Taking Quality 5G Coverage to the Sea to Digitalize the Marine Industry

PRESS RELEASE: Oceans are a new economic frontier, which offer abundant resources and hold tremendous potential for economic growth, job creation, and innovation. It is projected that, between 2010 and 2030, the contribution of the marine economy to global value added could double to more than US$3 trillion, creating about 40 million jobs in the process. Offshore wind power, mariculture, aquatic product processing, and port activities will generate most of these new jobs, and oceans will be indispensable in helping the world address global challenges related to food security, climate change, and energy.

Over the next decade, information technology will promote the progress of advanced materials, submarine engineering, sensing and imaging, satellite technology, big data analysis, automation, and biotechnology, in facilitating a comprehensive digital transformation of the marine economy. However, communications networks, as the cornerstone of information technology, have always been weak in ocean areas, which is a huge difference to experience on land.

Challenges and Requirements for Maritime Communications

4G base stations’ coverage and bandwidth are so limited that they can only support good voice and data services within about 10 km off the shore. As the distance from the shore increases, network coverage and quality deteriorate. Beyond about 30 km, only satellite communications are available. However, satellite communications are of high costs and low bandwidth, which can only be used for basic voice communications and small data packet transmission. The package fee for satellite communications is more than 100 times that for 5G. The Asia-Pacific 6D satellite serving China’s four major ocean areas has a capacity of 50 Gbps, while a single 5G base station is able to provide a capacity that is literally thousands of times the value of that from a satellite.

Next-Generation 5G Sites Allow for 3D Coverage Across Ocean Areas

China Mobile and Huawei recently built the world’s first 5G smart ocean showcase in Ningde, Fujian province, to verify an innovative 5G 3D coverage solution and nurture new marine services.

This solution aims to provide a consistent, excellent experience in coastal areas (0–10 km offshore), stable signal transmission in offshore areas (10–30 km offshore), and call connections in open sea areas (30–50 km offshore), while delivering 100 Mbps downlink and 5 Mbps uplink, 100 Mbps downlink and 3 Mbps uplink, and 1 Mbps uplink user-perceived rates for the three areas, respectively.

To achieve this, China Mobile and Huawei have adopted TDD 2.6 GHz and FDD 700 MHz coordinated networking, as well as the SUL technology, to support the construction of ocean area networks with 3D coverage, bolstered by high- and low-band coordination and complementarity , in addition to time- and frequency-domain aggregation.

To extend 2.6 GHz coverage, China Mobile has used Huawei’s latest Massive MIMO product, MetaAAU, which improves both uplink and downlink coverage by 2 dB, and the cell edge rate by 30%. When interacting with intelligent algorithms, MetaAAU produces narrower traffic channel beams that are more accurately directed to users, which significantly improves user experience.

For 700 MHz coverage, the two parties have applied the SSB beamforming algorithm to 4T4R RRUs, which changes SSB wide beams to narrow beams, increasing coverage by 2 to 3 dB and expanding the coverage area by about 25%.

5G + Smart Fisheries

Fish prices soared by 12% in the first two months of 2022, according to the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. FAO has launched the Blue Transformation Initiative to promote sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, amidst this challenging environment. According to data from 2021, China produced about 66.9 million tons of aquatic products, of which 9.5146 million tons came from marine fishing and only 2.2465 million tons came from distant-water fisheries. Aquatic products consumed by Chinese people mainly come from seawater and freshwater aquaculture, which at about 54 million tons accounted for 80% of the total output. These figures are a testament to the hard work of millions of aquaculture fishermen, and the rapid progress China has made in offshore and open-sea farming techniques.

Large-scale aquaculture in the southeastern coast of China has helped create marine communities, which have become densely populated areas. According to China Fishery Statistical Yearbook, the area of ​​mariculture in China in 2020 was 1.99555 million hectares (about 20,000 square kilometers), equivalent to the combined size of Beijing and Shanghai.

