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Private Networks: Perfect for Ports

March 17, 2022 | Along with wired networks, ports long have used Wi-Fi and (private) cellular networks for their connectivity needs just as they have used multiple software systems to handle everything from workforce development and safety to managing ship congestion, assigning berths, optimizing loading and unloading of containers, monitoring weather conditions, maintaining security, maneuvering vehicles through the port – and much more besides.

Licensed and unlicensed cellular/wireless networks tend to not do that well in cities – signals bounce off of buildings, there is interference, there are a lot of people, etc. Hence the need for indoor and outdoor small cells, along with nearly insatiable demand for spectrum and space on new and existing towers and/or building roofs.

Ports are like cities in many respects, not the least of which being all the steel and concrete which they contain. The Port of Los Angeles encompasses 7,500 acres of land and water along 43 miles of waterfront. It has 25 cargo terminals, 82 ship-to-shore container cranes, 116 miles of on-dock rail and employs 133,000 people. The Port of New York and New Jersey has six container terminals (individually named ports) each with their own set of facilities. Port Newark alone has 13 container cranes and encompasses 272 acres with another 37 off-dock acres.

And some ports are getting even bigger. By 2025, the Port of Savannah, Georgia, will expand its twenty-foot equivalents (TEUs) capacity by more than 60 percent – from 6 million TEUs today to 9.5 million. For reference, the Port of Los Angeles processed more than 10.68 million TEUs in calendar 2021 while the Port of New York and New Jersey handled 7.5 million TEUs.

As part of its expansion, the Port of Savannah added 6.5 million square feet of industrial space in 2021 and has another 17 million square feet under construction.

All that indoor and outdoor space needs connectivity. Certainly, fiber will be a part of the plan, but private 4G/5G cellular has a huge role to play as the flexible backbone of what Ericsson (and others) call the connected port. Consider the following examples:

- Ericsson has worked with Rotterdam World Gateway, a highly automated container terminal, and deployed a private LTE network (using privately owned spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range). The network provides connectivity for the automated guided vehicles (AGVs), human-operated trucks and other data communications to devices. Ericsson has also worked with the Livorno port terminal in Italy to build a private 5G network that captures data from sensors, 3D LIDAR and Wide Dynamic Range cameras. This data was used to build a virtual (digital) twin of the port and all the equipment used. Automation technology was also deployed and connected via the 5G network.

- Verizon is working with Nokia to equip the UK Port of Southampton with a private 5G network that will replace its current mix of LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity. The network will run on the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) platform and will use Ofcom’s Shared Access License which enables the use of four spectrum bands, of which three can be used outdoors.

- Along with Tideworks Technology, Nokia is deploying its DAC at the Port of Seattle, Terminal 5. Reportedly, Terminal 5 is undergoing a modernization which includes the introduction of a private network which uses both Band 53 (Globalstar-licensed) and Band 48 (CBRS).

5G-based (private) networks are particularly well suited for port operations because the New Radio (NR) interface is designed to not only more flexibly support different bandwidth configurations, but also ultra-low latency (in Release 16) and many more machines/devices per square mile (or kilometer). Indeed, IoT-based solutions are seen as one of the greatest enablers of automation in ports and across the supply chain, from manufacturing to logistics to retail or directly to the consumer.

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