Successful proof of concept for 5G in shipbuilding

Employing wireless data communication within the setting of metal structures poses a significant challenge. Thus, what environment could be more demanding than a shipbuilding yard, complete with the ships under construction? Orchestrated and executed by specialists, 5G demonstrates remarkable resilience in this context, overcoming all obstacles – Xantaro accomplished a corresponding proof of concept ahead of schedule.


In April 2022, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection launched a package of measures to develop 5G campus networks. The central project is “CampusOS”, which aims to develop a component kit and blueprints for the construction and operation of open campus networks. A further six projects with different application scenarios are grouped together. One of these is MAVERIC – the acronym stands for “Middleware for Automated Utilisation of Edge Resources in Campus Networks”. The four project partners Xantaro Deutschland, the shipbuilder Naval Vessels Lürssen (NVL Group, Bremen) with shipyard sites on the North Sea and Baltic Sea, and the universities of Augsburg and Emden/Leer are responsible for developing the project.

MAVERIC focuses on integrating local resources as well as the intelligent management of connections to the Internet/WAN. The concept entails establishing a 5G campus network across extensive shipyard sites at multiple locations. This network facilitates connectivity between tasks within the ship’s hull and the control centre across differently structured hulls during all stages of expansion. The working title: “The connected worker”.


When the data doesn’t run

“Steel is fundamentally an unfavourable material for the penetration of radio waves. In addition, we have the problem in shipbuilding that we are generally dealing with unique items, and every unique item behaves differently,” says Sebastian Graf, Head of Technology & Innovation at Xantaro, explaining why there are no “off-the-shelf” 5G solutions to date. As it was previously not economically viable to set up Wi-Fi coverage in the steel belly of the ship and cabling was also out of the question, the construction work was highly inefficient in some areas.

Instead of accessing data electronically, employees had to travel on foot. For instance, if plans needed adjustment or updates required retrieval, they had to ascend from the depths of the ship’s hull to establish a data connection, then descend again. According to Xantaro project manager Peter Hofbauer, each journey could last up to 30 minutes, resulting in significant loss of productive time and corresponding high costs.

The solution is a mobile network based on 5G technologies, which ensures reliable networking from the shipyard down to the bilge, the deepest room in the shipbuilding process. This turns the shipbuilder below deck into a “connected worker” that can always be reached wirelessly. After several tests and intensive calculations, the 5G network has proven to be extremely robust, even when used on ships with seven and eight decks, lengths of well over 100 metres and built from several thousand tonnes of steel.

Naturally, physics considerations are essential. The transmission speed of data is slower in the hull at the base of the keel compared to the upper deck, yet this discrepancy can be substantially lessened by adjusting the antenna configuration. The current outcomes meet the requirements of the planned applications adequately. What holds greater significance is the availability and reliability of the connection at any given location.

As Sebastian Graf reports, following the successful tests, the task now is to find the most economically attractive configuration of the equipment for the shipbuilder. Graf: “As part of the research project, we will now continue to further optimise the radio network. We have achieved good coverage throughout the ship. What is now important for us and, above all, for our customers: how little equipment can we ultimately use to achieve optimum radio coverage?”

On the one hand, this applies to network availability in the ship’s hull – with the challenge of finding the right set-up for the location and type of ship. On the other hand, it also applies to the coverage of the factory premises, where cranes, halls and warehouses also contain a lot of metal. “With 5G, our team eliminated all obstacles even on this difficult site,” he summarised the tests. In view of this, the proof of concept was completed with complete success.


Blueprint for further use cases

Further potential applications include pop-up networks, which are temporary installations, and “mobile” 5G campus networks aboard ships, utilising internet connectivity via satellite while at sea, for instance. External experts can utilise AR/VR applications to assist with repairs in remote regions, as well as during shipyard construction or conversions.

However, the MAVERIC project is not just about developing robust network concepts, but also focusses on the applications that build on them. This includes, for example, connecting edge computing and storage in order to carry out data analysis and AI applications “on premise” instead of in the cloud or in a remote colocation data centre. Conversely, possibilities are also being explored as to how intermediate storage for documents (e.g. online manuals for repairs) can be realised via advance retrieval. Buffers are also needed to compensate for bottlenecks or even failures of return transport connections locally if the quality of the connection to the Internet cannot be guaranteed.

The results of MAVERIC extend far beyond applications in shipyards and ships. Sebastian Graf: “When designing our mobile 5G campus network, we placed great emphasis on modularity and flexibility. This is because we are certain that every customer situation will be individual and that we always have to respond specifically to the customer’s problem and scenarios. Our mobile 5G campus approach enables us to do this on site. Together with the customer, we can work out which scenario can be solved and how.”

In the future, potential applications enabled by 5G solutions encompass utilising AR and VR for maintenance and service tasks, overseeing drones for inspecting systems or storage areas, which includes transmitting high-resolution video streams, and ensuring the dependable control of mobile robots or autonomous vehicles, like those employed in industry or large logistics centres.


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Xantaro Deutschland GmbH
Xantaro's team of experts consists of highly qualified professionals from various disciplines who research the latest trends in the network technology industry with passion and expertise.

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