When can you expect 5G at sea?

Sep 30, 2021 | News

What’s all the hype about 5G?

We’ve all been hearing a lot of late about 5G technology and the increased speeds and reduced latency it promises. And that’s not to mention the greater bandwidth which can provide connectivity for many more devices. As 4G allowed for HD streaming, complex gaming, and interactive apps, 5G, with up to 100 times the speed of 4G, will make way for AI-based networking, superior private internal networks, and the ability to replace traditional home internet.

So, what exactly is the hold up for the marine industry? We’ve been hearing about 5G for a while now, but as yet it seems to be predominantly a terrestrial service. Unfortunately, there are two trade-offs to consider for the increased speeds offered by 5G technology. The first is limited range – 5G uses frequencies with a range of less than 500 metres from the nearest cell tower. This is great in inner city areas, but you’d be hard pushed to find a cell tower in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

4G, on the other hand, has a range up to 10km away from the nearest tower. And, with amplifier technology such as OceanWeb’s own OMDO, we can boost that signal access up to 30km. The second trade-off is the inability for the 5G frequencies to penetrate obstructions that prove no problem for 4G frequencies – in much the same way that alpha and beta particles can be stopped by something as thin as paper or skin, which is easily penetrated by gamma rays. Combined, these trade-offs create limited accessibility.

5G at sea
5G at sea

5G for yachts

With the knowledge that technology in the yachting industry usually takes a little while longer to catch up with its land-based counterparts, it’s no wonder the question on everyone’s lips is “when will 5G be available at sea?” Here at OceanWeb HQ, we’re all about transparency and only providing the most honest and reliable advice to our clients. We care about making the right decisions to suit your individual needs, so we won’t try to sell you something under false pretences. Although 5G ready hardware is becoming increasingly available, it doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a 5G network you can connect to nearby. With all the excitement around the technology you can be forgiven for thinking 5G at sea is already available, but that’s not quite the case. If you’re on board a superyacht looking to set sail away from the marina, you’re sure to find that, for now, 5G probably isn’t the right solution for you.

What’s the difference between LTE, 4G, and 5G?

Cellular networks are continuously evolving as new technology emerges and consumer demand changes. This is how we find ourselves now on the fifth generation of wireless communications technology, or 5G. For those of us not technically minded it can seem rather confusing, so we thought we’d start with the basics.

LTE, or long-term evolution, is a type of 4G wireless broadband technology in fact slower than true 4G, but still capable of HD streaming and gaming. This was a massive jump from 3G, offering speeds up to ten times faster than what was previously available. 4G is what most users will currently find themselves connecting to, with a well-established network in most countries. It’s fast, global, and compatible with most mobile devices. 5G is, again, considerably faster than 4G, with even further reduced latency and a wider array of radio frequencies, the higher end of which offers greater bandwidth availability. The combination of these features promises to take mobile communications to the next level, but we’re not quite there yet.

The roll out of 5G globally is still very much in its infancy, largely due to the higher frequency bandwidths requiring much closer proximity to the cell tower and having limited building penetration. As it stands, this is currently ideal for high-density urban areas with multiple towers, however when in less populated coastal areas (such as where you would find a marina) you may struggle to maintain a signal. And more to the point, once you move away from the shore, your system would have to fall back onto the 4G networks, which have a much greater range.

So, can I get 5G on my yacht?

You’ll be pleased to hear that 5G technology is coming your way, just maybe not as quickly as we’d hoped. Some marinas, such as Monaco, already have the necessary masts providing 5G connectivity when you’re moored up. But, at this stage, this isn’t the case everywhere, so you’ll still have to rely on the local 4G. We do have 5G ready routers and antennas available, which provide for off-vessel connections, and there are several 5G enabled Android mobile phones on the market. Though, it’s worth noting that it wasn’t until the iPhone 12 – released last year – that Apple joined the party.

The commercial shipping industry is already talking about private on board 5G networks. These are purely internal and still require traditional external networks such as 4G (if you’re close enough to the shore) or VSAT (if you’re out to sea) to connect to the outside world. Commercial shipping is a powerful industry, likely to drive maritime adoption of 5G, in turn paving the way for superyachts.

Where do we go from here?

This very much depends on when you last upgraded your equipment. While it’s not guaranteed to achieve 5G connectivity everywhere you drop anchor, it’s best to be prepared. As previously discussed, the pace at which technology develops is incredible and 5G at sea will be no different. So, it’s important to keep your yacht’s comms network up to date – both hardware and software. This will ensure the best possible experience for those on board, and establish protection against cyber threats, which are on the increase.

For now, we recommend and provide regular surveys on all your equipment. Our team are well-versed in the latest industry developments and can advise on upgrades accordingly. We’ll keep our ears to the ground and navigate this high-tech space to ensure you stay ahead of the game. Want to get ready for the widespread deployment of 5G technology in the maritime industry? Speak to our team today to arrange your comms survey this winter.