Top private networking providers in ports

Digital solutions in ports are being used across a wide variety of business applications, including automating processes, enhancing monitoring and control, improving safety, lowering costs, and making ports more secure. This article examines the usage of private networks, within these application areas, across 5 major deployments globally.

The digitalisation opportunity in ports

The National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that for every day a ship is unable to unload its cargo, that shipping company pays between 0.6%-2% of the value of goods on board. Avoiding these financial impacts is a key pain point across the ecosystem, and one that digitalisation of the industry could help solve. The digitalisation of ports is essential to all stakeholders in the shipping and ports industry to keep costs down, enable efficiencies, and expand global supply chain capacity.

Research in the European Transport Review1 shows that the pace of digitalisation in ports is relatively slow and that this is driven largely by the incompatibility of systems – stakeholders operate with different service provider solutions and equipment with low levels of interoperability. More needs to be done to accelerate the transformation of port operations to drive better resource outcomes across the supply chain.

There are instances of digitalisation in ports, where telecoms operators have helped shipping companies and port authorities to streamline operations leveraging private 5G and LTE networks. In this article, we aim to extract key learnings from these case studies to elucidate the opportunity for private networks (and the role of the telecoms operator) in enabling the digital transformation of port operations.

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Top private networking providers

Deutsche Telekom

Deutsche Telekom has taken a leading role in deploying private LTE and 5G across a number of customer sites. This includes the Port of Hamburg.

Port of Hamburg, Germany (January 2018)

In 2018, Deutsche Telekom, the Hamburg Port Authority, and Nokia partnered to test new features of the 5G standard in the Port of Hamburg. In mid-2021, Deutsche Telekom shared additional information about the advanced technologies they had deployed together with HHLA Sky as part of a private 5G & LTE network. 5G is used to control and monitor in real time a fleet of up to 100 industrial drones from a single control centre. This saves time in inspection processes while also increasing safety in the port. Hagen Rickmann of Deutsche Telekom GmbH shared that they “are demonstrating how well Internet-of-Things solutions harmonize with the most advanced logistics”.

  • Benefits of private cellular: Ultra-low latency, high bandwidth, network slicing,
  • Business drivers: The private LTE network is focused not only on saving time in operational processes, reducing cost and improving service quality but also in enhancing safety across the port
  • Use cases: Precision monitoring and control, traffic management, automated guided vehicles, augmented reality for transmitting 3D information, real time HD video

China Mobile

China mobile is establishing itself as a major player in the private 5G/LTE space, having deployed private networks across industry verticals including ports, mining and factories. This includes the Yangshan Port in Shanghai.

Yangshan Port – Shanghai (2017)

Late in 2017, China Mobile worked together with Huawei to begin trial operations at Yangshan Port in Shanghai, China. After three years of construction the port became the world’s largest automated container terminal and remains the largest to this day. The private 5.8GHz LTE network that was deployed supports the connection and coordination of 26 bridge cranes, 130 automated guided vehicles and 120 rail-mounted gantry trains. These facilitate automation of the port’s operations, reducing labour costs by 70% and allowing for 50% more efficient handling of containers. In an industry where costs mount for every second of delay to core processes, network reliability, ultra-low latency and high bandwidth are essential for delivering efficiency and service quality of automated processes.

  • Benefits of private cellular: Reliability, security, ultra-low latency and high bandwidth
  • Business drivers: The private LTE network acts as a gateway to digitalisation and automation of the port which helps to maximise efficiency, reduce cost and expand capacity.
  • Use cases: Automated guided vehicles, remotely operated bridge cranes and rail-mounted gantry cranes

China Mobile and Huawei have enjoyed successful collaboration providing private LTE solutions in multiple industry verticals, including an additional deployment in the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, China.


Edzcom (formerly known as Ukkoverkot) has a profile for deploying private LTE across a number of Finish enterprises, including in ports. In late 2018, Edzcom announced that they partnered with Nokia to offer digital automation and private LTE across a number of Finish enterprises. This includes the port of HaminaKotka. Edzcom is now part of Cellnex Telecom and is one of the leading players across different industries in the private cellular networking domain.

