Orange Belgium, KPN plot 5G course for world’s smartest waterway

Operators plan to submit grant application to European Commission for project to use 5G to ensure secure and highly reliable connectivity and accelerate further digitisation in one of Europe’s most important corridors

Offering a route for shipping traffic to the seaports of Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Terneuzen and Vlissingen, the Westerschelde is of great importance to the economies of Belgium and the Netherland. To this end, operators Orange Belgium and KPN have announced a project to investigate how 5G technology can accelerate the further digitisation of one of Europe’s most important waterways.

The Westerschelde accounts for more than 150,000 ships a year and in the border region, public and private organisations from both the Netherlands and Belgium frequently interact. In their project, Orange Belgium and KPN, together with the Port of Antwerp – Bruges and North Sea Ports, will set out to investigate how 5G technology can be deployed on the water, along the banks and in the ports and terminals on both sides of the border, so that it becomes clear what is needed to make the Westerschelde the world’s smartest, digitised waterway.

The study by Orange Belgium and KPN aims to define a low-altitude, cross-border digital corridor for mobility applications and aviation that will make key nodes in the global supply chain – ports and hinterland waterways – more efficient, secure and sustainable. The firms are confident that the high speed and ultra-short response times will ensure secure and highly reliable connectivity.

The companies said people should consider real-time data exchange to and from vehicles and vessels, ports, and the remote control and support of trucks and boats, for example. But the deployment of autonomous robots, augmented reality, sensors and drone inspections are also possibilities. They say these applications will not only make the logistics chain more efficient, but will also contribute to better security of critical infrastructure and the environment.

The research by Orange Belgium and KPN is supported by the Port of Antwerp – Bruges and North Sea Ports, Seafar, Agency for Maritime Services and Coast, De Vlaamse Waterweg, the FOD Economie, Ministry EZK, Ministry I&W, Province of Zeeland and is carried out with a subsidy from the European Commission (EC) under the banner of Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

The research will take over six months and the results are expected to be published in mid-2023. Parties with interesting visions on digitalisation on and around waterways or with applications depending on the availability of high-quality connectivity on water and/or low aviation are invited to contact Michaël Peeters, director, innovation and business development at Orange Belgium.

As a key part of the project, the operators have submitted a grant application to the EC, delivered by Petra De Sutter, Belgian deputy prime minister and minister of civil service, public enterprises, telecommunications and post.

In 2020, less than a year after announcing the creation of its Industry 4.0 campus in the area around Europe’s second-largest port, Orange Belgium and its industrial partners unveiled the fruits of their work in developing real-life applications for the Port of Antwerp, tailor-made for businesses, based on its 5G network.

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