Norway deploys world’s first wireless network at sea, to tackle oil spills


To improve offshore oil spill preparedness, Norway’s government and the oil industry are building an offshore broadband wireless network.

When oil spills occur, the ability to exchange information quickly between ships, planes, and other actors can greatly limit the damage caused by the spill, according to the Norwegian Coastal Administration. In order to speed up communications in such a scenario, an offshore broadband network is being rolled out in Norway.

The network is being built onboard the vessels and planes that take part in oil spill recovery operations. Norway’s Coastal Administration will install the Maritime Broadband Radio (MBR) system on all its oil recovery vessels, as well as ten additional vessels that have oil recovery equipment onboard.

The Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO) – made up of oil industry organizations – will install the MBR system on all their oil recovery vessels. The system has already been rolled-out on a surveillance plane that’s a joint initiative between the Coastal Administration, NOFO, and the Norwegian Coast Guard. Three onshore base stations have also been installed, to aid in communications with ships and planes.

The Coastal Administration says this is the world’s first national implementation of maritime broadband communication on ships and planes in public service.

“This is a significant improvement that allows us to communicate with all units participating in an oil recovery mission, and share the data without an internet connection. MBR allows us to respond faster with the right actions,” says Kjetil Aasebø, senior advisor in the Coastal Administration, in a statement.

The MBR system has been developed in cooperation with the Norwegian companies Kongsberg Seatex and Radionor. The system operates in the 5GHz frequency band, and offers speeds up to 15Mbps. Its operational range is in excess of 50km, depending on antenna placement.

This means the radios will work well beyond line-of-sight, greatly improving the practical applications of the technology compared to traditional high-performance data communication equipment used offshore.

An MRB network has a mesh network topology. This means that senders and receivers that are out of reach of each other can use other MBR stations between them as radio relay stations. Consequently, a circling airplane with an MBR station can greatly extend the coverage of the network.

MRB radio stations are hardened for offshore use, and contain no moving parts. As a result, the omnidirectional models can contain up to 60 phased-array solid state antennas. The enclosed signal processing circuitry performs real-time radio beamforming and adaptive power control, in order to provide an optimal signal to users, both those nearby and behind the horizon.

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