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How Modern Ports and Terminals can Boost Efficiency using Wireless Technology

Today's modern ports and terminals are increasingly turning to wireless technologies to boost their efficiency and gain a competitive edge. Let's delve into how wireless is revolutionising ports and terminals around the world.

The ports business is highly competitive, with ports vying for business from shipping companies and manufacturers. Factors such as location, size, facilities, efficiency, and the ability to handle different types of cargo all play a role in how competitive a port is. The increasing demand for modernisation and automation in ports seeking a competitive edge is driving the adoption of new technologies. The integration of wireless technology in particular is seen as a game-changer that can enhance efficiency and streamline operations in maritime environments.

Port environments are an interesting use case for wireless because they come with their own set of challenges, such as network equipment needing to withstand extreme weather conditions and potential corrosion from sea air. Also, equipment often has to be installed in locations that are difficult to access, and therefore don’t lend themselves to regular hands-on maintenance. That said, the technologies discussed here are also applicable to any sprawling industrial site.

Wireless Backhaul

A typical port usually has a main administrative block, and numerous outlying buildings such as storage and/or inspection facilities, gatehouses, etc. In addition to data, there is likely to be extensive video surveillance of the site, requiring good bandwidth and low-latency. Traditionally you would run fibre-optics for network connectivity in this type of situation, but that can be expensive and disruptive.

Terminal Operating Software (TOS), is a crucial component in ports' operations, because it is responsible for controlling the movement and storage of various types of cargo in and around the facility. A stable and robust network connection is essential for TOS to function seamlessly. It ensures real-time data exchange, enables accurate tracking, and facilitates swift decision-making, all of which contribute to operational efficiency.

Reliable connectivity also plays an important role in safety management and other essential monitoring systems.

By leveraging wireless backhaul technology, we can ensure a consistent and reliable network for TOS and other applications. Wireless backhaul uses directional high-gain antennas to achieve high throughput over long distances. Broadly speaking there are three network topologies we can utilise for wireless backhaul, depending on the application:

Point-to-Point (PtP): PtP topology involves establishing a direct wireless link between two specific points, say two buildings. It can work over long distances, several kilometres, and can deliver high bandwidth. This type of link is reliable, secure, and offers low latency, making it suitable for real-time applications.

Point-to-Multipoint (PtMP): PtMP technology is similar but it enables a single base station to communicate with multiple client devices within it’s coverage area simultaneously. The clients can share the same frequency, which makes for a more efficient utilisation of spectrum. PtMP networks can be easily scaled by adding more clients.

Mesh: A mesh topology uses multiple interconnected devices (nodes) to create a wide network coverage area. Each node in the mesh network acts as a router, forwarding data to other nodes until it reaches its destination. It provides redundancy and increased reliability as data can be rerouted through alternative paths if one node fails. They offer scalability, allowing for the addition of new nodes without disrupting the overall network performance. Dynamic routing algorithms optimise data transmission paths and load balancing among nodes.

Mobile Equipment

Wireless capabilities extends beyond stationary buildings. It can also provide reliable connectivity for mobile equipment such as cranes. In the bustling environment of ports, maintaining a stable communication line with these pieces of moving equipment is crucial for seamless operations.

Ship-to-Shore cranes, Rubber Tires Gantry cranes, and Rail Mounted Gantry cranes all require a stable network connection for efficient operational, which can be achieved using wireless technology, ensuring real-time data communication, enhancing the speed and accuracy of cargo handling.

Often such cranes are utilising video cameras for safety and/or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) applications which increases the bandwidth requirement considerably. OCR technology is increasingly used to automatically identify and read the container numbers, ISO codes, and other vital information on the containers to speed up the process of data capture and container handling resulting in increased operational efficiency. Moreover, real-time data capture allows for immediate and accurate tracking of containers, which is crucial for effective container management and planning.

One of the challenges encountered in the implementation of wireless technology in ports and terminals is the issue of wireless shadowing. Large mobile equipment, such as cranes and container movers, can inadvertently block their own wireless signal, leading to temporary loss of connectivity, disrupting real-time data communication and potentially hampering the speed and accuracy of cargo handling. This is where the dynamic routing offered by mesh technologies can help, for the crane isn’t tied to using a single link.

Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul is an interesting solution in this context because it has MPLS-like self-healing routing and meshing capabilities and can provide high throughput across extensive distances, with five-nines levels of reliability. Its ability to connect moving assets has lead to it being being used in rail transportation and open-cast mining projects, as well as port automation. It uses robust IP-rated equipment with ruggedized, vibration-resistant connectors, so that it can operate reliably in these challenging conditions.

Tracking and Monitoring

The applications of wireless technology in port automation do not stop here. Technologies like LoRaWAN are being deployed for environmental monitoring, asset tracking and man-down applications. LoRaWAN is a low-power, low data-rate wide-area networking protocol, designed for wireless battery-operated devices. This technology, with its long-range capabilities, low-power consumption, and high penetration, is an excellent choice for a wide range of applications, including, environmental monitoring (temperature, humidity etc.), condition monitoring (excessive vibration, operating temerature, power consumption, etc.) , tracking the location of equipment (using GPS), and man-down applications where worker safety may be at risk.

Using technologies like LoRaWAN, ports are able to adopt digital workflows, ranging from worker safety protocols to environmental emission sensors, reflecting their commitment to sustainability.

Private 5G Networks

Private 5G networks can also play a role in the modernisation and digital transformation of ports and terminals. They provide a dedicated, secure and high-speed connectivity that enhances operational efficiency and safety. Private 5G networks operate exclusively for the use of a single entity, thus mitigating risks related to data privacy and network congestion.

Private 5G networks can support the use of advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and artificial intelligence, which are key to achieving higher levels of automation and efficiency.

Free Ports

The UK government’s Free Ports initiative is designed to stimulate trade and investment in ports across the United Kingdom. Free Ports and the surrounding areas benefit from preferential tax arrangements in order to encourage economic activity. The UK government anticipates that this initiative will increase trade, attract inward investment, and drive job growth, particularly in regions that have been left behind economically.

The Free Ports initiative aligns well with the ongoing digital transformation in the sector, as the use of modern technologies such as wireless communication can greatly enhance operational efficiency, as well as being more flexible and less expensive to install than fibre-optics.


For those at the forefront of driving digital transformation and improving operational efficiency of our ports and terminals, wireless is a key enabling technology that paves the way for increased efficiency, safety, and streamlined operations.

It enables real-time communication between fixed and mobile units, thereby ensuring operations are carried out efficiently and safely. This improved network uptime and visibility enables better orchestration of interaction between ships, cranes, rail, and road haulers.

As we continue to innovate and progress, it is exciting to imagine what the future holds for ports automation. With the integration of wireless technology, we are undoubtedly moving towards a more efficient and safer future for ports and terminals worldwide.

We are always happy to discuss the possible application and benefits of wireless technologies to specific use cases, like ports and terminals. The digital transformation team within Cisco are always looking for interesting use cases and case studies. Please reach out if you think we can help.

If our blog post interests you and you’d like to find out more, please get in touch!
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