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Advanced wireless network equipment increases production while maintaining security and cutting infrastructure costs.
The digital oil field has many disparate systems that need to be connected to the network, including SCADA systems, remote terminal units, video surveillance cameras, and Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as wellheads, drilling rigs, and semimobile units. This same wireless infrastructure also must include a distinct network for person-to-person communication across the entire location.
A virtual fiber wireless network can greatly enhance efficiency and reduce costs by enabling remote collection of critical operating data. Real-time optimization changes also improve personnel safety and reduce the possibility of catastrophic accidents.
Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell and the premier E&P company in the Sultanate of Oman, is currently blanketing a 72,520-sq-km (28,000-sq-mile) oil field with a multipurpose broadband wireless network.
The system was constructed to meet the dual needs of high speed and low latency requirements. The operator initially began building its network using fiber-optic cables. Though capable of prodigious two-way bandwidth and low latency, the physical nature of the fiber, the cost of trenching the network, and the time it took to deploy was unrealistic for a large-scale oil extraction operation. Not only did PDO quickly recognize that wireless alone could offer the ruggedness, flexibility, security, and performance to enable rapid deployment
of a digital network across an expansive asset, but it also was the only solution that could address the use of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications with moveable drilling rigs.
Connectivity and controls capabilities
Although PDO relies upon multiple systems integrators to implement various applications throughout its oil field – including wellhead automation, operational video surveillance, smart drilling, asset tracking via radio frequency identification (RFID), and energy management – it mandated a single vendor to supply its wireless communications infrastructure.
The operator successfully completed the first phase of this digital solution using the Redline Communications Virtual Fiber wireless networking equipment to establish high-speed, bi-directional communication links between PDO's corporate layer and the field layers in its oil and gas fields.
Completed under budget and ahead of schedule, this first phase consisted of connecting more than 2,000 of the 5,000 oil wells to a centralized location from which they are remotely monitored and managed, providing real-time M2M communication and control. The first phase also was completed at a significantly lower cost than would have been possible with fiber.
As hoped, the network has significantly enhanced the field's communications and control capabilities, with ruggedized wireless technology ensuring not only the highest levels of data throughput, range, low latency, and reliability but also providing consistent, fieldwide communications coverage in a demanding application.
Low-latency, high-data throughput
A digital communications and control network must have broadband data throughput together with both long range and low latency. However, most wireless technologies cannot deliver all three. Wi-Fi, for example, focuses on data throughput at the expense of range, while telecom commercial-grade technologies deliver long range but lower throughput. Moreover, commercial-grade networks based on WiMAX and LTE technologies have limited throughput on the uplink path since they were designed to communicate to other devices and not to network nodes.
The advanced radio technology of Redline's solutions, including multiple-in, multiple-out, enables a wireless network with high throughput in both downlink and uplink paths without sacrificing range.
This combination of long-range and high bi-directional capacity has helped PDO reduce the cost of implementing its digital oil field. Specifically, this combination has allowed the company to reduce the number of antenna towers and masts at remote sites, which account for 40% to 60% of the infrastructure cost in building a wireless digital oilfield network. Because every 50% increase in radio range yields a 125% increase in network coverage, longer-range radios significantly reduce infrastructure costs by minimizing the number of towers and masts required. Radios operating in point-to-multipoint configurations also allow many units to communicate over long distances to a smaller number of base stations, further reducing costs.
Low-latency and high-data throughput were key for PDO's successful implementation, enabling it to control a vast array of machines, equipment, devices, sensors, and monitors, each with very different data protocols and different data rates and latency specifications.
Network segmentation, security
PDO also is segmenting single digital oilfield communications and control IP network structure into separate distinct networks to meet the needs of different groups within its organization. This segmentation limits access to critical data only to those who actually need it. As a result, the network can support as many secure virtual LANs (VLANs) as there are working groups.
These VLANs support a variety of groups and applications, including a process control network to monitor and control wellheads, drilling rigs, and hydrocarbon collection systems; an operations network that runs surveillance video; RFID tags for inventory and to monitor key performance indicators;
a collaboration network for voice and video conference traffic for access to shared data servers; and an emergency network that includes speaker phone hotlines, immediate shut-off valves, and other fire and safety systems. Running all these VLANs on a single network reduced the cost of building the network infrastructure by half.
Additionally, almost every machine in the oil field is supported from a manufacturer's server for service and software upgrades. Network access to the machines is essential for these update and support services, requiring connectivity over a secure VLAN to protect a vendor's intellectual property. Enabling this connectivity via a VLAN speeds the upgrade process and saves up to two-thirds of the cost on a service contract.
Lessons for the industry
PDO's implementation of a virtual fiber wireless network validates wireless broadband as a key ingredient to the successful deployment and operation of a digital oilfield solution. Digital oil fields already have been proven to increase hydrocarbon extraction from existing fields. Wireless connectivity that has the combination of range, bi-directional speed, and low latency can substantially lower networking costs and increase deployment speed.