Let’s Talk

NMEA’S new ONENET is poised to vastly up­grade on­board net­works — and ac­cess to data and de­vices — out on the wa­ter.

Cruising World - - Contents - Elec­tron­ics by David Sch­midt

Onenet, a new marine net­work­ing pro­to­col, will bring high band­width to the high seas.

Ashore, our new best friends Alexa and Siri put us in touch with the in­ter­net of things, the net­worked de­vices all around us. Soon the day will come when we can take them sailing too, and tap into an “ocean of things” — not to men­tion the boat­load of de­vices we use un­der­way for com­fort, nav­i­ga­tion and en­ter­tain­ment.

Sailors tend to get branded as con­ser­va­tive types, given the lev­els of risk and manda­tory self-suf­fi­ciency that we reg­u­larly en­gage when we slip our moor­ing lines, but the re­al­ity is far dif­fer­ent, es­pe­cially when it comes to net­worked in­stru­men­ta­tion. Since the days of the ear­li­est nav­i­ga­tors, mariners have sought ways to mea­sure and track vari­ables such as wind speed and di­rec­tion; speed over the ground and through the wa­ter; heel an­gle; and po­si­tion in­for­ma­tion. In the early stages of elec­tronic nav­i­ga­tion, much of that in­for­ma­tion was col­lected and dis­played on dis­crete in­stru­men­ta­tion. But today’s sailors ben­e­fit from hav­ing all of this data ag­gre­gated in one place, which en­ables in­ter­op­er­abil­ity, such as al­low­ing the radar to use net­worked GPS in­for­ma­tion. And now, we’re on the verge of be­ing able to do a whole lot more, thanks to a new net­work pro­to­col about to be in­tro­duced by the Na­tional Marine Elec­tron­ics As­so­ci­a­tion (nmea.org): Onenet.

To date, sailors and equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers have linked com­pat­i­ble de­vices us­ing NMEA 0183 and, more re­cently, NMEA 2000 data back­bones. But these are rel­a­tively low-band­width sys­tems that ser­vice a lim­ited num­ber of net­worked de­vices. This has worked well in a closed-loop, off-the-grid en­vi­ron­ment, such as a sail­boat op­er­at­ing off­shore with­out con­nec­tiv­ity. But speed, band­width and net­work-se­cu­rity de­mands change dra­mat­i­cally when raw radar and sonar data feeds are be­ing shared with net­worked wire­less de­vices.

While NMEA’S new and not-yet-re­leased Onenet pro­to­col won’t re­place your ves­sel’s NMEA 0183 or The nav sta­tion aboard the Dongfeng Volvo Ocean Race boat stretches net­work ca­pa­bil­i­ties to the limit. NMEA 2000 net­work when it comes to shar­ing safe­ty­crit­i­cal real-time nav­i­ga­tion data, Onenet will use In­ter­net Pro­to­col ver­sion 6 (IPV6) ar­chi­tec­ture to de­liver faster data-trans­fer speeds, sup­port high-band­width ap­pli­ca­tions and pro­vide sig­nif­i­cantly higher lev­els of net­work se­cu­rity, while also mak­ing it eas­ier and faster to add new de­vices and in­stru­men­ta­tion to a net­work. More­over, Onenet is de­signed to aug­ment NMEA 2000 with seam­less con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween the two net­works.

Some his­tory: Onenet be­gan in 2010, when a group of marine brands asked NMEA to cre­ate a stan­dard­ized pro­to­col for trans­mit­ting and re­ceiv­ing NMEA 2000 mes­sages over an Eth­er­net net­work. While in­di­vid­ual brands have used Eth­er­net ca­bles to con­nect, say, their radars and chart plot­ters,

this was im­ple­mented in a pro­pri­etary man­ner that didn’t al­low for much in­ter­op­er­abil­ity with de­vices from other man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Now, eight-plus years later, NMEA is poised to re­lease its new Onenet stan­dard for shar­ing NMEA net­work mes­sages (NMEA 2000 and Onenet pro­to­cols use a com­mon NMEA net­work-mes­sage data­base) via Eth­er­net us­ing IPV6. Data will be shared in a non­pro­pri­etary com­mon for­mat that’s de­signed to en­able in­ter­op­er­abil­ity and pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant amounts of built-in fu­ture-proof­ing.

