Private 5G networks and SaaS need to be pioneered to unlock India’s Smart Ports

Cargo ship at Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai. This port, also known as Nhava Sheva, is the largest container port in India.

The ports of India “need to be on the path before anyone else” in harnessing 5G and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to become a fully smart port, argue industry experts. 

India will invest $82 billion into its port projects by 2035, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced during the inauguration of the Maritime India Summit 2021. 

Centred around the investment will be cash injections to renewable energy sources, the applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Digital Twin and Cyber Security technologies, and infrastructural investments to major expansions of ports. 

For major Indian ports to become fully digitalised and realise the benefits of investment, one industry expert argues that 5G should be a key priority for the nation’s maritime sector. 

“In the future there will be disruptive technologies like 5G, AI, Digital Twin, AR, and VR capabilities,” said Sameer Garde, President of India and SAARC at Cisco. “5G is going to be a reality in 18 months from now. 

“5G will play a very key role, especially in the ports environment. India needs to get on that path before anyone else. I think a private 5G network for the mega-ports should be the first thing ports should start thinking about.”  

Garde noted that a private 5G network will make digitalisation expansions much easier in the future, by allowing Indian port operators to benefit from SaaS applications within its ports – bringing in digital benefits in more effective cargo management, yard optimisation, forward-planning for shipping strategies, and meeting decarbonization goals. 

“SaaS-based solutions make things much easier to upgrade,” Garde explained. “SaaS solutions used by ourselves and companies like ours or our competitors are API-based. You can integrate other players into that ecosystem without issues on compatibility.” 

5G in vertical digitalisation 

A combination of 5G networks and Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors represent the “basic answer” for moving from an Internet Port – the current system a majority of port operations use, utilising the internet but not fully connecting its port – to a Smart Port, said Dhruv Kotak, Managing Director at J.M.Baxi & Co. 

“When you look at vertical integration of digital technologies, you have to look at steps that ports are already doing: Making their Port Operating Service more robust, making their enterprise systems more robust,” explained Kotak. 

“When you have these different technologies available in each of these businesses, then you have created a strong digital ecosystem. You will move towards being a smart port, because you will have real-time data, but not only will you have real-time data – it will be data being processed probably on the EDGE, and on the cloud, enabling decision-making to be extremely quick.” 

Supported by a strong cyber-security network, Kotak continued, a 5G network and connected port infrastructure will reap the benefits of India’s ports becoming smarter following the significant investments to be made in the coming years. 

“Therefore, the combination of platforms, 5G, IoT sensors, and the digitisation efforts which are already underway, is the basic answer to how you’re going to move towards from an Internet Port to a Smart Port.” 

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