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Most marine electronics networks today are based on the 21-year-old digital communications system known as NMEA 2000 (N2K for short). But now a new system known as OneNet stands poised to become the new standard for networking. What does this mean to you?
Developed by the National Marine Electronics Association (which also created N2K) and released in 2020, OneNet uses a high-speed Ethernet with far greater bandwidth. It can connect as many as 60 devices per network and streams data as much as 40,000 times faster than N2K. A single power-over-Ethernet switch energizes all devices on the network, eliminating the need to power each individually.
OneNet is designed to complement—not replace—N2K and its predecessor, NMEA 0183. Existing NMEA networks can feed into OneNet via special connectors and gateway devices. “These serve to translate between protocols, allowing 2000 and 0183 [to work] seamlessly in parallel with OneNet,” says Mark Oslund, director of standards for NMEA. This eliminates the need to replace existing devices. Two types of OneNet products are anticipated: a marinized device (such as a sensor of some type) providing a watertight physical connection to a network, and a software upgrade that can be installed in a multifunction display. The use of Ethernet in marine electronics is not new. Furuno, for example, introduced its proprietary Ethernet protocol known as NavNet in 2000. Other brands use different protocols. The advantage offered by OneNet is a uniform Ethernet language, but electronics companies seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach right now. But if universal adoption occurs, it could allow for cross-brand compatibility. For instance, if you have a Garmin MFD, you’re limited to a Garmin radar system. But with OneNet, a Garmin could conceivably be networked with another radar brand.
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Looking ahead, OneNet is designed to adapt to future technologies. Oslund points to the potential for streaming over-the-air data from outside sources. “Imagine being able to monitor in real time coastal radar networks or satellite images on your MFD,” he says. With OneNet, this is within the realm of possibility.
The incentive for electronics brands to adopt OneNet might come about sooner rather than later if governments require OneNet integration in order to bid for military or law-enforcement contracts. That would motivate many to switch and could be a major boon for boaters.