Benefits and challenges of LTE for Industrial IoT Applications
The future of critical communications for oil and gas applications
Industrial Internet of Things ( IoT) applications in the oil and gas industry require highly reliable, robust and high performing communications infrastructure that can maintain optimal performance and constant connectivity under severe conditions and in remote locations. Decision makers must harness viable, and future- proof industrial IoT solutions, that meet their current needs and protect investment, writes David Markland, senior product manager of AirLink Gateways for Sierra Wireless.
In the coming years, many 2G cellular networks will be decommissioned as spectrum gets reallocated to provide more advanced 4G LTE services— for example, in the United States AT& T has confirmed that it will decommission its 2G network at the end of 2016. Service providers must now look to alternative cellular technologies to ensure that their 2G infrastructure remains operational when these networks are shut off. LTE solutions are the intuitive migration path for industrial IoT applications using 2G, as they provide longevity and protect investment while broadband networks continue to evolve. The capacity inherent in LTE allows for added functionality in addition to existing applications like SCADA, distribution management, and metering. For example, industrial LTE IoT solutions can support video surveillance, which increases security and helps to identify problems faster, optimising infrastructure management for service providers. LTE was traditionally developed for high bandwidth applications such as consumer mobile broadband. While a wide variety of LTE consumer and enterprise grade devices have been available for several years, the selection of LTE industrial grade IoT equipment has been limited. Vendors have been migrating their product lines to LTE, but still today there are few solutions available that meet the needs of an industrial environment.
Critical features to consider
To fully harness the benefits of LTE for industrial IoT applications, and overcome the challenges faced by early adopters in the oil and gas industry, there are a number of equipment features decision makers in the oil and gas industry should consider when architecting their next- generation LTE system. Here are just a few of the many factors to consider when choosing a best- in- class industrial LTE cellular gateway to connect critical infrastructure.
Industrial oil and gas applications typically require equipment that can operate in remote locations exposed to harsh conditions. The equipment used in these environments needs to withstand extreme temperatures, humidity, shock, vibration and be able to operate without interruption for years at a time. For this reason, any viable industrial LTE equipment must have industrial- strength casing, and remain fully operational across an entire temperature range, whether it’s arctic cold or desert heat— such as - 30 to + 70 ° C— since some equipment delivers limited or reduced performance when temperatures extend beyond typical ratings. When operating in a hazardous environment, it’s essential to select equipment with appropriate ratings, such as Class I Div 2, to ensure the communications equipment cannot have adverse effects in the event of abnormal operating conditions. Industrial LTE equipment must also be capable of surviving brownouts and voltage spikes, for example from - 600 VDC to 200 VDC, as machines with internal combustion engines and alternators often power industrial infrastructure, and can subject it to large voltage variations.
Ultra- low power consumption
Because industrial infrastructure is commonly located in places that have no connectivity to either fixed line communications or power sources, industrial LTE equipment that can operate via lowpowered solar panels provide an optimal wireless alternative. In the oil & gas industry, from drill bit to burner tip, there are many locations that rely on solar power, such as SCADA systems, pipeline and well monitoring and metering in gas distribution. For existing infrastructure where solar panels are already in use, low power consuming LTE equipment such as an industrial gateway, with an idle power consumption of under 1 watt, that can work within the capacity of the existing panels is ideal, avoiding the need to upgrade at costs that can run into thousands of dollars. This is particularly relevant where customers are upgrading from 2G to 4G, and a 4G upgrade path that can operate within the capacity of the existing panels that were sized for 2G equipment is essential. For new installations, the low power consumption means smaller, more cost- effective solar panels.
Industrial oil and gas applications can involve hundreds or thousands of devices operating over a very large geographical area. It’s important to be able to manage all these devices from a single service that supports a full range of capabilities. Service providers will want to perform remote device monitoring, remote firmware upgrades, and make bulk changes to configurations, even years after the initial deployment. Look for an industrial LTE equipment with remote management and monitoring capabilities to improve efficiency, operating costs and maintenance schedules
As LTE networks continue to evolve, network coverage will vary among MNOs and in geographically dispersed locations. Look for industrial grade LTE equipment that is compatible with multiple network operators ( particularly in North America where traditionally each carrier required specific hardware) as there are now solutions available that can automatically adapt to the carrier in use. And ensure that the industrial LTE equipment is compatible with legacy networks, such as 2G and 3G, so that it can operate in areas where LTE networks are evolving. LTE networks are evolving.