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Industries such as oil and gas that demand reliability and good coverage in remote regions are fast adopting mobile technologies

When it comes to installing telecommunications networks, the energy supply and distribution sector can be one of the most demanding clients.

Communication between command centres and engineers is vital, not only to safety but also to the maintenance of a network that supplies fuel and power to millions, and failures cannot be tolerated. No wonder then, these industries have been keen to adopt new mobile technologies, particularly those that do not rely on sharing masts and other infrastructure with other users and can be deployed reliably in remote regions.

To ensure their network is running 24/7, Far East energy company engineers are now turning to alternative mobile networks that do not rely on civilian masts to communicate.

EADS Defence and Security was recently chosen by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) to install a nationwide radio communications network. It will use PMR — professional mobile radio — technology, which is now used by public safety bodies such as the police and is being expanded into industry.

‘People can use technologies such as TETRA in the field. It is particularly useful in the oil business, chemical plants and for electricity companies such as this,’ said Jean-Marc Nasr, president of EADS secure networks.

‘These are areas where you need to be sure that you have the appropriate information via both voice and data when you need it in your hands. For instance, at midnight at Christmas or New Year it is almost impossible to send an SMS as the network is overloaded. TETRA works in parallel to GSM technology and provides secure information in a very user-friendly manner.’

The KEPCO network will be the first nationwide digital TETRA network in South Korea and will empower all professionals caring for the power distribution and transformation network. The project will be completed by Nuri Telecom, EADS Secure Networks’ Value Added Reseller for PMR solutions. It will set up an advanced digital radio communication network consisting of an expansion of an operational trial network of 13 TB3 base stations. There will now be another 108 additional TB3 base stations, forming a backbone network to cover the seven main regions of South Korea.

The network operates on a 380MHz frequency. The new radio communications network will replace the existing analogue system, and be used to control and monitor KEPCO’s power distribution and transformation network.

The installation will allow KEPCO to use applications such as power distribution automation, auto meter reading, wind-speed monitoring, and quick repair and maintenance mobile services, which continuously monitor the network and alert engineers to problems as well as their exact location, saving time and minimising outages.

In the oil and gas industry, reliability is paramount. Alcatel-Lucent was recently contracted by petroleum producer Total E&P Indonesie, the Indonesian subsidiary of Paris-based Total Group, to deploy microwave radio transmission equipment, an optical networking solution and a network management system to expand and enhance the energy company’s mission-critical communications network.

The new, expanded network has elements that can serve as back-ups to minimise the impact of potential outages or failures at specific nodes. The solution also includes a web-based network management interface that enables more accurate monitoring of network migration, and rapid identification and resolution of network faults, to give Total E&P Indonesie continuous operation.

The deployment is taking place at the operational and gas processing facilities on East Kalimantan, northeast of Jakarta. Once in place, the network will give Total E&P Indonesie business and operations locations increased network capacity and help ensure greater network reliability. ‘We depend on Alcatel-Lucent to provide reliable solutions for our mission-critical business backbone,’ said Philippe Armand, Total E&P Indonesie president director.

The technology behind the network includes synchronous digital hierarchy wireless technology, and optical multi-service node systems to enhance communications exchanges between sites. The oil company will also use optical and microwave solutions to expand its existing backbone and capillary networks, ensuring all sites have access to vital business applications and data.

When it builds networks in remote areas, the oil and gas industry is also exploiting a technology used extensively by the media sector in videophone reporting.

Companies are constantly on the lookout for potential drilling sites, meaning they must use large quantities of geological data to pinpoint untapped sites and assess new oil wells and gas reserves. Usually, the process takes place in some of the most remote and treacherous locations on the planet.

Long before an oil company can start drilling, it must invest millions of dollars in exploration. This process is handled by small, mobile teams including engineers, who are constantly moving around and carrying out assessments.

In such areas, there are obviously no fixed lines, and they are also out of the range of GSM and other ground- based communications, leaving them with only satellite communications to establish any sort of reliable voice or data connectivity in the field. However, satellite phones, though portable, do not allow data connectivity or access to services such as video-conferencing, video streaming or even email and the internet.

Now, companies are starting to turn to the BGAN broadband mobile satellite internet solution developed by Inmarsat, which offers voice and broadband data connectivity through a portable terminal.

Peschaud, which manages logistics and preparatory work for oil and gas companies’ drilling and prospecting operations, is using BGAN for communications on exploration sites in the swamplands of the Sudan.

It chose the system as BGAN can deliver secure and on-demand access to telephony, virtual private networks, file transfer, videoconferencing, email and the internet to multiple simultaneous users in a mobile environment.

Given the demands of the industries, both oil and gas and the energy sectors are keen to implement the latest mobile networks that will allow their engineers access to all relevant data 24/7.

Julia Pierce