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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

IBEX Report: Marine Electronics and NMEA 2000

Well, the market is now starting to see the new NMEA 2000 electronics. Note that NMEA 2000 is the new protocol that succeeds NMEA 183. Now, anyone who has tried to integrate more than two NMEA 183 units knows how much a hassle it is. NMEA 2000 is designed to address this. Whereas 183 is simply a "serial" protocol, requiring point-to-point wiring between devices, 2000 is a "single cable" protocol. If you know anything about the early days of computer networking, you will see some resemblance of the new protocol to the old "IBM Token Ring" network protocol. The primary computer network protcol these days is Ethernet. And some manufacturers like Furuno have already built in Ethernet to some of their lines. Hardware and Software Layer NMEA 2000 defines both the software and hardware specifications. These are two entirely separate specifications. The hardware specification sets the requirements for cable size, jacket durability and type of connectors. It is very robust and is designed to be reliable in harsh environments (like underwater!) and minimize RFI as much as possible. It turns out the cabling for NMEA 2000 is very expensive at this time. So much so that manufacturers like SIMRAD are developing their own hardware spec, but still run NMEA 2000 protocol. They call it SIMNET. Still in Infancy But NMEA 2000 is not a panacea for electronics integration. The message specification is only beginning to be filled out. If you want different brands of electronics to integrate data that is beyond the very basic, custom programming will have to be done. Makers, like SIMRAD have already done this WITHIN THEIR LINE of electronics. So you can get the full benefits if you stick to one brand. Otherwise you will have to wait, or hire an electronics integrator to do the programming. In anycase it is very exciting to see the new NMEA 2000 stuff hit the market. Things can only get better from here!