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.

Rugged de­sign

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.

Re­mote man­age­abil­ity

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.

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