By Matthias Jablonowski

18 June 2020

LTE and 5G private wireless networks help port terminal operators move more for less

In the maritime shipping industry, time is money: time in transit, time loading and unloading vessels, time spent reorganizing freight as it waits for handover to road and rail operators. Every second saved from performing unnecessary moves is an opportunity for port terminal operators to onboard more customers and boost the bottom line.

Many operators know that more automation and remote-control capabilities can help enhance terminal productivity and operational efficiency. The question for a long time has been how to enable those capabilities, both of which require the entire terminal, from berth to yard to gate, to be fully connected with reliable, high-performance wireless communications that current Wi-Fi systems simply can’t provide.

As new networking technologies and solutions become available, the answer to that connectivity question is finally here. With the availability of new private spectrum for industries, now becoming a reality in many countries around the world, a dedicated, private wireless network powered by LTE or 5G can provide terminal operators with huge leaps in automation and remote control.

Time to move beyond Wi-Fi

More container traffic should mean more revenues and higher profits for terminal operators, but only if their legacy network technology isn’t holding them back or keeping them from expanding their capacity to take on new business.

Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi networks that most ports rely on weren’t built for robust, always-available, mission-critical industrial use cases. Wi-Fi was designed for best-effort connections — and are characterized by unpredictable performance, limited and patchy coverage, interference and poor security.

Wi-Fi can't keep pace with the degree of mobility inherent to terminal operations: as container-handling machinery moves through the yard constantly, there’s a risk that there will be breaks in communication. Wi-Fi also isn’t suited to navigate around corners, through objects or seamlessly transition from access point to access point – something that is an absolute requirement given the constantly changing topography of container stacks. Radio reflections caused by the containers’ metal surfaces and interference from on-vessel networks all present a challenge for terminals’ existing Wi-Fi-based wireless systems.

What private LTE/5G wireless networks can do for port terminals

A custom-built private wireless network with mobile-first LTE or 5G can help improve operations by allowing a port terminal to:

Simplify connectivity

Most port terminals use Wi-Fi for data but also have professional mobile radio for voice communication along with wireless sensor networks, low-power wide-area networks, proprietary machine-to-machine communications technologies, and transponder networks for automatic guided vehicles. A private LTE or 5G network can consolidate many of these applications onto a single, converged platform that’s managed through a single dashboard, reducing points of possible failure and making it easier to integrate new digital technologies across the entire workflow.

Expand and enrich connectivity

Private LTE or 5G wireless can reach every corner of a terminal, creating opportunities to increase cargo throughput and capacity (and overall moves per hour) by keeping the terminal operating system in contact with container-handling equipment anywhere in the yard — even between container stacks. It can also enhance situational awareness and site security enabling the installation of more video cameras in more places without expensive cabling infrastructure and allows workers to be equipped with wearable sensors for remote health and fatigue monitoring.

Automate terminal operations

Low-latency, high-capacity communications are needed to automate and remotely control free-moving container-handling equipment such as gantry cranes and shuttle/straddle carriers: the network has to relay video captured by multiple cameras on such equipment and enable almost instantaneous responses from remote operators. A private wireless network with today’s LTE capabilities or with ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) standards with 5G can support industrial Profinet/Profisafe protocols for more secure remote control.LTE and 5G also provide the bandwidth for video, audio, and haptic feedback, all of which improve remote container handling. Remote crane operators can hear, for example, the screech of metal on metal or feel the bumps that indicate a less-than-clean pickup, speeding up handling while avoiding damaging containers.

Launch new applications

Reliable, low-latency wireless connectivity also allows ports to implement smarter asset tracking and management. Drones can be used for remote visual equipment inspections, perimeter surveillance, and monitoring of dangerous goods, allowing terminal operators to improve their resource planning and respond faster in emergencies. Machine and sensor data can be combined with analytics to create virtual models or “digital twins” of equipment and use those to assess equipment performance, optimize new workflows before they are implemented, and reduce the overall potential for failure, enabling highly precise preventative maintenance and added flexibility to try new models and flows for performance improvement.

Getting you there faster – proven, deployable solutions ready now.

Looking ahead, it will be “table stakes” for ports to have real-time digital awareness and management of everything that passes through them. With better wireless communications, terminal operators can solve today’s immediate connectivity challenges and lay the foundation for more productive, efficient and profitable future operations that make the most of automation and network intelligence.

If you’re looking to build your private LTE or 5G network, the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) can help by combining plug-and-play connectivity for all your assets with on-premises data management and a framework to support real-time applications for predictive maintenance and remote operations. While the capabilities of our DAC solution are future-ready for widescale 5G deployment, most importantly, they’re available today and many of the benefits can be achieved now with LTE. Nokia has already deployed solutions at over 20 ports such as the Port of Zeebrugge around the world — and we’ve proven this technology can meet the full range of your operation and business needs.

To learn more, visit Nokia Industrial-grade Private Wireless for ports.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokiaindustries using #Industry4_0  #DigitalTransformation #Maritime #privatewireless #Automation


About Matthias Jablonowski

As Head of Road and Maritime, Matthias addresses the opportunities Nokia customers can capture from automation, digital transformation, all-connected things and high-performance networks. When not sailing the high seas of Industry 4.0 technology, you can find Matthias at the intersection of digitalization and business strategy.Tweet us at @nokianetworks