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How rugged wireless technology can reduce costs in oil and gas production

Wireless communications are well-suited for the oil and gas industry, especially in remote production facility locations, both on- and offshore. In the past, satellites provided producers with high-latency, low-bandwidth communications sufficient for transmitting telemetry data. But satellites fell short for system automation controls requiring much less latency. They also were not sufficient for fixed and mobile multi-services, including voice and video that require much more bandwidth. Fortunately, today’s three terrestrial wireless technologies – WiMAX, WLAN and cellular networks – meet those requirements with high levels of security. This paper describes these technologies and how the oil and gas industry can best deploy them to help reduce labor costs, increase operating visibility, enhance control and boost efficiency – all contributing to greater profitability.

Oil and gas production – ideal for wireless communications

Few industries are as opportune to deploy advanced wireless communications as oil and gas production. With drilling operations and well-heads in some of our planet’s most remote locations – the latter mostly unmanned – producers need secure, cost-effective ways to monitor and control their operations from afar. This is especially true if they want another way to keep costs from rising faster than revenues.

Wireless communications have a wide range of applications for the oil and gas industry, both on- and offshore. Among them are:• Multiservice alternatives to high-latency satellite communications

  • Wireless connection of mobile applications
  • Wellhead monitoring and control
  • Gas field control and monitoring
  • Rig power management and monitoring
  • Rig internal communications
  • Pipeline telemetry
  • Data aggregation in rugged environments
  • Process analytics

This paper provides an overview of the unique wireless requirements of the oil and gas industry. It also reviews the three major categories of terrestrial wireless technologies that can be combined through sound design and engineering for highly secure, reliable and cost-effective communications systems. These systems can substantially reduce labor costs. They also offer greater operating visibility, control and efficiency – all contributing to greater profitability.

Unique wireless requirements of the oil and gas industry

Wireless communications are already connecting remote oil and gas production facilities around the world. One offshore wireless network using Siemens RUGGEDCOM WIN wireless broadband technology spans thousands of square miles in the Gulf of Mexico and has operated since 2011.

With more than 120 base stations, the network provides multiple services, including SCADA telemetry, voice and video on platform-to-platform and platform-to-shore as well as approaching and departing supply vessels servicing the platforms. Compared to satellite communications, it performs these tasks with more bandwidth, less latency and reduced cost.

Beyond remote connectivity. Deploying wireless technology requires care to address the industry’s special requirements that go beyond remote connectivity. Obviously, in-home and office wireless network technologies fall far short of those needs, but so would most high-performance industrial wireless networks. Hazardous operating conditions and rugged environments, such as extreme temperatures, corrosive saltwater, constant vibration and penetrating dust and dirt, are just some examples.

Another important requirement is cyber security. Oil and gas industry networks are by far the #1 target of industrial hackers, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Of the top 16 industrial sectors it has designated as critical to our national interests,1 cyberattacks on energy in 2015 accounted for 16% of all attacks deemed serious enough for its Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) to investigate.2

That was almost three times the number of attacks on government facilities.

Additionally, remote and often unmanned facilities require rugged and secure high-performance wireless communication infrastructures not only be rugged and secure, but have carrier grade reliability. They must also be simple to ease the engineering and maintenance burdens on the producers’ enterprise IT and operating engineering teams.

Offshore wireless networks, for example, can cover thousands of square miles, as the previous Siemens deployment example in the Gulf of Mexico illustrates. Troubleshooting and replacing a failed component covering such a wide area can be extremely expensive. Further, a communications breakdown can disrupt operations. It can also imperil operational safety, with grave and costly potential consequences to human life and the environment.Out of the sky: three categories of terrestrial wireless technologies

Before the past decade’s terrestrial wireless technology advancements made them practical for use in the oil and gas industry, geostationary satellite communications (also known as fixed satellite service, or FSS) were used for remote SCADA telemetry. Then, more bandwidth became available using VSAT (very small aperture terminal) technology, similar to satellite TV, providing wide-area coverage for maritime and land-based remote communications. Voice communications largelyutilized ship-to-shore radio telephones operating on shortwave frequencies.

While FSS data rates, typically from 4 kbit/s to 4 Mbit/s, may be sufficient for SCADA telemetry and batch data feeds, they are inadequate for real-time voice, video and controlcommunications. The main reason is latency, which is a delay caused by simple physics. It takes about a half-second for a signal to make a round trip from Earth to a satellite more than 22,000 miles in the sky.

