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5G Enables People-Centric Ocean Economy

by Guang Yang | Nov 24, 2022

Blue Transformation of the “Sea Granary”

The past autumn is another harvest season for Chinese marine fish farmers. Marine aquaculture production has been growing for many years in China. But this is the first year for many Chinese marine fish farmers that they can share the joy of harvesting with families and friends through video calls or run their e-commerce business on live video platforms. Some famous fishermen vloggers have attracted the attention of China Central Television (see the picture below). 

5G Ocean 1

According to China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, marine aquaculture production has accounted for one-third of total fisheries and aquaculture production in China by 2021. The proportion is much higher than the world’s average (18.6% in 2020, according to FAO). Fish farms have become a “sea granary” of China. Marine fish farmers significantly contribute to China’s food supply. But they also face challenges in their daily work and lives.

Fish farmers worldwide – China, India, Indonesia, Peru, Vietnam, etc. – are often exposed to water spray/splash, strong wind, noise, low temperature, etc.  This will lead to health problems and safety concerns. The isolated working and living environment will not only impact the mental health of fish farmers but also restrict their communications with the outside world. This will limit the ability of fish farmers to access the necessary financing, knowledge, data, and information for developing their aquaculture business and minimizing the environmental impacts.  

Therefore, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is promoting a transformation of aquatic food systems - ‘Blue Transformation’ which targets to “use existing and emerging knowledge, tools and practices to secure and sustainably maximize the contribution of aquatic (both marine and inland) food systems to food security, nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all.” Leveraging innovative technology and management to support the expansion of sustainable and resilient aquaculture systems is one of the targets of the Blue Transformation roadmap. Some Chinese provincial governments also launched policy programs to leverage ICT technologies to promote ocean economy development while keeping environmental sustainability.

Offshore Mobile Broadband Key for the Transformation

As the country’s largest mobile operator, China Mobile realizes the demand and actively deploys offshore 5G networks to serve fish farmers and support the broad ocean economy.  Has the operator met any challenges when deploying the offshore network, and what are China Mobile’s solutions? I recently got to talk with Ms. Cao Lei, the deputy director of the wireless and terminal department at China Mobile Research Institute. She shared some insightful points.

According to Ms. Cao, the allocation of 700 MHz 5G spectrum created an opportunity for China Mobile to deploy an offshore 5G network in a cost-effective approach. However, as the radio propagation characteristics over sea surfaces are much different from that on terrestrial lands, accurate radio planning became the first challenge for offshore 5G development.

China Mobile and its major 5G supplier – Huawei – conducted a continuous wave channel measurement over 800 Km of sea routes. A specific radio propagation model was established for offshore areas based on the measurement results. The two companies jointly developed network planning software that can leverage the specific model to do accurate cell planning and manage the interference across the cells in offshore areas.

Meanwhile, China Mobile and Huawei optimized the network configurations and deployment models. For example, PRACH Format 1 is applied to meet the requirement of extensive coverage. Advanced antenna technologies, such as Huawei’s MetaAAU – based on the Extreme Large Antenna Array – are deployed to extend cell coverage.

All these solutions together enable an extremely large 5G coverage in offshore areas. 100 Km and 60 Km coverage have been achieved by China Mobile’s 5G base stations in the 700 MHz band and 2.6 GHz band, respectively.

Over the extensive coverage, China Mobile has built a “3D” network with multi-band, multi-layer, and multi-cell coordination. Base stations in the 700 MHz band and 2.6 GHz band are coordinated to balance the coverage and capacity. In hot spots with high network load, the flexible frame structure of 4.9GHz is also used to meet the high capacity requirements of users. Small cells are deployed to complement macro-cell coverage. Inter-cell TDD+FDD carrier aggregation has been activated in some traffic hot spots. Satellite link is also integrated with 5G equipment for those users in open seas. Based on the “3D” 5G offshore network, China Mobile not only can serve fish farmers to enable their communications with the outside world and improve the working efficiency of fish farms but also can provide broad support for economic and regulatory activities in offshore areas. 

5G Ocean 2

Serving Ocean Economy

The offshore area is an important zone for diverse economic activities. Many coastal routes are key transportation lines for goods and passengers. Offshore production accounts for 30% of global oil production and 27% of global gas production, according to Planète Énergies. Global Wind Energy Council reported that the global cumulative offshore wind power capacity reached 56 GW by EOY 2021, showing YoY growth of 58% and representing 7% of total global cumulative wind installations. The growing economy also generates increasing requirements for regulation and governing, particularly for safety, environmental impacts, and emergency services.

The “3D” 5G offshore network can be a critical infrastructure for these economic and regulatory activities. 5G connectivity can enable the regulator to monitor water quality around fish farms in real-time. Emergency relief workers can search and rescue with 5G drones and real-time video assistance.

Oil fields and wind farms will also benefit from the offshore 5G network. With 5G equipment installed inside the turbine and tower, wind farm operators can monitor the status of turbines and towers in real time and optimize the on-site maintenance plan with AI tools. This will significantly lower the workload and cost of wind farm OA&M. 5G system can help oil drilling platform operators to improve working efficiency and reduce the exposure of oil workers to the challenging environment.   

Based on network slicing capability, the offshore 5G network can provide end-to-end SLA to business customers such as oil drill platforms, wind farms, shipping companies, etc. That will enable these businesses to deploy more advanced management and control applications to improve working efficiency, enhance the working environment, protect workers’ safety, etc.

China Mobile is working with partners to further expand maritime 5G coverage by integrating satellites and 5G communications to achieve a solution that integrates air and earth. The extensive 5G coverage will allow mobile operators to connect more people and businesses in offshore areas. It will continuously improve the working and living environment for people in China’s offshore areas.

These offshore 5G solutions can also benefit global ocean economies, such as fisheries and aquaculture, offshore oil and gas fields, marine wind farms, coastal shipping, etc. Offshore 5G networks will empower the digital transformation of these sectors to achieve sustainable and resilient developments and particularly improve frontline workers' daily working and living conditions. Offshore 5G networks are becoming one of the pillars of people-centric ocean economies. China Mobile’s practice could be a good reference for its counterparts in the rest of the world. 

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