Wireless finds a berth in port

Associated British Ports (ABP) operates 21 ports in the UK. Ports are becoming increasingly automated and that, combined with the need to ensure fast, efficient and safe operations, means wireless systems play an important role, as James Atkinson finds out

Wireless finds a berth in port

Q How important is wireless technology to the running of a modern port?

A Wireless technology plays a pivotal role in a modern port and has transformed how IT services are delivered. Wireless technology continues to evolve and provide cost effective, high bandwidth solutions in operational locations with
limited infrastructure.

Q What sort of wireless technology is typically deployed at an ABP port?

A ABP uses a wide range of technology including; WLAN, two-way radio, cellular telephones, RFID, GPS, AIS and GSM modem for tide gauge, time and attendance and fuel monitoring, in order to run its ports efficiently and effectively.

Q What PMR two-way radio systems do you have and who uses them?

A ABP uses DMR radios in both UHF and VHF and these radio systems are predominantly used by operations (general logistics and freight forwarding), engineering, marine, and security.

Q What are your key performance requirements and whose equipment are you using?

A When selecting the types of technology to be used on ABP ports there are a number of key performance requirements. These include reliability, ruggedness, performance and suitability for the particular task at hand. For marine applications ABP uses a range of equipment supplied by Tait Communications, Thales and Icom. For standard two-way ABP uses Motorola Solutions radios.

Q What wireless LANs are you using and for what applications? 

A ABP recently moved over to 802.11 Wi-Fi systems and use a variety of technologies, both narrow band and spread spectrum. Wireless LANs are deployed both operationally (quayside terminals handling bulk, containers, vehicles and paper), and for high bandwidth connectivity between locations on the port estate, or more broadly interconnectivity between ports.

For example, the Humber Estuary maritime activity is monitored and controlled by Vessel Traffic Services from Spurn Point. Vessel Traffic Services is located at the tip of Spurn Point and operates 24 hours, 365 days. 

Line of sight between the two locations is across the Humber Estuary and as a result, required the correct elevation and appropriate installation in order to house the equipment so as to ensure service interruptions were reduced, due to passing vessels. To provide the best possible bandwidth ABP’s electronics department installed a point-to-point wireless antennae to connect Spurn Point to the Hull LAN. The wireless technology deployed has been extremely reliable, and ABP has achieved a far greater uptime than previously experienced through telecom providers. 

Q What are you key requirements in terms of performance for WLANs?

A Security, performance and resiliency have all played a major part in the overall design. During the design phase, risks are assessed and factored into the design. In some areas, WLAN is our primary link, and in others it has become a secondary link (with automatic failover) to primary PWAN. Through WLAN ABP hosts a number of services including voice, data, CCTV, radar etc.

Q What steps do you have to take to ensure communication systems work effectively in a demanding port environment? 

A The key challenges of managing communication systems in a busy port environment are ensuring that line of sight is uncompromised, and that frequency channels are not flooded with noise from other parties. ABP has a variety of licensed and unlicensed frequency channels, which are dependent on the environment and requirements of the service being delivered.

Q What particular challenges do ports throw up when it comes to designing RF systems?

A Containers on-site can potentially cause issues with blind spots. However ABP has overcome this by either installing additional access points or housing RF systems at a suitable height to avoid signal shadowing.  

Q Why did you choose the particular wireless systems you have?  

A Some of the key requirements when choosing wireless technology are performance, reliability, functionality and ease of deployment. ABP assesses each deployment on a case-by-case basis, as requirements can differ vastly from one installation to the next.  

The port estate is a wide and varied environment that presents challenges when installing
this type of technology. Therefore, it is imperative that a comprehensive, upfront assessment is carried out prior to installation to ensure we achieve the right balance and deliver the necessary level of service.

Q What network security measures do you have in place?

A Wireless technology deployed is fully encrypted and not visible to the outside world. 

Q Are you using it for data transmissions, such as CCTV video streaming?

A Yes, ABP does use it for data transmissions. For example, ABP operates Immingham Container Terminal and Hams Hall, which is an inland rail freight distribution centre. Radio data terminals feature across all of ABP’s container facilities and are used on board ABP’s RTGs (rubber tired gantry cranes), and reach stacking cranes.  

In addition, GPS is used in order to pin-point the exact location of containers held within the stockyard. All container processing is handled through MCP (Maritime Cargo Processing), who partner with ABP customers for interchange of information and HM Customs and Excise.

Q What areas are covered by CCTV?

A CCTV is hosted at the main entrances to the port, quayside, lockside and around the perimeter of the port and operational areas. ABP uses a mix of wireless, fibre and IP over coaxial cable to provide CCTV connectivity. Wireless technology enables ABP to cover a wider area more cost effectively.

Q How do you monitor and use the CCTV system? 

A ABP’s CCTV systems are monitored both manually and electronically via alerts on unusual movements. CCTV is also used as a traffic management aid for both vehicles and vessels. In some areas, ABP uses perimeter sensors linked to CCTV systems. 

Q Do you use wireless technology for other security applications such as access control?

A ABP utilises RFID for access control, time and attendance. In addition to this, ABP also have vehicle tracking systems installed on company pool cars to monitor usage.

Q How do you protect your communication systems from potential cyber attack?

A Device firmware and patch updates are regularly kept up-to-date. Penetration tests are also performed to ensure that security controls meet the required level of security.

Q How do you see your communications systems evolving in the future?

A Communication capabilities are a key component in providing successful services across the port estate. Wireless technology provides a critical means to monitor and regulate navigation for all sea-going vessels.  

As wireless gains a greater footprint, it will enable further opportunity to extend our communication capability, facilitating access and delivery of critical information in a fast paced operational environment.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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