Another problem with FFS communications is heavy rains that can block signals for the duration of a torrential downpour, as anyone with in-home satellite TV will attest.

Finally, there is a cost issue. After setting up a FSS/VSAT infrastructure, operators must subscribe to ongoing service. To be sure, FSS price-performance has greatly improved in recent years. New VSAT systems have come online using Ka band technology promising higher data rates for lower costs. However, for the most cost-effective, real-time communication, terrestrial wireless technologies are the way to go.

WiMAX, WLAN and cellular networks. Since their respective debuts, these technologies continue to steadily advance capabilities, lower component costs and simplify network engineering and management. The following table summarizes their bandwidth, reach and the international standards upon which Siemens industrial communication is based.

Table 1. Feature comparisons of WiMAX, WLAN and cellulartechnologies according to the IEEE standards
Technology WiMAX WLAN(also known as Wireless LAN) Cellular network1


3-25 miles (5-40 km) Up to 0.6 mile (1 km) 50-85 miles (85-135 km)
Bandwidth 10-40 Mbit/s 450 Mbit/s 50-100 Mbit/s
Standard(s) IEEE 802.16 IEEE 802.11 Several, with LTE and CDMA2000 dominant

Although 4G/LTE is included in Table 1, please note that often only 3G is available in remote areas where oil and gas deployments typically require wireless technologies.

Note also that an inverse relation exists between bandwidth data rates and reach. In addition, longer distances require greater power for the components to generate signals strong enough to reach their destinations, including a receiver, to bring the signal to an end-user (or a monitoring control system) or a repeater, to relay the signal.

 Because of its long reach, WiMAX is the technology of choice for interconnecting remote offshore drilling and well-head platformsand their onshore counterparts that may be dispersed over long distances. Siemens RUGGEDCOM line of WiMAX products earned its name by setting the standard for mission-critical communications networks deployed in harsh environments for many industries worldwide. Among those are, electric utilities, transportation systems, automation and defense networks.

The RUGGEDCOM WIN WiMAX 4G Broadband Private Radio base stations and subscriber units are the principal components for an advanced wireless solution based on the IEEE 802.16 WiMAX standard. Together these ultra-compact, solid-state devices can provide high-quality, multiservice wireless broadband communications – voice, video, and SCADA control and monitoring data – for fixed facilities. They can also do the same for delivering nomadic broadband communications to moving vehicles and vessels at sea, with latency rates as low as 20ms.

Global spectrum flexibility. These units can operate in nine unlicensed, licensed and lightly licensed (3.65 GHz) frequency bands for deployment flexibility all over the world. In North America, the 3.65 GHz band and unlicensed 5 GHz band are most often used because they are readily available via FCC rules. They also avoid radio interference with other devices and technologies, including FCC-licensed microwave, WLAN and Bluetooth short-range radios that use the 2.4 GHz band.

Additionally, several countries and offshore deployments allow carrier-grade frequency bands for WiMAX deployments. Spectrum rules vary by country and should be researched for the particular geographic area as part of an initial system design process.

Extreme durability. Like all RUGGEDCOM gear, the base stations and subscriber units are not standardized models that have been “hardened” with added environmental protections. They are designed and engineered to be ultra-reliable in a wide range of hazardous and extreme environmental conditions. Ruggedness is built in to the core design.

The RUGGEDCOM units comply with ANSI/NFPA Class I, Division 2 standards to prevent explosions, given their potential uses in applications using flammable hydrocarbon gases, vapors or liquids. They operate in extended temperature ranges from as high as 167°F (75°C) to as low as -40°F (-40°C). They are also IEC IP67-rated to protect against dust and blasts of corrosive saltwater.

Enhanced security. Hackers target the energy sector far more than any other industry. All cyber security professionals recommend several layers of “defense- in-depth” security. All wireless communications via RUGGEDCOM WIN WiMAX 4G base stations and subscriber units are encrypted via the 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), a standard adopted by the U.S. government and used worldwide.

These devices also comply with the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) cyber security standards set forth by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

They feature Remote Authentication Dial In User Service (RADIUS), a networking protocol that centralizes Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA) management for all users connecting with a RUGGEDCOM WiMAX network. The devices event-logging takes this authentication a step further with forensic reviews of network access and use.

