How 5G will change the Smart Marine Ecosystem

5G enables vessels and ports to have greater connectivity and reliability as well as share large amounts of relevant data. But will it deliver on its promise to increase efficiencies in the maritime sector and enable a Smart Marine ecosystem?

5G enables vessels and ports to have greater connectivity and reliability as well as share large amounts of relevant data. But will it deliver on its promise to increase efficiencies in the maritime sector and enable a Smart Marine ecosystem?

Last year, Singapore began work on building the world’s single largest fully automated terminal, the Tuas Port. According to the Port Authority of Singapore (PSA), Tuas Port represents the future of the Singapore Transhipment Hub. With 26 kilometres of deep-water berths capable of handling 65 million TEUs annually, this port will be designed to meet and exceed the future demands of the world’s largest mega-vessels, mega-alliances, and mega-networks.  

In June 2020, PSA engaged cellular providers Singtel and M1 to conduct trials for the use of 5G in smart port management. Singapore will spend nearly SGD 40 million (USD 29.5 million) over the course of one year for the development of a Trial Tech Call in port operations to develop a new frontier where an operator can remotely control driverless cranes and trucks for loading and unloading containers and remotely inspect machines via driverless drones

Connectivity at the forefront 

Carlos Losada, Portfolio Manager at Wärtsilä Voyage, explains 5G’s importance. 

“5G communications will enable larger amounts of data to be shared throughout vessel and port operations. The increase of information will enable shipping to further increase operational efficiency and reduce its environmental impact,” Losada says.

“Port operations will become more predictable, integrated into voyage planning and execution processes. Vessels will arrive as a berth becomes available (just in time arrival), severely reducing their fuel consumption. This will also reduce the congestion outside ports,” he adds. 

Singapore is not alone. Several large ports, including Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Dubai, are reportedly testing the industrial application of 5G with telecom partners such as Orange and Ericsson. 

According to reports, Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) has tied up with Deutsche Telekom and Nokia to test 5G for many applications. Ericsson and China Unicom are developing a 5G smart port system for the Port of Qingdao in China. Kalmar, Nokia, and ABB have conducted industrial trials to leverage the low latency capabilities of 5G to support time-critical harbour automation applications. And China Merchants Port Group Company (CMPort), China Mobile, and Huawei are said to have established the first 5G intelligent innovation laboratory in the port industry at the Haixing container terminal, Shenzhen. 

The new Smart Marine ecosystem 

All this means that shipping and ports are entering a new phase of modernisation. 

“Services offered by ports such as cargo transfer, pilotage, and tug, will become safer and more efficient, with operators working from control centres. A transition into semi or fully autonomous operations will also take place. These transitions will be driven by port administrations competing to attract larger amounts of cargo,” says Losada.

“Shipping will see their operations fully integrated into the supply chain, providing visibility to cargo owners and enabling cooperation to reduce inefficiencies. Cargo owners will be able to make better end-to-end predictions on their supply chains and quickly react to changes in demand,” he adds. 

According to a Deloitte report on global port trends, technological implementation in the maritime sector will continue to rise thanks to increased market investments and decreasing cost. The report predicts that there will be a shift towards more automation and an increased focus on spatial productivity within a port.  As more automatic, digitalised and connected supply chains form, the port ecosystem will transform from a simple logistics and transport node to an open and efficient community that can participate in the global landscape of integrated world trade. 

Building competitive advantage 

Wärtsilä is an early adopter of new technologies and has geared up for this big change with its plans for a Smart Marine Ecosystem. For example, the company’s Fleet Operations Solution (FOS) helps connect ships and shore operations. It provides advanced tools to enhance decision-making, support, and training. The Wärtsilä Navi-Planner is a smart voyage optimisation solution that does away with the need for manual labour in route planning. And Wärtsilä Navi-Port middleware aims to enable real-time digital arrival time exchange between ports and vessels.

“As the connectivity increases, the scope, complexity and integration of these services will grow, contributing to streamlined vessel and port operations. We are constantly developing and co-developing new solutions to retain our competitive advantage,” says Carlos Losada. 

Experts believe that realising the full potential of 5G depends not just on the speed of adoption but also on the maturity of solutions and safety of data exchanged. A focus on cybersecurity and the right technology partner will play a key role in determining whether the transition to 5G can be transformed into a competitive advantage.

Written by
Payal Bhattar
Associate Editor at Spoon Agency