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Ericsson sets sail with enhanced maritime connectivity

Swedish tech provider aims to rectify lack of options for at-sea communications where traditional satellite comms have seen high prices, high latency and low throughput

Aiming to transcend the limitations of satellite-based communication at sea, Ericsson has launched Mesh Networks, which it claims makes next-generation mobile connectivity the go-to choice for enterprise connectivity across the waves.

The Swedish comms tech provider estimates that by 2030, the digitisation of industries such as manufacturing and transport could generate $3.8tn of revenue opportunities across the ICT sector, an estimate that includes the maritime and ports industry.

It says that, like other industries, the maritime industry is interested in systems for improving safety, autonomous navigation, IoT (internet of things) monitoring and automation. However, the maritime industry has been dependent on satellite-based communication, which has relatively higher latencies, higher costs and lower bit rates than terrestrial-based 4G LTE and 5G mobile networks.

This, argues Ericsson, has held back the maritime industry’s digitisation progress compared with other Industry 4.0 verticals.

The Ericsson Maritime Mesh Network works through the use of 5G and other technologies, and builds a dynamic network architecture between maritime vessels across common international shipping lanes. Its operating principle is based on assuming that across major well-trafficked shipping lanes, such as the 2,500km Oman-India route, there would be about 200 vessels present en route, and with a random uniform distribution of the ships, initial calculations would indicate a 99.9% coverage guarantee.

Each connection between two ships is then said to deliver latency within a few milliseconds, indicating that latency would be much lower than satellite-based models, which deliver latency of about 700 milliseconds.

“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,” said Serdar Sahin, director of product management at Ericsson ONE, overseeing the Maritime Mesh Network project.

“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. 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.

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“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.”

The result of the connectivity mesh, says Ericsson, is that 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 the Maritime Mesh Network executes on its roadmap.

The project has already undergone the minimal viable product development phase and is expected to complete its first field trial in a live maritime environment soon, moving a step closer to commercial roll-out.

Sahin added: “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.”

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