Home5GSmart port perspectives | Marseille: 5G, blockchain, and a digital map for tight ships

Smart port perspectives | Marseille: 5G, blockchain, and a digital map for tight ships

The Port of Marseille Fos is amping up its smart port strategy with new discussions with Orange about 5G, a developing relationship with IBM on blockchain, and a host of collaborations with local industry around port innovation, geared towards container handling, traffic management, cyber-security, and renewable energy.

The port authority at the Grand Port Maritime de Marseille (GPMM) has entered into early discussions with Orange about deploying 5G in the port area, in line with the French telecoms provider’s rollout of 5G in the city, and has started to engage port enterprises about 5G use cases.

“We have just recently engaged with telecoms companies like Orange. That’s partly because Marseille will be the first city in France to deploy 5G, with Orange installing antennas – so it is looking for applications for 5G,” said Stéphane Reiche, general delegate at the Grand Port Maritime de Marseille.

He added: “But it’s a very current discussion – and only a dicussion, which has not been finalised yet.”

The Marseille Fos port in southern France is leading the new French Smart Port in Med initiative, convened at the end of 2018 by the Marseille Provence Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the port authority of Marseille Fos, and the Aix Marseille Provence University.

The project is looking to establish Marseille Fos – the biggest port in France and the second biggest on the Mediterranean Sea, covering an area the size of Paris, between the old maritime port in Marseille and the container port in adjavcent Fos – as an industrial IoT testbed, with an ambition to “build the port of the future”, and a focus on efficiency, innovation, environmental sustainability, and new jobs.

The initiative has received funding from CMA CGM, French energy group EDF, Dutch data centre company Interxion, French shipping company La Meridionale, Marsellile shopping centre Les Terrasses Du Port, and French industrial group Naval Group.

Marseille Fos has also been selected to preside over a new smart port committee, one of a half-dozen new committees formed by 20-odd different Mediterranean port authorities, working as part of the MEDports Association. The smart port committee will see the exchange good practices and initiatives to optimise maritime transport in the Mediterranean, said Marseille Fos.

GPMM has watched developments at the Port of Hamburg, where Deutsche Telekom and Nokia have just rounded out a 5G testbed, one strand of the European Union’s two-part 5G-MoNArch (5G mobile network architecture) programme to test industrial 5G. The ‘touristic city’ in Turin, in Italy, has formed the other part of the 5G-MoNArch remit.

Marseille and Hamburg have a sister city agreement; their port authorities have a collaboration agreement already, signed last summer, covering the “environmental and digital transition of port activities”.

Reiche commented: “We have looked at what Hamburg is doing with 5G, as well – because it has been quite active with 5G, with some very precise applications. And we have asked companies on the port if they have an interest. So we are looking at how we might replicate what’s happening in Hamburg, and also bringing in new applications of our own.”

He said the port authority is yet to confirm whether it will elect to go with a 5G slice from a local provider’s public network, or choose to build-out its own private 5G network in the Marseille Fos area. But it is taking its cues from the work in Hamburg, where the port authority has made clear the former option is best.

“We haven’t finalised the fields of application we will want to test on. But I suppose looking at what Hamburg has done, it could be part of the public frequencies,” said Reiche.

He added: “5G is only one part of the solution. The telecoms companies will say that themselves. There cannot only be 5G. At this stage, we are open to any technology. But all the actors in the port arena have to define their needs.”

At the same time, the port authority in Marseille Fos has opened discussions with IBM about TradeLens, its blockchain-enabled digital shipping platform, developed with Danish shipping company Maersk.

Container carrier CMA CGM joined the TradeLens programme in May, alongside shipping carrier Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). CMA CGM is one of seven industrial partners in the French Smart Port in Med initiative with Marseille Fos. Another, France based IoT tracking company Traxens, which has joined the French Smart Port in Med project as an associate partner, has both CMA CGM and MSC as shareholders, and Maersk in the wings.

“We have no agreement, yet, but we’re looking very seriously at it,” said Reiche of TradeLens. “IBM has tried to convince us the system is very good for logistics, worldwide. We think it’s still at the beginning, but we are very attentive about what is going on because it has managed to mobilise quite a lot of actors in the supply chain, including shipping companies and port authorities in other countries.”

The Marseille Fos port authority is among financial backers of a blockchain pilot scheme, besides, which aims to demonstrate freight logistics on the two rivers, the Rhone and Saone, joining the Mediterannean Sea at Fos-sur-Mer, known as the Mediterranean-Rhone-Saone (MeRS) axis. The solution will give certified users access to protected documents, enabling multiple parties to share data without the need for dedicated infrastructure.

Cargo tracking firm Marseille Gyptis International (MGI), container trading platform provider BuyCo, and blockchain specialist KeeeX are deploying the system, focusing on securing and verifying the cargo hinterland trade, up and downstream of Fos-sur-Mer. “It’s like a community management system, a backbone system for each logistic flow. It has really started over the last month with real goods, real containers,” said Reiche. Two companies, French PVC manufacturer KEM ONE and French aluminium manufacturer Alteo, have started putting river shipments on the system.

Reiche said GPMM runs a ‘tight ship’, besting much bigger ports in Europe, and is pitching for new trade on its sea lanes, particularly for goods from Asia Pacific and via the Suez Canal. But it vision as a smart port is to bring even more capacity.

“Our key performance indicators are excellent. We are comparable to the best ports in Europe – Rotterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp – and even better for measures like congestion, in the port areas and into the hinterland connections. We still have available capacity, and that’s something we are putting forward – that the time has come to put more traffic through us, as the southern entrance to Europe. But technology can always help, of course.”

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