Steve Spitzer, NMEA’S di­rec­tor of stan­dards, says Onenet’s pri­mary ob­jec­tive is to pro­vide sig­nif­i­cantly higher lev­els of net­work se­cu­rity, while also sim­pli­fy­ing the process of find­ing and adding new de­vices to the net­work. Here it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that the kind of se­cu­rity in­volved isn’t de­signed to de­ter Rus­sian hack­ers from pil­fer­ing the fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion that you might be trans­mit­ting over your iphone, but rather bigger-pic­ture pro­tec­tions. “It’s not per­sonal data but [the boat’s] ac­tual nav­i­ga­tion and op­er­a­tions that could be hacked,” Spitzer says. “When pub­lished, Onenet will have a ro­bust se­cu­rity sys­tem, and it will be able to dis­cover new de­vices, just like at home.” (In lay­man’s terms, imag­ine pair­ing your smart­phone with a Blue­tooth-en­abled speaker.)

“I can’t overem­pha­size Onenet’s se­cu­rity,” Spitzer says. An owner could se­cure a Onenet net­work so only Nmea-cer­ti­fied in­stru­ments could have ac­cess, or the net­work could be opened to al­low a broader range of de­vices. In all cases, the net­work’s owner will have ul­ti­mate veto power over any de­vice or soft­ware that at­tempts to ac­cess the net­work and its in­ter­con­nected sys­tems and in­stru­men­ta­tion.

“For com­mod­ity de­vices such as a smart­phone or tablet, we don’t ex­pect the ipad to be Onenet-cer­ti­fied, but the ap­pli­ca­tion that it’s run­ning needs to be cer­ti­fied,” Spitzer says.

Ad­di­tion­ally, when se­cure op­er­a­tion is en­abled, each net­worked de­vice en­crypts its out­go­ing mes­sages be­fore shar­ing them with the Onenet net­work. Once re­ceived, the other net­worked de­vices au­then­ti­cate the mes­sage be­fore un­en­crypt­ing and us­ing the data.

Onenet’s phys­i­cal data back­bone sup­plies a max­i­mum of 25.5 watts of power to all plugged-in in­stru­ments, through power over Eth­er­net. This means that seg­ments of a sin­gle cable (along with Onenet switches) can both power a de­vice and let it com­mu­ni­cate with the net­work. And it’s fast. Onenet de­liv­ers 5G data trans­fer speeds of 100 megabits per sec­ond to 10 gi­ga­bits per sec­ond. By com­par­i­son, the data trans­fer on an NMEA 2000 net­work is 250 kilo­bits per sec­ond. Also, Onenet will sup­port a vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited num­ber of de­vices, while NMEA 2000 net­works are Onenet will cre­ate a pow­er­ful Eth­er­net back­bone for shar­ing data among the many de­vices aboard a sail­boat, in­clud­ing high-band­width satel­lite and video feeds. lim­ited to 52 phys­i­cal de­vices.

Spitzer says it was the de­ci­sion made in 2013, at the be­hest of Cisco Sys­tems, to adopt the IPV6 ar­chi­tec­ture, rather than the older, more lim­ited IPV4, that did the most to help fu­ture-proof Onenet. “There are no more IPV4 ad­dresses avail­able for North Amer­ica,” Spitzer says. “Does a boat need end­less IP ad­dresses? No. But it’s the con­nec­tiv­ity that we wanted,” he says, re­fer­ring to a user’s abil­ity to in­ter­act with the now-ubiq­ui­tous in­ter­net of things via an on­board net­work.

“A cruiser could turn the lights on and off at his home while he’s in Bar­ba­dos on his boat, and he could look at his at-home se­cu­rity cam­eras, all through his boat’s satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem,”

Spitzer says, ex­plain­ing the flex­i­bil­ity that IPV6 ar­chi­tec­ture pro­vides. Also, Onenet de­vices might even­tu­ally be in­volved with pre­dic­tive­main­te­nance an­a­lyt­ics that could help to lower over­all costs to the sail­boat owner.