Port of HaminaKotka (2018)

In late 2018, Edzcom announced that it partnered with Nokia to offer digital automation and private LTE across the port of HaminaKotka. Among other use cases, the private LTE network enables remote operation of vehicles and devices, as well as enabling QoS “proto-slices” across the port. Speaking of the project, Stephan Litjens, head of Nokia Digital automation, said “A dedicated digital automation platform can be sliced so that each party can access the needed information, and each slice can be assigned priorities”. The dedicated network infrastructure will be used to connect people, vehicles, sensors, machines, and robots with guaranteed quality of service enabling the vastly improved running of port operations.

  • Benefits of private cellular: Security, ultra-low latency, QoS proto-slicing, high bandwidth, reliability, coverage and capacity
  • Business drivers: The key drivers of the private network are to improve situational awareness of container handling, enhancing warehouse logistics and port security
  • Use cases: IoT devices, real time video and analytics, remote operated equipment


In May 2022, BT announced that they had signed a multi-million pound a year partnership with Ericsson to provide commercial 5G private networks. The deal marks BT’s commitment to providing private network solutions to businesses across the UK. Prior to this announcement, BT and Ericsson had partnered together in delivering a private network solution in Belfast Harbour:

Belfast Harbour (2020)

In the Autumn of 2020 BT announced that they would build and manage one of the first private networks across the UK in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Harbour. The private LTE deployment draws on an advanced digital ecosystem comprised of connected vehicles, AI, IoT and 5G connectivity. Gerry McQuade, CEO of BT Enterprise said of the private network that it “will act as a springboard for Belfast Harbour to achieve its ambition to be the world’s best regional smart port and an innovation hub for the region”.

  • Benefits of private cellular: Safety, security, sustainability, ultra-low latency, high bandwidth
  • Business drivers: The private network and associated ecosystem are designed to support regional innovation, sustainability and enhancement of the port’s reputation
  • Use cases: Artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and connected autonomous vehicles

BT have since partnered with the Port of Tyne for the installation of a private 5G network, where they are experimenting with 5G enabled remote operated drones for site mapping and inspection. As the deployment is planned, additional use cases will be scoped and deployed.

Verizon Business

On April 1st 2021 Verizon announced that they are partnering with the Associated British Ports (ABP) to deliver a 5G private network in the UK port of Southampton. The deployment will bring capabilities for the future, such as Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning applications to enhance the port’s operations. More recently however, Verizon announced a private 5G network in partnership with the Virginia Port Authority in the United States.

Virginia International Terminals (2022)

In the summer of 2022 Verizon announced that they are deploying a private 5G network at one of the Virginia Port Authority’s 275-acre container terminals. The site in question is located within the Virginia International Terminals which is a privately held operating company of the Virginia Port Authority. The deployment will test autonomous road trucks for transporting shipping containers. Verizon claimed that the private 5G network could in time be scaled to replace Wi-Fi at the Virginia site which relates to Verizon’s previous deployment at the Port of Southampton, where they replaced 200 Wi-Fi access points with 5G connectivity.

  • Benefits of private cellular: Ultra-low latency, coverage, reliability, high bandwidth, mobility and security
  • Business drivers: In particular the use of autonomous vehicles enabled by the private network will help to reduce the cost of container transportation around the port environment, and expand the workforce capacity while enabling future 5G use cases across the port
  • Use cases: Autonomous vehicles, connected heavy equipment, real-time tracking and logistics
David Gordon

David Gordon

David Gordon

Senior Consultant

David is a Senior Consultant at STL Partners and brings with him a background in strategy and programme management consulting in the TMT industry. Since joining STL Partners over a year ago, David has worked on a range of topics, including private networks, edge, B2B market analysis and has focussed on the impact of 5G in key industry verticals.

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