Ningde, Fujian, where hundreds of thousands of fishermen are stationed in floating fishing farms, is a noteworthy example. Services related to maritime circuit courts, activity rooms, logistics companies, food factories, fishery monitoring, live streaming for fish selling, and online entertainment, pose high requirements on networks. The deployment of 5G networks in the Ningde ocean areas has allowed for fast user growth and spurred a rapid increase in traffic. A single 5G network is all that needs to support a smart mariculture sector, as well as support the myriad of personal communications requirements. Given that fishing farms are often far-flung and removed from shore, China Mobile Fujian has deployed 5G and Intelligent machine vision to monitor emergency situations related to theft, intrusions, and falling into water in real time. Once an incident occurs, fishing farm personnel are automatically notified and better able to mitigate any risks.

Thanks to satellite remote sensing data, fishery managers can obtain detailed information, such as the location, quantity, area, and block distribution of mariculture areas, which are dynamically displayed based on GIS. This enables mariculture asset management anytime, anywhere. With 5G networks, mariculture environments can also be monitored in real time through devices deployed in the demonstration base, with information related to water levels, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and PH value meticulously recorded.

5G + New Energy

The energy crisis is powering a global shift in energy production. Offshore wind power is a clean and safe form of alternative energy that is critical to the net zero pathway for many countries, providing sufficient power to help achieve zero carbon emissions. By 2021, the global offshore wind power installed capacity is 57.2 GW, of which China accounts for the largest share, which is 47%, and is followed by the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark with 22%, 14%, 5 %, and 4%, respectively.

China Mobile Jiangsu has built 11 offshore wind farm base stations and 49 coastal land base stations. 5G offshore base stations use existing electrical substations and submarine optical cables for backhaul, and directly connect to offshore green wind power to obtain power supply. By doing so, each site can save about 500,000 kWh of electricity and reduce carbon emissions by 390 tons each year. These green base stations deliver 5G coverage up to 60 km away from the shore, providing connectivity for fishermen and the maritime industry, but also establishing a new low-cost and zero-carbon O&M mode for base stations.

Offshore wind farms face several O&M related challenges as they grow larger and branch out to open and deep seas. Wind turbines ideally need to operate non-stop, and inspecting large wind farms is both costly and time-consuming. Currently, the OPEX accounts for 30% to 40% of the total lifecycle cost. With 5G, offshore wind farms can implement intelligent and unmanned O&M of offshore wind power through 5G backhaul-based predictive maintenance, AR-assisted inspection, and drone inspection. This helps lower the cost of wind turbine inspection while saving time.

Using 5G for monitoring and inspecting offshore wind farms bypasses the need to lay down optical fiber cables and the various costs that come with maintaining them. The 5G private networks can be constructed in pilot areas tailored to different scenarios. Deploying MEC locally and applications to the edge ensures that data transmission stays within the farm’s boundaries while supporting low-latency applications. Where manual inspection is required, the 5G smart safety helmet enables personnel positioning, movement tracking, audio and video calls and alarms, and remote guidance for precise operations.

5G + Ocean Area Management

Over the past few decades, more and more people have ventured towards offshore areas, posing greater threats to the marine environment, including illegal and unreported fishing, pollution from land and ships, habitat destruction on uninhabited islands, ship crashes, mining of mineral resources, and oil and gas exploitation. Now, applications such as 5G onsite inspection and emergency rescue have been developed. Thanks to 5G’s high uplink bandwidth and low latency, cameras on coast guards and drones can transmit onsite HD video to the smart center in real time, which facilitates coordinated scheduling, remote inspection, and rapid emergency response. This can assist and improve supervision, rescue, and overall marine governance.

Similar to how road improvements can lead to an increase in traffic, sea routes will also become busier as they become more connected. The 5G sea coverage and 5G smart ocean showcase of China Mobile Fujian can be regarded as a starting point for achieving this. ICT technologies like 5G, cloud will enable the digital and intelligent upgrade of more marine industries, such as deep-sea fisheries and offshore oil and gas, PV, and transportation, to stimulate the development of the marine economy.

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