When to re­fine your re­mote net­work

Over­com­ing the chal­lenges headed for net­works serv­ing harsh en­vi­ron­ments

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“Band­width re­quire­ments will dou­ble be­tween now and 2020,” he com­mented “with both crew wel­fare and op­er­a­tional is­sues driv­ing that in­crease.”

ROil & gas com­pa­nies are con­tin­u­ally chal­lenged to im­prove their op­er­a­tional and safety per­for­mance while at the same time cut­ting costs. But al­though the in­dus­try op­er­ates in some of the most ex­treme and re­mote en­vi­ron­ments, it’s no back­wa­ter when it comes to adopt­ing new tech­nolo­gies, re­ports Te­les­pe­ri­ence’s Teresa Cot­tam. emote net­works, in par­tic­u­lar, are be­ing trans­formed by in­creas­ing use of sen­sors which are utilised to mon­i­tor fa­cil­i­ties that are spread out over large dis­tances. As sen­sors be­come cheaper, far more are be­ing de­ployed. Berg In­sight, for ex­am­ple, fore­casts that the num­ber of M2M con­nected de­vices in the oil & gas in­dus­try will triple from 423,000 in 2013, to 1.12 mil­lion by 2018. Firms have been us­ing re­mote sen­sors for ba­sics such as mon­i­tor­ing tem­per­a­ture, flow rate or vis­cos­ity for some time, but in­creas­ingly they’re also us­ing them for more de­mand­ing ap­pli­ca­tions rang­ing from more re­al­time mon­i­tor­ing, to au­to­matic or­der­ing of con­sum­ables such as fuel, to track­ing equip­ment and even work­ers.

Depen­dency driv­ers

As busi­ness and op­er­a­tional per­for­mance be­comes more de­pen­dent on tech­nol­ogy, the tech­nol­ogy it­self is be­com­ing more de­pen­dent upon the net­work to be ef­fec­tive. “To­day, tech­nol­ogy ad­vance­ment is one of the big­gest driv­ers in de­cid­ing whether a net­work up­grade is needed,” RigNet’s Brooks Al­bery told us. “Ba­sic net­work ca­pa­bil­i­ties and qual­ity, along with the eco­nomic cross- over points that drive choices be­tween net­work tech­nolo­gies, are chang­ing at a pace where close mon­i­tor­ing of a cus­tomer’s net­work and net­work choices are im­per­a­tive.” In­marsat’s Ger­brand Schalk­wijk agreed, not­ing that new tech­nol­ogy is driv­ing the de­mand for more band­width which, in turn, drives the re­quire­ment for net­work im­prove­ment. “Band­width re­quire­ments will dou­ble be­tween now and 2020,” he com­mented “with both crew wel­fare and op­er­a­tional is­sues driv­ing that in­crease.” Schalk­wijk noted that while firms want to track more and more things, they also want to bring the re­sult­ing data back to cen­tral lo­ca­tions. “This trend is not just driven by op­er­a­tional rea­son­ing but also be­cause firms now want to keep spe­cial­ists on­shore out of harm’s way,” added In­marsat’s Mike Korotin­sky. “These spe­cial­ists are highly valu­able, and com­pa­nies also have to en­sure they make best use of their time.” As oil & gas com­pa­nies strug­gle with re­cruit­ment, M2M ap­pli­ca­tions are plug­ging the hole, re­motely mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment to re­duce the num­ber of site vis­its re­quired and bridging the knowl­edge gaps that are open­ing up as older work­ers re­tire and take man­ual ex­per­tise with them. But what im­pli­ca­tions does all of this have for the re­mote net­work? What tech­nolo­gies will de­liver the kind of per­for­mance re­quired? Schalk­wijk said that com­pa­nies ob­vi­ously need to fo­cus on per­for­mance but also on fac­tors such as re­li­a­bil­ity, se­cu­rity, mo­bil­ity, glob­al­ity and scal­a­bil­ity. “The global and mo­bile as­pects can eas­ily be over­looked but are key,” he said. “Global scale on the sup­ply side is im­por­tant, be­cause it means wher­ever a com­pany op­er­ates in the world they can use the same equip­ment, con­fig­u­ra­tions and set­tings, and of­fer the same user ex­pe­ri­ence”. He noted that if a rig or other equip­ment is moved or re- used in an­other re­gion, global so­lu­tions and mo­bil­ity mean that ev­ery­thing is por­ta­ble and can be up and run­ning again quickly.

