A new era of digital underwater communications

An Ocean Explorer AUV being recovered from the NATO Research Vessel Alliance during a sea trial – photo: www.nato.int©

Satellites and mobile phones, built to international standards, help the world get connected. But the communications technology used on land does not work well underwater. With water covering over 70% of the earth’s surface, NATO has sponsored research into establishing the first ever digital underwater communications standard.

Imagine a scuba diver approaching the surface, being made aware of nearby boating activity; or a submarine communicating with a land-based command post; or an underwater robot sending a warning to an oil rig after a leak is detected – the possible applications of underwater communications are many. For example, they could be used in many areas: for harbour protection, maritime surveillance, mine detection, surveying offshore wind farms and pipelines, or even underwater archaeology.

A network of marine robots – photo: www.nato.int©

The NATO Science and Technology Organization’s Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) has developed a standard for underwater acoustic communications called JANUS, which has been recognised as a NATO standard by all NATO Allies since 24 March 2017. This marks the first time that a digital underwater communication protocol has been acknowledged at international level and opens the way to develop many exciting underwater communication applications, it has been reported. To this effect NATO issued a communiqué on 27 April.