5G Open Innovation Lab (5G OI Lab), EDGE Cluster, Washington Maritime Blue and the City of Tacoma along with a coalition of partners has unveiled a 5G Private Network at Tacoma Tideflats supporting five enterprise clients.

The landmark pilot showcases the potential of a 5G ecosystem as an enabler for business modernization. The clients supported by this network include: TOTE Maritime Alaska, Silverback Marine, Trident Seafoods, SAFE Boats International and Motive Power Marine.

“Ports are the lifeblood of coastal economies around the world, and there is fierce competition to stay ahead. Washington State has a “Blue Economy” strategy in place to help the state create a thriving and sustainable maritime industry through 2050 and beyond,” said Joshua Berger, President/CEO of Washington Maritime Blue.

The project provides initial network coverage for five enterprise clients while leveraging existing infrastructure, including floodlights and utility poles, to optimize cost and effort. The network’s initial phase spans the East Blair Peninsula, where the client operations are located. Scott Waller, CTO, 5G OI Lab, spearheaded the design and implementation, collaborating with their partners, including Comcast, Dell Technologies, VMware by Broadcom, Intel, Expeto, Ericsson, and others.

“Our goal from day one was to build an enterprise-ready private 5G network that’s extensible. The network we have today meets the needs of our current enterprise clients and can be extended to cover future clients across the Tacoma Tideflats,” added Waller.

The Tacoma Tideflats 5G Network Feasibility Study, developed by the 5G OI Lab, Washington Maritime Blue, Avanade, City of Tacoma, Washington Department of Commerce, Business Finland, Impact Washington and Tacoma Power was published in January 2022. This study uncovered use cases and critical investment areas that several businesses located within the Tideflats identified as pivotal for their operations.

The pilot is funded through the Washington State Department of Commerce Evergreen Manufacturing Growth Grant, awarded in June 2023.

“Everyone is united by a desire to improve data sharing across the ecosystem including trucking, rails, ships, and the environment,” said Maritime Blue’s Berger. “In providing access to a private network to innovators and startups seeking to apply IoT technology to Blue Economy sectors, we can amplify the Tacoma Tideflats as the prime region in North America for tech development and living wage jobs. This Field Lab allows our team to facilitate and convene specific technology challenges that address key use cases benefiting from shared data and utilization.”

In speaking to Patricia Beard, Business Development Manager, City of Tacoma, she said conversations about the pilot program date back to February 2021 when the City, 5G OI Lab and Washington Maritime Blue began brainstorming about possibilities.

“From that beginning we began to invite partnerships to fund a feasibility study to determine if the project was viable. An early supporter was the government of Finland and entered a Memorandum of Understanding with the State of Washington that included financial support for the feasibility study,” she said.

“Our vision was to find means of installing the infrastructure and then having private enterprises sign on as subscribers to sustain the network. There were many details to be worked out, for example who would own the network. Ultimately 5G OI Lab established a non-profit, the Edge Cluster, to manage this and others of its 5G projects around the region.”

Timing for the launch was based on achieving grant funding to install all or a portion of the network. The Washington Department of Commerce, an early supporter, awarded Edge Cluster a grant to install the first phase of the network on the East Blair Peninsula and five enterprises signed on as subscribers.

“Our objectives are many. At the most basic level we will enhance connectivity for our subscribers. Going on from there we hope for entrepreneurs to find solutions to challenges – streamlining logistics, enhancing worker safety, improving supply chain efficiency, and increasing information sharing to protect the environment and enhance emergency response. For the City of Tacoma, a key objective is to establish Tacoma as a testbed for Internet of Things technologies, attracting entrepreneurs to establish companies here and create living wage jobs.”

According to Jim Brisimitzis, founder/ GM, 5G OI Lab, 5G is at an inflection point for the global CSP industry and said; “Finally, this industry has an opportunity to transform connectivity into a platform powered by edge computing and tapping into to a robust, and value generating, software ecosystem. The result is these networks becoming an extension of Cloud for edge applications that are solving problems, generating value, and creating new monetization.

“This project is a shining example of what is possible and showcases the true potential of this value-generating software ecosystem. It applies the power of private 5G networks and edge to real world business modernization challenges in ports around the world, to orchestrate efficiencies, modernize port infrastructure, improve worker safety and preserve and protect and preserve ecological and community health.

Berger added, Maritime Blue sees 5G and high-speed connectivity as an enabler more than anything else.

“Port and industrial areas are notorious for having a lack of connection and at the same time are looking to rapidly innovate for digital solutions to terminal operations, manufacturing, worker safety, and environmental monitoring. However, operators and workers are seeking solutions they know exist and I believe, are ready to adopt. They are also interested in supporting new technology development specific to their use cases. But of course, they need connectivity to make any of it work,” he said.

“Maritime Blue will be working to support the operator’s (terminal operators, manufacturers, and others) access to innovation to solve their individual challenges by recruiting start-ups specific to their use cases and providing them wrap-around services including support to engage demonstration and pilot projects. We will also work with the users, City, Port, university, utilities, labor, and others to determine use cases for the regional ecosystem that can be solved by having access to shared data and the network. That’s what is also truly unique about this network. We can build out a community network that solves the larger challenges we all face each day – even beyond the individual use cases of the operators. Like traffic efficiency, safety alerts, energy usage, environmental monitoring, and more.

“This is a long-term endeavour, not a short-term pilot with a defined end point. We aim to extend TBEN over the Tideflats to scale impact for operators and the entire port/industrial area.”