The IPV6 pro­to­cols also al­low for sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved au­to­matic net­work­con­fig­u­ra­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties and mul­ti­cast rout­ing (data can be si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­liv­ered to mul­ti­ple net­worked de­vices or in­stru­ments) com­pared to IPV4, as well as the abil­ity to ac­cess cloud-based data. Pro­vided that the ves­sel has in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity, Onenet users will even­tu­ally be able to ac­cess real-time data from the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency’s Ocean of Things project. The project will de­ploy thou­sands of net­worked low-cost floats that will use com­mer­cially avail­able, off-the-shelf sen­sors to col­lect en­vi­ron­men­tal data (wave or wind in­for­ma­tion) and form a dis­trib­uted sen­sor net­work.

“Ocean of Things has much more po­ten­tial for mariners than the in­ter­net of things,” Spitzer says. “And the only way to ac­cess this in­for­ma­tion is via IPV6, which is Onenet.”

Har­ness­ing this data will even­tu­ally al­low for real-time weather rout­ing, en­abling sailors to en­joy faster, more com­fort­able pas­sages while also buy­ing ad­di­tional safety mar­gins for dodg­ing nasty weather.

While a new data back­bone that has the abil­ity to net­work with wired and wire­less de­vices likely isn’t as ex­cit­ing to most cruis­ers as a new suite of sails, it pro­vides sig­nif­i­cant real-world ben­e­fits, rang­ing from as­sur­ances that your nav sys­tem won’t be hi­jacked or spoofed to en­abling users to send video over the net­work. While this was in­cor­po­rated more with an eye to­ward video-mon­i­tor­ing of the en­gine rooms of large com­mer­cial ships, it also ben­e­fits sailors who use video or ther­mal-imag­ing cam­eras.

An­other im­por­tant ben­e­fit to end-users is that Onenet was de­signed to be scal­able as newer tech­nolo­gies and Eth­er­net-based ap­pli­ca­tions evolve. For ex­am­ple, Onenet al­ready sup­ports con­tem­po­rary in­ter­net ar­chi­tec­ture, and it was de­signed to evolve as fiber-op­tic ca­bles and next-gen­er­a­tion con­nec­tors even­tu­ally step aboard both new builds and re­fits. Onenet’s adop­tion will start with peo­ple who want the lat­est and great­est, Spitzer says. “I sus­pect the retrofit mar­ket will be the first mar­ket, then new builds.”

To in­stall Onenet, a boat owner will first need Eth­er­net switches that sup­port the One Net net­work ser­vices and Onenet-cer­ti­fied de­vices. Spitzer says NMEA is hop­ing to pub­lish the Onenet pro­to­col some­time be­tween Oc­to­ber and late De­cem­ber 2018. “There are only mi­nor is­sues left, noth­ing ma­jor,” Spitzer says. “We’re do­ing our fi­nal due dili­gence and home­work, and we’re try­ing to find short­com­ings in the beta pro­gram’s live in­ter­op­er­abil­ity test­ing, which has been two years in the mak­ing.” As for when man­u­fac­tur­ers will start build­ing Onenet-com­pat­i­ble equip­ment, Spitzer says that he would be pleas­antly sur­prised to see prod­ucts in a year and a half or two years.

As of this writ­ing, the NMEA Onenet com­mit­tee in­cludes more than 65 marine-elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers and the U.S. Coast Guard. The right peo­ple are col­lab­o­rat­ing on cre­at­ing the pro­to­col. How­ever, early adopters should ex­pect some ini­tial teething pains. “Even when Onenet is pub­lished, there will be some de­vel­op­ment cy­cle,” Spitzer says. Still, he adds, it might be faster than the adop­tion of NMEA 2000, which took more than 15 years, be­cause Eth­er­net is more ubiq­ui­tous. “I hope there are a lot of man­u­fac­tur­ers who are learn­ing to de­ploy IPV6,” he says.

David Sch­midt is CW’S elec­tron­ics editor.

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