The Future of Onboard Networking

NMEA’s new OneNet networking protocol expands and speeds data delivery.
Boater at the helm
Courtesy Boston Whaler OneNet stands poised to become the new standard for networking.

OneNet has loomed on the horizon for more than a decade, threatening to eclipse the long-standard NMEA 2000 network—the marine electronics equivalent to a party line that allows all kinds of systems to communicate. Now, finally, OneNet is poised to become the next-generation network. The National Marine Electronics Association, which counts all the major marine electronics manufacturers and retailers among its members, has developed and refined OneNet to its current state. But what will it do for boaters?

What is OneNet?

OneNet uses Ethernet—a type of high-speed LAN connection system—to create a local network between devices, according to Mark Oslund, director of standards for the NMEA. OneNet also requires specific software integration within devices. OneNet enables the development of sensors and digital gateways using designated NMEA connectors, just as NMEA 2000 did. Version 1.0 of OneNet was released in 2020 and is now available for licensing and purchase by marine electronics companies, although no OneNet devices are yet commercially available.

Speed and Power

OneNet’s communication channels offer far greater bandwidth than NMEA 2000. This enables it to connect with more devices—as many as 60 per network—and carry large data payloads, such as radar, video and sonar data streams. OneNet is also fast—as much as 40,000 times faster than NMEA 2000, according to the NMEA. In addition, with OneNet, a single power-over-Ethernet switch energizes all devices on the network, eliminating the need to power each unit individually, as is necessary with other NMEA networks.

Network Integration

OneNet is designed to complement and expand—not replace—NMEA 2000 and its predecessor, NMEA 0183. Like creeks feeding into the main river, existing NMEA networks can feed into OneNet via specially designed connectors and gateway devices. “These serve to translate between protocols, allowing 2000 and 0183 seamlessly in parallel with OneNet,” Oslund says. This reduces network upgrade costs and eliminates the need to replace existing devices. ¶ Boaters might see two types of new products available when choosing OneNet: a marinized device providing a watertight physical connection to a network (such as a sensor of some type) or a purpose-built software application that can be installed in a multifunction display or PC, according to Oslund. Some existing MFDs that support Ethernet might be able to upgrade via a software update to support OneNet.

Promoting Standardization

Using Ethernet systems with greater bandwidth than NMEA 2000 to integrate marine electronics is not new. Major marine electronics have used Ethernet protocols for radar and other data for years. Furuno, for example, introduced its NavNet system Ethernet protocol in 2000. But each brand is different. OneNet standardizes the language, software and connectors.

Cross-Brand Compatibility

OneNet promises the benefit of enhancing cross-brand compatibility of marine electronics. For instance, if you currently have a Garmin MFD, you are limited to using a Garmin radar system. That’s not a bad thing, but perhaps you want to match a Garmin MFD with a Furuno radar. In this example, provided that Garmin and Furuno both adopt the OneNet protocol (which has not yet occurred), you would be able to network devices from both brands.

Future Flexibility

OneNet also promises the ability to adapt to technologies that might emerge in years to come. “Imagine being able to stream and monitor coastal radar networks or satellite images in real time on your MFD,” Oslund says. “These kinds of opportunities will be possible thanks to OneNet.”

Industry Acceptance

“Many manufacturers have come up with their own proprietary schemes because OneNet took so long,” says Eric Kunz, senior product manager for Furuno USA. “From a manufacturer’s point of view, there’s not much motivation to change right now.” Such a move could hurt a brand’s competitive position, Kunz points out. “If we only sell a radar and not a matching MFD, we lose sales.” At the same time, he says that OneNet might be forced on manufacturers in order to bid for military or law-enforcement contracts. Kunz says: “That would motivate many to switch to OneNet.”

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