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Accelerating ‘smart’ ports with 5G connectivity

The need to lead and compete is driving port and terminal operators towards a digital transformation. Ports and terminal operators, such as Canada’s Global Container Terminals, are adopting private 5G networks to enable data-driven solutions.

Director of Business Development, Transportation & Logistics, Ericsson North America

Technical Account Manager – Advanced Industries, Transportation, Ericsson

Accelerating ‘smart’ ports with 5G connectivity

Director of Business Development, Transportation & Logistics, Ericsson North America

Technical Account Manager – Advanced Industries, Transportation, Ericsson

Director of Business Development, Transportation & Logistics, Ericsson North America

Contributor (+1)

Technical Account Manager – Advanced Industries, Transportation, Ericsson

As the shipping industry continues to grow at a rapid pace, ports must become more efficient to deal with labor shortages and to accommodate future traffic. Digital transformation is essential to increasing operational efficiency as well as supporting decarbonization efforts.

Essentially, ports must evolve to become smarter, a transformation that hinges on connectivity. More specifically, they need private networks. We recently joined a panel at the Smart Digital Ports of the Future North America (SDP) conference to discuss how these networks are accelerating this critical transformation.

Getting a ‘terminal-wide view’ of operations at Canada’s Global Container Terminals

In Canada, Global Container Terminals (GCT) plans to roll out a private 5G network at its Deltaport facility in Vancouver. Deltaport’s journey started with a dedicated network at Deltaport Rail Yard in 2017 when Deltaport transformed rail operations into remote-controlled semi-automated operations.

The success of that project, which improved safety and efficiency, prompted GCT to pursue a terminal wide private network to support improving the efficiency and safety of vessel and yard operations. Subsequently, they collaborated with partners like Rogers and Ericsson to establish and maintain a private network. This network offers operators a comprehensive view of the port, facilitating increased revenue opportunities and improved operations.

GCT's phased digital transformation strategy, beginning with maintenance programs, helped justify the investment needed for a top-notch cellular network. Key phases include:

  • Condition monitoring: This initial phase involves collecting data from connected equipment, such as mapping PLC and sensor signals. This will provide the maintenance teams with insights into the deterioration of critical systems and components on terminal equipment and enable them to plan timely proactive interactions.
  • Remote access to data: Following condition monitoring, maintenance crews gain remote access to manuals and technical drawings, facilitating on-the-job support and enabling remote assistance from OEMs and third parties.
  • Intelligent alerts: The implementation of intelligent alerts helps anticipate equipment breakdowns and automates the generation of work orders, reducing downtime.
  • Maintenance policies optimization: Finally, this phase drives optimization of maintenance policies and the transition of the preventive maintenance programs from calendar based to more condition based.

The 5G network will trigger a series of transformations at Deltaport that supports improving safety, fluidity and efficiency of the terminal operations, capitalizing on IoT and AI solutions. 5G’s low latency connectivity will enable remote operations of Deltaport’s six new STS cranes, providing real-time monitoring platforms of terminal operations and equipment performance while enabling better timely data driven decisions to manage daily operations. A planned digital twin at Deltaport will enable playback of operations, analyzing historical performance and providing new opportunities to simulate different yard strategies and layouts, ultimately maximizing terminal operational capacity and efficiency.

Port modernization starts with 5G

Private 5G is perfectly suited to the industrial environment, offering a complete connectivity solution. Unlike wired or Wi-Fi networks, it is optimized for IoT, with low energy usage, increased data security and the ability to support high connection density.

Smart ports require a robust network infrastructure capable of managing the substantial volumes of data generated by interconnected workers and equipment, such as cranes and vehicles. A 5G private network can deliver the requisite bandwidth and low latency needed to support and sustain critical use cases, including digital twins and the implementation of automated processes for asset management.

Private cellular networks offer a fundamental advantage in mobility. As more port equipment becomes increasingly integrated, generating a steady stream of real-time data, 5G networks excel in reducing handover time and maintaining uninterrupted data flow, thus enhancing operational efficiency.

Private 5G networks enable the prioritization of operations based on criticality. For example, in the case of utilizing autonomous trucks for port operations, maintaining uninterrupted connectivity is crucial to prevent equipment shutdowns for safety reasons. Additionally low-latency, widely recognized as one of 5G’s most touted benefits, finds specific relevance in environments like ports, where operations are carefully orchestrated and time-sensitive, ultimately enhancing predictability and efficiency.

Private networks in ports offer value beyond just cost savings from improved efficiency. A fellow panelist at SDP, representing Fundación Valenciaport, the centre of knowledge and innovation of the Port of Valencia in Spain (commonly known as Valenciaport), highlighted that the security and capacity of these networks provide an ideal platform for exploring and piloting new revenue streams for port operators. With 5G private networks, ports worldwide are enabled to choose either to deploy their networks for their own for proprietary use or to build a novel business model, positioning the port as service provider.

The future of ports is smart

Over the past 12 months, Ericsson has seen an uptick in the adoption of 5G private networks at ports, and this trend is well-founded. Because of the demands for bandwidth, device density and latency capabilities essential in port environments, private 5G cellular networks deliver robust capabilities, complete with advanced automation solutions.

Other ports engaging in transformative initiatives through Ericsson 5G private networks include:

  • Port Tyne, one of the UK’s major deep-sea ports, is building innovative use cases leveraging 5G-enabled CCTV, IoT sensors, AI, drones and other technologies to automate manual tasks and support its vision of a greener, safer and more efficient model.
  • Belfast Harbour, another trailblazing port based in Northern Ireland, has already begun incorporating private 5G networks into its operations in an effort to optimize processes across transport, logistics, supply chain and shipping. Each year, the port manages millions of individuals and tons of goods are managed. Leveraging 5G alongside technologies such as AI, IoT and connected autonomous vehicles can enhance public safety, security and sustainability throughout both the Port and the surrounding city.

Ericsson leads the industry in providing cutting-edge connectivity solutions tailored for ports and supply chain logistics. Our comprehensive private network portfolio ensures extensive coverage and customizable solutions, precisely designed to meet the diverse and specific needs of port operators. As the maritime landscape evolves towards smart infrastructure, the integration of 5G private cellular networks is key in accelerating digitalization to unlock safer and more efficient operations.

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