Network simplicity. Wireless networks used in the remote, harsh operating conditions of the oil and gas industry must be flexible, durable and secure. They must also be extremely reliable. RUGGEDCOM’s centralized network management system helps troubleshoot and localize any component problem. This helps reduce the need to send a technician to repair or replace parts, a service that can be extremely expensive in costs and communications system breakdown.

The key to reliability is simplicity via solid-state components (i.e., no moving parts to fail) and straightforward engineering. For example, base stations and subscriber units are engineered to eliminate the need for a $250,000 Access Service Network (ASN) gateway and to use power-over-Ethernet (PoE), to simplify cabling. Also, each unit can operate in standalone mode, so scaling is simple – just add repeater or receiver subscriber units. A Layer 2 feature set creates a “CAT 5 network in the air.” Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) helps provide reliable, multiservice connections, especially in the radio-reflective properties of open water.

While WiMAX solutions with ranges up to 25 miles (40 km) are sometimes called “next-to-last-mile” deployment options, WLAN (wireless LAN) technologies are truly “last mile,” with transmission ranges of up to 0.6 (1 km). Another difference is WLAN’s much larger data rates of up to 450 Mbit/sec is almost 10 times that of WiMAX. This reflects the inverse correlation between distance and data rates.

Higher data rates enable a wide variety of localized short-range oil and gas industry applications. WiMAX interconnects these applications, giving operators full, long-range visibility in real-time. Here are just a few examples from thousands of WLAN deployments among Siemens oil and gas customers worldwide:

  • Slip-ring alternative for offshore platform-to-crane communications
  • Well-head monitoring and control, land-based or offshore
  • Redundant wireless drilling rig communications in case a wired network cable breaks
  • Secure, real-time communications between a land-rig driller controls cabin and E-houses (generator rooms, mud motor houses and shipping compartments)

To enable these and other oil and gas applications, Siemens SCALANCE W product family offers lines of industrial-grade WLAN products for a wide variety of requirements. Due to its industrial features (I-Features), SCALANCE W products are also referred to as Industrial Wireless LAN (IWLAN) products. Most SCALANCE W devices operate either in standalone mode or in conjunction with an industrial WLAN controller. In a controller-based version, a central network intelligence called SCALANCE WLC711 industrial WLAN controller is utilized.

High performance. The SCALANCE IWLAN controller provides highly secure Layer 2 switching and Layer 3 routing for centralized management and QoS (Quality of Service) control of IWLAN networks comprising as many as 96 access points (APs) in redundant mode. Network administrators can prioritize data traffic, so time-sensitive packets (e.g., real-time voice, video or control) get through before best-effort packets (e.g., SCADA telemetry).

The IWLAN controller also automatically detects new access points, connects with them and manages and coordinates access points and clients. Additionally, the controller provides clear error recording, radio network monitoring and network statistics documentation. These functions reduce commissioning overhead and operating costs and improve operating visibility and control.

IEEE 802.11n enables SCALANCE W700 client modules and W780 APs to use “smart antenna” technologies, such as MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) that use multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to boost data rates up to 450 Mbps. Specialized tasks can also take advantage of SCALANCE RCoax cable, a WLAN radiating cable in lengths up to 525 feet (160 meters per Access Point in 5GHz). The cable can be routed alongside the traversing path of a mobile system, keeping in constant communications with any moving parts or vehicle.

Deployment flexibility, simplicity and scale. All SCALANCE W devices are compatible with IEEE 802.11 a/g/n standards (the 802.11n standard being the latest and most powerful).Backward compatibility with 802.11 a/g standards helps preserve legacy investments in those technologies.SCALANCE W devices offer built-in support both for 2.4 and 5 GHz spectrum bands and for PoE, to minimize cabling costs.

When employing controller-based versions, configuration management is performed by the WLC711 industrial WLAN controller. In the case of the standalone products, SCALANCE W products offer easy maintenance and device replacement. A thumbnail-sized, plug-in card called a C-PLUG enables automatic backup of network configuration

and project data in SCALANCE W modules and APs. A more comprehensive swap media card called a KEY-PLUG contains all the C-PLUG’s functionality. It also enables easy access to Siemens exclusive I-Features such as iPCF (industrial Point Coordination Function), iREF (industrial Range Extension Function) and inter AP blocking.

