How maritime 5G will help transform the shipping industry

5G (or the “fifth generation” of mobile internet) is a technology that has been bubbling under the radar for years now and is finally starting to become a more tangible reality in 2020. While it’s obvious that faster mobile internet will have a monumental impact on the telecommunications sector, it’s also going to shake up several other industries that are relying more and more upon fast and reliable data. This includes the shipping industry.

5G will play a key role in improving maritime communications in 2020 and beyond, allowing for coverage across entire cargo ships, many of which can contain literally thousands of containers. It’s a standard that will improve not only the reliability of the industry but the safety standards too.

Massive IoT

The internet of things is a buzzword that essentially refers to connected devices and aboard a modern cargo ship you are now likely to find dozens of these devices, all of which need to be able to communicate with each other.

Current 4G networks are simply not powerful enough to allow so many connected devices to communicate properly over such a dense area out in the middle of the ocean. 5G, however, is able to connect literally thousands of devices within a confined area – ideal for container ships.

What can it be used for?

There are a number of major freight companies currently experimenting with the idea of equipping their containers with IoT tech so they are able to accurately monitor goods and manage traffic in real-time.

Maritime 5G will also allow for the operation of autonomous vessels that can be controlled remotely, dramatically cutting down on crew members.

Indeed, it could result in a near-future where our container ships are completely unmanned. A world away from the classic container ships of yore, perhaps, but progress is often its own reward.

How does it work?

On land, there are mobile cell towers that can act as bridges and send signals between connected devices but on a container ship (which is essentially a massive floating island) it’s left up to just the devices themselves to take care of the communication work.

That’s why maritime 5G will be deployed as private networks that are also connected to the mainland via 5G satellites.


Last year, a project was launched in Valencia, Spain, which aimed to demonstrate the potential of maritime 5G connectivity. According to SaT5G project director Indran Sivarajah, the project aims to be, “An attractive plug-and-play satellite communications solution with 5G for telecommunications companies and network vendors to accelerate 5G deployment and at the same time create new and growing market opportunities for the industry.”

To test the platform, a video was streamed via satellite and was multicast to various 5G terminals. The tests proved successful, so if nothing else, SaT5G proves that maritime 5G has legs!

Maritime 5G is still an emerging space and there’s a lot of work left to be done before it can be standardised.

However, the potential is certainly there if the major freight companies are willing to invest the resources in it. Digitalisation is completely reshaping the shipping industry and 5G will be the anchor that keeps that technology from falling overboard.