"Every time I climb up tens of meters on the gantry crane and overlook the sea, I want to climb even higher; though I can lift and move containers quickly, operating tens of meters above the ground, I want to be much faster." That's what a port worker used to think.
Ports have been witnessing an economic boom, and changes have come faster than ever expected. As the world's largest port in terms of container throughput for nine consecutive years, China's Ningbo-Zhoushan Port has connected with more than 600 ports in more than 100 countries and regions and has more than 250 routes. The port plays a crucial role in connecting sea and land transport. With containers being shipped in and out, the port has flourished as international trade increases. Now, it is modernized by new technologies – very few workers work at the port. Automated machinery quickly loads and unloads containers as required, while port operators monitor security, collect real-time data, and perform scheduling remotely inside the central control room through the wireless video backhaul system. They can manage the whole process of transportation at the port by checking the data on the 5G-enabled cloud whenever they need to. Such a highly automated and intelligent port is referred to as a "magic port" within the industry.
Adopting Huawei's 5G+ port solutions
At about 3 o'clock on the afternoon of April 16, 2019, at the No. 4 Yard of Meishan Island International Container Terminals of the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, an operator began to operate the No. 58 gantry crane through a control handle inside the remote control room while looking at the screens on the control panel. As the crane moves in the directions required, it demonstrates that the world's largest port has successfully adopted various innovative wireless applications such as the 5G-based video backhaul and operation management of gantry cranes. This is the first trial of smart port application with a live 5G network in China as well as a successful implementation of the 5G rollout priority program developed by China Mobile Ningbo, China Mobile Shanghai Industrial Research Institute, and Huawei. The program attaches great importance to 5G coverage of major cities, industrial parks, and ports. Gradually, 5G solutions will be adopted by ports along the southeast coastal areas of China, from the Yangtze River to the Guangdong–Hong Kong–Macao Greater Bay Area.
Huawei signed a cooperation agreement with Guangzhou Port Authority, Guangzhou Port Group, China Unicom Guangzhou, and Guangdong New Generation Communication and Network Innovation Institute at the 2019 World Ports Conference held in Guangzhou on May 8. The partnership aims to establish a 5G port innovation center in the Greater Bay Area in order to facilitate the development of 5G smart ports.
"Huawei is conducting innovation programs and trials of 5G application in major ports, including the Guangzhou Port, Tianjin Port, Qingdao Port, and Ningbo-Zhoushan Port," said Li Kewu, Huawei's chief expert of port digitization. "It is expected that the top ten ports in China will work with us sooner or later."
5G: The key to smart ports
More and more industries see 5G commercialization as a driving force for development, especially the port industry, which has taken great measures to build smart ports enabled by 5G. Mr. Li said, "Ports are very suitable for 5G application." He added that it is a relatively closed environment and the driving routes of vehicles in port areas are relatively regular, so it is an excellent application scenario for 5G technologies or autonomous driving technology. Huawei has established a port transportation development department, which is composed of a consulting team for port digitization, an R&D team for innovative port solutions, and other teams. The department aims to apply new technologies such as 5G, cloud, and artificial intelligence (AI) to smart port construction.
Mr. Li said, "There are some bottlenecks in signal transmission using 4G networks, such as the latency of HD video transmission. That's why we are so looking forward to 5G applications. 5G is the key to port digitization, but we should combine it with chips, Internet of Things, AI, and other technologies."
"To help ports realize digital transformation and automation, it is essential for us to connect major equipment such as bridge cranes and gantry cranes with wireless networks and even digitize the whole operation process in port areas," said Wang Ren, head of network optimization at China Mobile Ningbo. "With 5G offering high bandwidth, low latency, and massive connectivity, it will provide secure and reliable wireless communication services for multi-channel HD video backhaul, millisecond-level control over information enabled by programmable logic controllers (PLCs), container tracking, and self-driving trucks. This lays a solid foundation for automated operations. 5G networks can simplify equipment structures as it doesn't need to meet the requirements of traditional wired communication networks, reducing operation and maintenance costs."
In the future, port digitization powered by 5G technologies will facilitate information sharing and coordination between ports. Ports should coordinate with each other in task planning & management and supply arrangement. Even their operation processes are in need of being updated accordingly to strengthen the connections between ports, improve efficiency and cost through economies of scale, and provide better user experience. Mr. Li believes that during the process of building a coordinated and connected ecosystem in the port industry, it is important that Huawei and other partners work closely with carriers and vendors of relevant industries to provide strong support and various services for smart port construction.
Standing at the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, you can take in a special symphony of smart ports – the sound of freighters, honking trucks, and the sea. With the help of digital and automation technology, all cranes load and move containers efficiently. The port is embracing a new era of 5G.
The important role of ports in city development
Every ship departs from a port and loads up on provisions before weighing anchor to fulfill its next great ambition. By leveraging ports and their geographic advantages, coastal cities are exploring new pathways to digitization in order to become more open and global-minded.
5G offers a new way for ports to fully implement the Belt and Road Initiative. Huawei will continue to enable 5G-powered ports and lay a solid technological foundation for building a fully connected, intelligent world.