IPCF includes the deterministic algorithm needed for rapid roaming and deterministic real-time applications using PROFINET with latencies as low as 16 ms. iREF is a Siemens unique I-Feature. It enables a IWLAN network to cover a longer distance or larger area with just one AP by allowing its antennas to cover multiple areas with maximum transmit power, which reduces the number of channels and Aps.

These plug-in cards are designed exclusively for stand-alone SCALANCE W700 access points and clients. They simplify new device commissioning as well as making replacements. This eliminates the need for highly trained personnel and simplifies deployments for lowered overall operating costs.

Ruggedization. Like their RUGGEDCOM counterparts, SCALANCE W components are available with hardened options, including IP65 protection against dust and water intrusion. Conformal coatings provide additional protection from environmental elements, including UV light. In addition, units are engineered and tested to operate in extreme temperatures, from as high as 158°F (70°C) to as low as -40°F (-40°C). Further, SCALANCE W permits the deployment of fail-safe applications and wireless fail-safe data transmission supporting implementations demandingSIL (safety integrity level).

Network security. As the centralized management element, the IWLAN controller also enables network administrators to utilize the same layered, defense-in-depth strategy as the RUGGEDCOM family.

Administrators can use the controllers Virtual Network Services (VNS) to group certain mobile users, devices and applications into VLANs (virtual local area networks). It also gives them their own service levels, access rights, encryption and device authorization. Each SCALANCE W access point can handle several VNS segments, delivering even more deployment flexibility.Additionally, administrators can enable over-the-air, 128-bit packet encryption via WiFi-Protected Access (WPA), version 2, featuring the AES-CCMP protocol. Also, like its RUGGEDCOM complements, the SCALANCE W controller can be connected to a RADIUS/AAA server for centralized management of user authentication. The above should be implemented within a greater system and enterprise cyber security program. These security features are available on the stand-alone devices as well.

Cellular networks to fill the gaps

One of the big benefits of WiMAX and WLAN networks is their low operating costs. Aside from cost accounting for their initial capital, engineering, installation and commissioning outlays, the ruggedized, solid-state components consume little power, need virtually no maintenance and rarely fail. The same holds true with cellular wireless communications, except that, similar to satellite communications, an oil and gas operator must pay ongoing subscriber fees for access to cellular network services.

Nonetheless, sometimes cellular service is required to bridge gaps that neither WiMAX, WLAN nor a combination of the two can fill. The gaps may be the result of geography, especially line-of-sight topography issues, or because an oil and gas project may not cost-justify a longer-term WiMAX and/or WLAN wireless solution. One example is setting up wireless communications for a mobile exploratory drilling rig.

Secured, cost-effective. In any case, the Siemens SCALANCE M family of cellular routers provides a secured, cost- effective infrastructure needed to serve those types of requirements. They can communicate over public cellular networks with downlink data rates of up to 100 Mbit/s and uplink rates of 50 Mbit/s, depending on strength of the signal to the next cell tower.

Given the demanding operating conditions of the oil and gas industry, SCALANCE M cellular routers are also engineered and tested to work in a wide temperature range, from as high as 167°F (60°C) to as low as -40°F (-20°C). With IP20 ratings. However, the devices will likely require enclosures rated NEMA 4 or higher.

Security from point-of-use to the cellular network is provided with an on-board firewall and VPN using the Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) protocol suite that authenticates and encrypts each IP packet in a communications session. The devices also use network address translation (NAT) to hide IP addressing from hackers Unconventional extraction technologies have created a boom in today’s oil and gas industry, especially in North America. Maximizing asset utilization and profitability remain foremost imperatives for all operators – upstream, midstream and downstream. Industrial wireless technologies, specialized for the industry’s demanding requirements can help ensure greater utilization and profitability by providing more operating visibility, control and efficiency.

To help achieve these important objectives, Siemens WiMAX, WLAN and cellular network portfolios are backed by decades of engineering experience and expertise, proven through thousands of wireless deployments around the world. We invite readers to visit our website for more information or contact their local Siemens representative for a complimentary, no-obligation consultation. en/industrial-communications/iwlan-industrial-wireless-communication/Pages/Default.aspx


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