Is Satel­lite the Miss­ing Link in M2M Com­mu­ni­ca­tions?

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Although th­ese were is­sues with older satel­lite tech­nolo­gies, it is not longer true with to­day’s ser­vices for SCADA and re­mote mon­i­tor­ing ap­pli­ca­tions. To­day op­tions ex­ist which pro­vide re­li­able, cost ef­fec­tive satel­lite ser­vices and small, low power ter­mi­nals that are ex­tremely easy to in­stall. Not long ago, satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions car­ried the neg­a­tive stigma of be­ing ex­pen­sive, re­quir­ing power hun­gry large ter­mi­nals that are com­plex to in­te­grate with cus­tomer ap­pli­ca­tions and be­ing weather de­pen­dent, writes Ger­brand Schalk­wijk, Vice Pres­i­dent, En­ter­prise, En­ergy, In­marsat. For th­ese rea­sons, satel­lite ser­vices for Su­per­vi­sory Con­trol and Data Ac­qui­si­tion (SCADA) ap­pli­ca­tions, low data rate (LDR) so­lu­tions and other re­mote un­manned ma­chine to ma­chine (M2M) mon­i­tor­ing man­age­ment ser­vices, was only con­sid­ered as the last re­sort op­tion where ter­res­trial com­mu­ni­ca­tion so­lu­tions do not ex­ist. Global re­mote man­age­ment ap­pli­ca­tions such as mon­i­tor­ing oil and gas pipe­lines are lean­ing to­wards ex­pand­ing their use of satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions and even choos­ing satel­lite over tra­di­tional cel­lu­lar and ter­res­trial so­lu­tions as they re­duce the to­tal cost of own­er­ship, not just cheap air­time. This be­comes crit­i­cal as new en­vi­ron­men­tal and safety con­cerns and reg­u­la­tions re­quire more de­tailed data and higher lev­els of re­li­a­bil­ity than ever be­fore. For ex­am­ple, In Jan­uary, the U.S. De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion (DOT) au­thored and Pres­i­dent Obama signed the Pipe­line Safety, Reg­u­la­tory Cer­tainty, and Job Cre­ation Act fo­cus­ing U.S. pipe­line own­ers and op­er­a­tors to con­duct a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of their oil and gas pipe­lines to iden­tify ar­eas of high risk. Most oil and gas ex­plo­ration and op­er­a­tion takes place in ar­eas where ba­sic com­mu­ni­ca­tions do not ex­ist. The out­look is much bet­ter th­ese days with satel­lite tech­nol­ogy pro­vid­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the most ex­treme and iso­lated of lo­ca­tions. Com­mon in the U.S., satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions have been com­bined with li­censed and un­li­censed ra­dio for thor­ough, cost ef­fec­tive cov­er­age. Cel­lu­lar tech­nolo­gies have played a role as backup com­mu­ni­ca­tions to the weather-af­fected VSATs. Th­ese hy­brid ap­proaches take ad­van­tage of low­cost ra­dio and cel­lu­lar where it is fea­si­ble and avail­able but en­sures re­dun­dancy and re­li­a­bil­ity by com­ple­ment­ing it with highly re­li­able satel­lite ser­vices that work any­where a view to the sky is pos­si­ble. Pipe­line mon­i­tor­ing and con­trol is se­ri­ous busi­ness and re­li­a­bil­ity is an ab­so­lute re­quire­ment. Mon­i­tor­ing sites in dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ments, with ex­treme weather and ge­og­ra­phy, may dic­tate the use of nec­es­sary tech­nolo­gies such as heaters on an­ten­nas or the use of larger an­ten­nas to pro­vide re­li­able sig­nal. Th­ese so­lu­tions can be costly and re­quire tech­ni­cal re­sources to en­gi­neer and in­stall.


SCADA satel­lite ter­mi­nals are ex­tremely low power, sim­ple to op­er­ate, easy to main­tain and can be in­stalled with­out any spe­cial­ist en­gi­neer­ing skills. Thanks to new satel­lite prod­ucts and ser­vices, a spe­cialised ter­mi­nal de­signed specif­i­cally for th­ese SCADA ap­pli­ca­tions ~ com­bined with af­ford­able air­time ~ re­sult in a re­duced to­tal cost of own­er­ship. Th­ese types of so­lu­tions are nec­es­sary on the main mon­i­tor­ing points of pipe­lines, how­ever, there are many mon­i­tor­ing points which are less crit­i­cal and re­quire less fre­quent com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Th­ese more re­mote points aren’t likely to have power avail­able and don’t al­ways war­rant the large ex­pense of the en­gi­neer­ing, in­stal­la­tion and cost of the larger sites. One of the key ben­e­fits of th­ese new satel­lite M2M sys­tems is that the sys­tem is not im­pacted by re­quire­ment for lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture such as power. It does not need com­mer­cial power in­fra­struc­ture as it uses bat­tery/so­lar or wind power. Like other com­mu­ni­ca­tions op­tions, it can op­er­ate in a com­pletely au­tonomous way with re­mote mon­i­tor­ing so­lu­tions, sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing the num­ber of site vis­its and op­er­a­tional costs. Per­haps the big­gest ad­van­tage is that it works well any­where in the world where a view to the sky is avail­able. The new Hughes 9502 M2M is an ex­am­ple of a ter­mi­nal specif­i­cally de­signed for SCADA. It is a small sim­ple two­piece de­sign with less than three com­po­nents; out­door an­tenna, in­door mo­dem and an RF ca­ble to con­nect the two. It has a sim­ple pole mount de­sign, and the only skill to setup the ter­mi­nal is to roughly point it in the di­rec­tion of the satel­lite. Its standby op­er­at­ing power is less than 1W. This ter­mi­nal can be re­booted man­u­ally by re­motely send­ing an SMS mes­sage in­stead of a tech­ni­cian or au­to­mat­i­cally re­booted us­ing a trans­mis­sion watch­dog which re­boots the ter­mi­nal if no trans­mis­sion oc­curs within a spe­cific time pe­riod. New satel­lite ser­vices are in­te­grated with ter­mi­nals for low power op­er­a­tion and use low-cost, low data rate plans. SCADA so­lu­tions gen­er­ally op­er­ate in very harsh en­vi­ron­ments. Heavy rain, snow and even dust may de­grade com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices. To counter this, new ser­vices op­er­ate on the L-band and are proven to pro­vide 99.9% con­nec­tiv­ity even in harsh weather con­di­tions. The 9502 op­er­ates on the In­marsat-pro­vided Broad­band Global Area Net­work (BGAN). Un­like cel­lu­lar, which per­forms well be­low In­marsat's 99.9% avail­abil­ity, BGAN pro­vides steady, fast and re­li­able com­mu­ni­ca­tions each and ev­ery time a re­mote is con­tacted. Many times ra­dio tow­ers are not fea­si­ble to reach the many re­mote sites still re­quir­ing per­son­nel vis­its, but the BGAN M2M so­lu­tion will work any­where.

Satel­litewill be­comeeven moreper­ti­nent as­theoiland gasin­dus­try ex­pand­sit­suse ofM2Mbe­yond rigs,pipesand plat­form­sto newareas in­clud­ing track­ing ve­hi­cle­sand geo-fenc­ing.

With en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing movin­gupthe agenda,new tech­nolo­gieswill con­tin­ueto en­sure­satel­lite be­comes­more af­ford­able, re­li­able­and ef­fec­tiveto meet­these evolv­ingneeds.

Ger­brand Schalk­wijk, VP En­ter­prise, En­ergy, In­marsat

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