netBaltic: Enabling Non-Satellite Wireless Communications over the Baltic Sea

By Jacek Rak - Poland, Jozef Wozniak - Poland, Krzysztof Gierlowski - Poland, Krzysztof Nowicki - Poland and Michal Hoeft - Poland

Researchers from the Department of Computer Communications lead by Prof. Jozef Wozniak from Gdansk University of Technology, Poland, in cooperation with several Polish industrial partners including the National Institute of Telecommunications, the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and companies (DGT-LAB and NavSim), are currently working on deployment of the wireless communications infrastructure over the Baltic Sea without satellite communications. This pioneering architecture is planned to be the major outcome of the netBaltic project realized in the years 2015-2018 and co-funded by the Polish National Centre for Research and Development.

The main aim of the netBaltic project is to develop and deploy a broadband wireless communication system providing connectivity in a heterogeneous wireless mesh network environment able to meet the requirements of e-navigation services. In particular, the lack of reliable high-throughput communications is currently the major barrier in e-navigation implementations. Existing HF and VHF technologies, although offering long link ranges, are unreliable and their bandwidth is limited, while satellite communications is often too expensive, especially for smaller vessels.

netBaltic members participating in the project meeting (left to right): Krzysztof Nowicki, Jozef Wozniak, Teresa Pluta, Lukasz Wiszniewski, Tomasz Gierszewski, Krzysztof Gierlowski, Michal Hoeft, and Wojciech Guminski.

This problem was recognized first in the TRITON project implementing homogeneous WiMAX mesh networking solutions with modified mechanisms of MAC layer and dedicated beamforming antennas. In netBaltic, the main focus is in turn on higher network layers and building the architecture to integrate different wireless technologies. The objective is to design and deploy three different groups of mechanisms related to particular communication areas. The first one (area A) includes mobility management of moving vessels providing uninterrupted communications across different wireless technologies. The second one (area B) refers to a self-organizing heterogeneous mesh network expanding hop-by-hop connectivity between ships and onshore infrastructure elements. Organization of such a mesh network will employ information from real-time measurements as well as existing and commonly utilized systems supporting maritime navigation (like AIS). The last one (area C) is dedicated to nodes located far away from other vessels, and as a result, are only occasionally able to establish connections (and thus necessary to be provided with dedicated delay-tolerant communication solutions).

Networking solutions and communication systems being developed in netBaltic aim to address data transmission needs of multiple maritime activities. The most important use of the system is directly related to maritime safety and efficiency by providing the communications platform for e-navigation services, as defined by the International Maritime Organization. The concept of e-navigation includes, for example, integration of a multitude of navigational systems and aids that currently have to be separately monitored by a bridge crew, as well as making increased use of inter-ship data exchange for purposes of safety and efficiency of maritime travel.

Interest in system capabilities has also been expressed by various research and governmental organizations, planning to employ its data acquisition capabilities (both online and delay tolerant) for purposes of research and environmental monitoring, particularly in areas of limited maritime traffic and consequently lacking the alternate communication infrastructure.

Finally, the system aims to provide broadband Internet connectivity in locations of high concentration of participating vessels (covering a wide range of vessel types, from one-man boats to ocean tankers), to be used for access to various applications and services available in modern internetworking, starting with e-mail and web-browsing and ending with direct multimedia streaming.

With the core elements of the netBaltic system scheduled to be developed in 2018, it seems that many e-navigation initiatives that are currently being developed will be provided with this robust communication platform.