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In June 2012 the Port of Pittsburgh Commission announced its plans to build a local wireless network for the waterways. Named WirelessWaterways, the original project, which was financed with $1.3 million in grant funding from the federal Port Security Grant and Port of Pittsburgh Commission funds, is a standalone model. However, it is being closely monitored as a national model moving forward. The opportunity to exchange data among barges carrying freight, port operators, government agencies and others has the potential to significantly enhance operational efficiencies for these operators and provide public safety organizations the means to improve response and recovery and assist in more cooperative detection among public and commercial entities.
According to recent research conducted by VDC Research, the ability for transportation and logistics organizations - such as barge operators - to enhance real time decision making is one of the primary investment drivers for mobile and wireless solutions. Moreover, public safety organizations are citing situational awareness and communication interoperability as key gaps in their solutions and investment priorities moving forward. With greater need for real time data to support no only ones own operations but also provide greater end to end visibility for customers across the logistics and supply chain are real pressures, however, this segment of the market has typically been behind the curve in technology adoption. While the need was acute, the availability of a solution that provided a reliable and affordable option to send large amounts of data while barges were traveling on the water was missing.
Existing cellular service coverage is typically spotty along the rivers and using these networks to transmit large files such as navigational charts and marine safety manuals is inefficient and expensive. The solution is a wireless hybrid solution that combines WiFi, leased lines from cable companies, microwave and other bandwidths. While the service will at first be free to users, there will be a service fee rolled out to make it self sustainable. The solution will initially cover 40 river miles with the plan to expand to 150 miles. The primary users of the network will be barge towing companies, riverbed operators, first responders, environmental specialists and academic researchers, sewage authorities in addition to recreational waterway users.
The application opportunities are numerous, ranging from vessel visibility and tracking, navigation safety, barge crew communications, efficient management of river locks, among others. What is unique about the solution is that it will integrate various government and private data sources into one easy to use Google Maps-based interface. This type of situational awareness mash-up represents some of the more forward thinking innovation addressing real world issues while leveraging existing and available commercial technologies. It will be interesting to track the success and adoption of WirelessWaterways as we anticipate the rollout of other similar projects.