Se­lect­ing the right mix

Schalk­wijk doesn’t think there is nec­es­sar­ily a univer­sal best mix of tech­nolo­gies, but rather that the right mix de­pends on the en­vi­ron­ment and the needs of the com­pany. “The ex­act tech­nol­ogy choice de­pends on the cir­cum­stances,” he said; “so­lu­tions are of­ten be­spoke, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice providers usu­ally need

to com­bine so­lu­tions and in­fra­struc­ture to get the level of re­li­a­bil­ity and SLAs re­quired.” Tim Pass­ing­ham, SVP of en­ter­prise and govern­ment busi­ness for EMEA at Level 3

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, com­mented that while ter­res­trial fi­bre is in­creas­ingly avail­able in far more re­mote lo­ca­tions than has tra­di­tion­ally been pos­si­ble, a hy­brid ap­proach is the way for­ward: "Level 3 has been pro­vid­ing ter­res­trial fi­bre net­works to busi­nesses op­er­at­ing in re­mote places for years and has seen enor­mous growth in de­mand for band­width from the oil and gas in­dus­try. A blend of satellite and fi­bre com­mu­ni­ca­tions is es­sen­tial. Of­ten satellite will be used to sup­port the ini­tial ex­plo­ration of new re­sources, as the oil and gas com­pa­nies ex­plore more lo­ca­tions. But fi­bre net­works of­fer the se­cu­rity and scal­able in­fra­struc­ture needed when in­vest­ing heav­ily in spe­cific lo­ca­tions long- term. “Fi­bre bet­ter en­ables the dig­i­tal oil­field and re­mote op­er­a­tions but, whilst in­creas­ingly avail­able in more re­mote lo­ca­tions, it ob­vi­ously isn’t avail­able everywhere, so oil and gas com­pa­nies need part­ners like Level 3 that can of­fer both ser­vices.”

“Tech­nol­ogy is rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the busi­ness but firms need to keep busi­ness re­al­i­ties in mind.”

RigNet’s Al­bery agreed that hy­brid net­work so­lu­tions are be­gin­ning to dom­i­nate cus­tomer choices. “They al­low com­pa­nies to at­tain su­pe­rior user ex­pe­ri­ence by com­bin­ing net­work tech­nolo­gies in ways that max­i­mize the ben­e­fits of the un­der­ly­ing tech­nolo­gies,” he said. “As an ex­am­ple, user net­works com­bin­ing high through- put satel­lites for band­width-in­ten­sive crew wel­fare ap­pli­ca­tions, Kuband VSAT for pri­mary re­mote voice and data, and L- band VSAT for the crit­i­cal ser­vice avail­abil­ity, and for comms on the move, make the best use of all three net­work tech­nol­ogy choices.” Pass­ing­ham ex­plained how in late 2013 Level 3 de­liv­ered ter­res­trial ser­vices over fi­bre to a sub­stan­tial mine in Zam­bia for a large Cana­dian min­ing com­pany First

Quan­tum Min­er­als ( FQML). The com­pany op­er­ates in re­mote lo­ca­tions around the world, where re­li­able com­mu­ni­ca­tions are ei­ther limited or non- ex­is­tent. FQML, a long- term cus­tomer of Level 3, wanted to con­sol­i­date a num­ber of its le­gacy communication providers glob­ally, link­ing of­fices and data cen­tres in Europe, North Amer­ica and Canada to op­er­a­tions in re­motes parts of Fin­land and Aus­tralia. Level 3 also pro­vided FQML with satellite com­mu­ni­ca­tions for ex­plor­ing re­sources in Africa. “The satellite is swapped for fi­bre if a long- term in­vest­ment is made in a cer­tain lo­ca­tion” said Pass­ing­ham. “This marks a sig­nif­i­cant change in the way ex­trac­tive in­dus­tries can re­ceive con­nec­tiv­ity, as prior to this busi­nesses in re­mote ar­eas were re­liant on satellite links alone.”

The man­aged ser­vice

In con­trast, one of RigNet’s clients is a ma­jor global off­shore drilling con­trac­tor, which uses a RigNet fully man­aged so­lu­tion for its re­mote com­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vices at its ul­tra- deep­wa­ter semisub­mersible drilling rig in the Bar­ents Sea. This com­prises an end- to- end IP net­work so­lu­tion us­ing VSAT tech­nol­ogy for last­mile con­nec­tiv­ity, which in­cludes VoIP, en­ter­prise data and in­ter­net ac­cess ser­vices sup­ported by 24/ 7 net­work mon­i­tor­ing and sup­port, with back­haul to the com­pany's of­fices via MPLS con­nec­tion. Us­ing a man­aged so­lu­tion, said Avery, is use­ful to en­sure that the rig de­rives greater value from net­work ser­vices through in­creased stan­dard­iza­tion and in­no­va­tion. “There are, un­doubt­edly, many tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions avail­able, but firms need to con­sider if their cho­sen so­lu­tions are truly re­li­able and global, and whether their sup­plier can sup­port their needs through­out the end- to- end life­cy­cle of the field,” said Schalk­wijk. “Tech­nol­ogy is rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the busi­ness but firms need to keep busi­ness re­al­i­ties in mind. They don’t want to pay dou­ble as the data dou­bles. So af­ford­abil­ity is also a key con­sid­er­a­tion.”

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