Illustration; Source: Saudi Aramco

Viasat and Aramco join forces for ‘first maritime trial’ of 5G mesh network

Inmarsat Maritime, a Viasat company, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas giant Aramco to perform what is said to be the world-first 5G mesh network trial for the Saudi energy player’s offshore projects in the Arabian Gulf.

Illustration; Source: Saudi Aramco

The goal is to enable high-speed communication on offshore projects for the oil and gas giant, which recently made a significant step towards securing a stable and inclusive energy transition by making its first international investment in LNG. This is in line with the company’s sustainability agenda and net-zero by 2050 target.

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The technology has the potential to help overcome the climate-related difficulties in the region – including extreme heat, sandstorms, wind, and water evaporation – as 5G is becoming more reliable, even in demanding circumstances. 

The MoU was signed following tests in Rutland Water, UK, in February 2024, when millimeter Wave (mmWave) signals were successfully propagated over water. Further testing will be undertaken later this year to see if the technology is a match for the Arabian Gulf’s harsh climate.

If successful, the 5G mobile Integrated Access and Backhaul (mIAB) network tests will mark a revolution in mIAB deployment over the sea, as the signal is expected to reach a distance far greater than the 1 km range, which was previously considered to be the highest one.

“By extending high speed connectivity to our remote and harsh offshore sites through 5G mesh technology, we aim to accelerate our plans to deploy advanced use cases under the corporate digital transformation vision. This is expected to help us further optimize our operations and improve the work environment for our operators,” said Nabil Al-Nuaim, Sr. VP Digital & Information Technology at Aramco.

Inmarsat Maritime President, Ben Palmer, and Aramco Sr. VP Digital & Information Technology, Nabil Al-Nuaim, shake hands on the MoU to trial a 5G mesh network; Courtesy of Inmarsat Maritime

The 5G mesh network could enable Aramco to conduct more remote operations, including intelligent maintenance, monitoring, and metering with IoT sensors. Furthermore, the opportunity to use high technology, for example in assisted operations for staff equipped with augmented reality headsets and novel safety and security features, could be extended, and there is a possibility of saving energy and reducing costs.

Al-Nuaim pointed out: “Our collaboration with Viasat to run the first maritime trial in the world for 5G mesh technology is a testament to our commitment to develop and deploy advanced technologies. Working with technology leaders and capitalizing on our operational experience in the field are key components for successful technology developments.” 

As Inmarsat Maritime is making strides in maritime digitalization, more than 14,000 vessels worldwide are equipped with its bonded network solution. The company’s advanced ground infrastructure has cybersecurity and data protection mechanisms, and satellite coverage is available to ships involved in offshore operations.

In this regard, Inmarsat Maritime President Ben Palmer highlighted: “Our technologies provide the ingredients for a truly bespoke solution, and our exciting new partnership with Aramco is the latest example of this. This new 5G mesh technology will be a significant step in helping Aramco maximize site efficiency, improve sustainability, provide a better experience for crew and protect the business from cyber-attacks.

“By combining many proven technologies into one integrated ecosystem, our bonded network is a single solution that can meet all customer demands – no matter how challenging the environment.”