Ericsson preps 5G mesh network to break satellite ‘monopoly’ on maritime comms
Ericsson is readying a new ‘maritime mesh network’ solution, based on LTE and 5G, as an alternative to ‘high-cost, high-latency, low-throughput’ satellite-based communication for the shipping industry, which it has blamed for slowing the pace of digital change on the high seas, compared notably with terrestrial functions in the supply-chain industry.
The new point-to-point solution, developed by the Swedish firm’s innovation division Ericsson ONE, seeks to build a “spider-web” type of cellular mesh connectivity running between ships and shore-based infrastructure. Ericsson said it is looking to break the “satellite-based monopoly over the seas” by offering higher-performance and lower-cost wireless broadband connectivity, geared towards IoT-based sensor and analytics-based automation technologies, as well as for critical communications.
Serdar Sahin, director of product management at Ericsson ONE, said: “If you are a maritime ship owner today and you need your ships to be connected for monitoring, reporting, automation or remote operations, your only choice is satellite communications at high prices, high latency, and much lower speeds compared to terrestrial communications. This satellite-based monopoly over the seas has also slowed down the pace of innovation in the maritime industry, because the satellites are far out in space and have long life cycles in excess of 15 years.”
Ericsson reckons new industrial change – sparked in a ‘perfect storm’ of advancing connectivity, analytics, and compute capabilities – will generate $3.8 trillion of “revenue opportunities” for the old ‘information-communication technology’ (ICT) sector, with a major chunk of business coming in manufacturing and transportation. These two sectors cover the maritime and ports industry, it notes.
It commented: “Digitalization in the maritime industry has progressed at a slower pace than other Industry 4.0 verticals. This was the issue [we] set out to address. The resulting Maritime Mesh Network innovation looks set to be a major game changer. Through innovative use of 5G and other technologies,it builds a reliable dynamic network architecture, similar to a spider’s web, between maritime vessels across common international shipping lanes.”
It suggested a 5G-based mesh network could bring “99.9 percent coverage” between 200-odd vessels, as an example, in “major well-trafficked shipping lanes”; it pointed to almost-total coverage of the Oman-India shipping route with a 5G mesh architecture, as a further example, which stretches for 2,500 kilometres. It said: “Each connection between two ships delivers latency within a few milliseconds, indicating latency will be much lower than satellite-based models which deliver latency in the region of 700 milliseconds.”
Sahin said: “Situational awareness and autonomous ships can be enabled especially close to the port where the need for high-speed and low-latency connectivity is the highest. The Maritime Mesh Network project also makes it possible for land-based crew to run remote operations and troubleshooting, for example through augmented reality, to assist colleagues on-deck.”
He added: “Relatively basic but essential services such as voice and video can be enabled in areas where there is continuous coverage, such as close to shore, and in other areas when Maritime Mesh Network executes on its roadmap.”
The project has passed ‘minimal viable product development phase’ and is expected to complete its first field trial in a live maritime environment “shortly”, said Ericsson. Sahin said: “It will move a step closer to commercial rollout… Our vision is that every entity at sea will be able to connect using our mobile connectivity solution, including cargo ships, tankers, cruise lines, fishing boats and pleasure vessels.”