Authority, as lead partner, is working with Deutsche Telekom and Nokia on a testbed that covers 8,000 hectares of port area. The trial programme is part of the two-year 5G MoNArch (Mobile Network Architecture) research project. Horizon 2020, the European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, funds the project.

Nokia has also been involved in industrial trials of 5G in partnership with ABB and Kalmar; carried out as part of the Wireless for Verticals (WIVE) research project, the trials were said to be one of the first real-world applications of time-critical 5G applications in electricity grid and harbour automation.

Nokia and ABB demonstrated how ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) technology can be applied to protection applications in medium-voltage distribution networks, and then showed the ability of URLLC technology to advance container yard automation.

The 5G URLLC technology provides an affordable communication platform for deployment of advanced technology for protection, control and monitoring, according to ABB program manager Petri Hovila. “The results of the WIVE project are encouraging for future utility-scale implementation of 5G.”

Global testbeds

Ports around the world are implementing trial 5G networks to enable fast and high bandwidth communication – including the Port of Livorno in Italy and some ports in China, says Mr Malhotra. “The key objective for them is automating commonplace port activities completely.”

Meanwhile, he says, Ericsson has launched a host of research projects in Tuscany to test new technologies in cloud technology, robotics and big data, all supported by 5G connectivity.

Mr Malhotra, who worked in leading positions in Siemens, Premier Evolvics and Amara Raja Batteries before joining Kale Logistics, says the reliability and security afforded by 5G make it an essential constituent of automation of port activities – and he can foresee the time when it will be taken for granted. “Today, 5G applications are restricted to using virtual reality and live video feeds in operations management. Nevertheless, once these technologies have been developed to an acceptable standard, they will likely lead the way for greater autonomy in port operations.

“It is simply a matter of years until 5G sensors will be so affordable, durable and available that everything will likely be connected. Thus, shipping companies and other logistics providers will reap the benefits of the 5G technology shortly. Ports need to join the 5G bandwagon early enough to evade the risk of losing business.”

Defining technology

Anna Navarro, IT project manager at Tarragona Port Authority, recently completed a master’s thesis which looked to identify which technologies would define the Port 4.0.

For this, she carried out a survey in which participants were asked to choose between 12 emerging technologies – drones, hyperloop, 5G, VR, AR, machine learning, IoT, Big Data, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, block chain and robots. Three-quarters of the respondents said that 5G would be the future in ports, and an even higher number said it would have one of the biggest impacts, she says.

“I think that 5G will have an important role to play in ports for two main reasons,” says Ms Navarro. “First, the Internet of Things in ports – everything will be connected and exchanging high volumes of time-sensitive data in the automation of operations. For IoT to be fully operational and deployed in ports, we need 5G as the technology capable of offering the bandwidth needed. Second, full internet access in the port area – ports are big extensions of land and maritime infrastructure, which makes it difficult to have quality internet access in the whole port area. With 5G, we will have it.”

According to the Gartner hype cycle for emerging technologies 2018, 5G is expected to reach the ‘plateau of productivity’ in two to five years, says Ms Navarro: “So, this could also apply to ports.”

Think Light is a consultancy based in Portugal specialising in master planning, technologies and design and ‘forecasting the year 2068’. Its master plan approach to critical infrastructure, called ‘The Meeting – Charge Connect Move’, takes a long-term perspective with a minimum 50-year time frame, says Think Light founder José Nuno Sampaio.

“With the arrival of 5G, long-term visions will become more necessary than ever, as the speed of transformation will multiply with the advent of AR/VR,” he says. “The necessary speed and safety for developments on UMS (Universal Media Server) are only possible with serious investments in testbeds and pilots, intercontinental cooperation platforms and ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.”

Hamburg Port Authority says 5G provides security, reliability and speed that did not exist in mobile networks. Its two-year pilot project, which kicked off at the German port in June 2017, has included integrating traffic lights and signal controls in order to optimise traffic flows automatically and avoid traffic congestion, and fitting port ferries with sensors to ‘see’ real time what is happening across the port.

In addition, HPA has been using AR in the planning of construction projects. Real pictures can be overlaid with digital data and key information, enabling technicians to be guided through technical operations and maintenance work, port authority CEO Jens Meier said in a recent update. “So it is not just a lot of theory – we have been able to demonstrate real use cases,” he said. “We can envisage real use cases going forward.”


KPN, Shell, Huawei, Ex-Robotics, Accenture and ABB have worked with the Port of Rotterdam Authority to test the industrial application of 5G. Thanks to 5G applications, production processes can be optimised, industrial maintenance can be better predicted, and safety can be improved, says the port. “The large-scale deployment of wireless sensors is also possible and the process industry is given direct access to relevant digital information from the production environment,” adds the port.

Tests have included preventive maintenance of 160,000 kilometres of pipelines at Shell Pernis through 5G connected ultra-high definition (UHD) cameras and the application of machine learning which meant that future maintenance requirements could be more accurately predicted.

KPN has installed an experimental 5G network in the port; this, says the port authority, makes Rotterdam the first area in the Netherlands that is equipped according to 5G standards and suitable for the latest video and AR applications from industry partners.

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