Categories: British Ports Association, BusinessPublished On: 10.05.2021551 words2.8 min read

Ports prepare for digital revolution: report examining connectivity at UK’s economic gateways 

As part of its ongoing Port Connectivity Review the British Ports Association has published research into mobile coverage and deployments in ports, undertaken alongside experts in digital connectivity, Telint.

Ports around the world are now increasingly taking advantage of new technology and UK spectrum regulations meaning that ports are in a strong position to expand their connectivity. However, this report analyses the state of digital coverage experienced by UK ports and how this can be improved to remain internationally competitive with the ports in Europe and beyond, many of whom are already developing their own innovative 5G networks

The report provides case studies of three European ports and also gives an overall assessment of the mobile data coverage at over 30 randomly selected UK port locations, of all type and activity.

Key Findings:
  • Better connected ports have an advantage as we approach the second digital revolution
  • Digitalisation of ports will allow them to operate more autonomously, safely and efficiently. 5G will be the catalyst for such innovation, but the current priorities of mobile operators do not readily lend themselves to providing coverage at ports
  • In the UK, plans to switch off old copper networks altogether will accelerate the pace of change. However, ports may find it necessary to actively explore improvements to their fixed connectivity, rather than waiting for infrastructure providers to update their tech, as poor connectivity may result in a loss of competitive advantage
  • Ports can help port users, tenants, and local communities with connectivity in a commercially viable way using their own 5G private network which in itself can help drive growth in coastal regions

The report has found that 5G is certainly coming to ports, and more quickly than previously thought. To assist in future-proofing the economy for the second digital revolution, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), is already funding 5G testbed activities in some of the UK’s larger ports. We have an excellent dialogue open with the DCMS who have been very supportive of understanding our sector and it is possible there may be further calls for proposals under the Government’s 5G programme later this year.

This study is part of the BPA’s Port Connectivity Review which is looking at three core elements of port connectivity; digital connectivity, transport surface access and energy network capabilities.

Moving forward digital connectivity will be a critical component; supporting both the day to day administrative functions of port operations and security, but also exciting new opportunities such as autonomous loading and unloading ground vehicles that can increase port throughput.

There will also be opportunities to improve safety and efficiency at ports as well as helping port stakeholders of all type. As well as supporting port operations, private 5G networks could potentially be accessible to tenant facilities, visiting ships and seafarers, those using marinas and also neighbouring communities and businesses. As ports are hubs of economic activity 5G could help stimulate growth in many of the UK’s deprived coastal regions.

We will be submitting this report to the DCMS, government agencies including the devolved administration, and also the UK Department for Transport to consider as part of its Maritime 2050 Strategy.