KNL Networks is building a mesh network of base stations on ships for securely transmitting operational and machinery data to shore
Shortwave radio can be used for data transmissions from ships to shore and between vessels as an alternative, or even complementary, service to satellite communications.
This is a long way from shortwave radio’s use for voice communications at sea, but KNL Networks has developed this technology to generate a data transportation network. It has built a mesh of multiple base stations and terminals on ships to provide a backbone for internet-of-things (IoT) solutions.
The dedicated IoT network is combined with military-grade security, pole-to-pole coverage and affordable pricing to make maritime IoT connections smarter, said KNL Networks chief executive Toni Linden.
He explained to Maritime Digitalisation & Communications that this shortwave radio network does not have the complexity or issues of satellite communications and can be scaled through simple vessel additions. “We have reinvented shortwave radio so that it is fully digital and automatic,” he said.
“We have created a network concept that is scalable and uses cellular technology in these radios.” The technology’s simplicity is that each ship added to the network becomes a base station and communications hub for the whole network.
“We have created a network concept that is scalable and uses cellular technology in these radios”
KNL radio uses the high-frequency band to connect automatically to another KNL radio with a cellular connection. Ships close to the coast or in port will automatically connect directly to terrestrial cellular networks. It is then possible to transfer IoT data to shore over a network that “can have a range of 10,000 km” said Mr Linden.
Data leaves each KNL radio through the company’s virtual private network encrypted so the data is fully secure, he explained. KNL’s cognitive radio automatically identifies and avoids signal jamming by hostile third parties, increasing connectivity and operational safety.
Security is heighted by tunnelling techniques. “Data streams are kept separate and encryption keys and resources are allocated,” said Mr Linden. “We have government customers so this security comes from that part of the business.”
There are also reliability benefits as mesh networking means there is no single point of failure so if one unit loses its cellular connection, others will serve the terminal with no direct connection.
This network can be dedicated to IoT connectivity allowing broadband communications, crew welfare services and safety connections to operate through the ship’s satellite connection unaffected by KNL’s network.
“We do not affect other communications on the vessel”
“We are independent and can allow access to third-party service providers removing major pain points around integration issues and security” said Mr Linden. “We do not affect other communications on the vessel.”
This solves a number of issues that shipowners and managers have with existing satellite communications. “There are no headaches that come from having cyber security on satellite communications,” said Mr Linden, explaining that there are neither firewalls nor software updates required on KNL’s network.
Cyber security can be an issue for third-party IoT service providers if the firewall or software patches cut them off from the vessel. It then becomes an issue for a shipping company’s IT department that has to reapply connectivity to onboard IoT equipment.
“That is not a problem with KNL as we allow multiple parties to securely access their equipment on board a vessel,” said Mr Linden. KNL also minimises the issues that shipmanagement companies have in collecting and analysing fleet data.
These companies could manage fleets of hundreds of ships owned by several different entities with different satellite communications on board. This would be “difficult for IoT companies to manage” said Mr Linden. “But with KNL, there is one network, one system and it is scalable,” he added.
KNL has set up WaveAccess managed services for IoT data transmission that enables shipowners to pay only for what they need. This includes the radio and network connectivity, bi-directional data transfer coupled with simple API integration and data prioritisation. It can include other services, such as advanced vessel tracking data, email communications and access to digitalisation platforms, like Kongsberg’s Kognifai, which enables shipping companies to optimise data use and perform advanced analytics using third-party applications.
“We provide a secure mail service which can be used globally, even when no there is no satellite coverage or if there is a system failure on the satcoms.”
Mr Linden is expecting a strong adoption of this technology and for the network to rapidly grow in the next three years. “We will work with industry leaders, target providers of smart data services, build trusted partnerships and add more vendor services. Within three years, we will be the standard for IoT connectivity.”