Critical communications for utilities and Oil&Gas, a valuable tool to face the challenges of the sector

Talking about telecommunications, companies operating in Oil & Gas, utilities or large industries are also included within what we call critical sectors. It must be taken into account that the supply of such essential services as water and electricity depends on them. Furthermore, some of these large companies carry out a potentially dangerous activity, in which a failure can have serious consequences for the population… let’s think, for example, about an accident in a gas pipeline or in an oil platform or refinery.

It is strictly necessary that these types of facilities have reliable and safe communications, which are always available in the event of an emergency situation. In this sense, a mission-critical technology such as TETRA can solve the main challenges these companies face in terms of telecommunications.

As we analysed in a previous post, solutions deployed over commercial networks are not suitable for this kind of critical environments, although some services may be similar and even share the same technology, it must be taken into account that the objectives are different: a commercial network is oriented to profit, while the private one is aimed to service.

Thus, a private network offers better performance in terms of coverage and availability, in addition to the fact that TETRA, as a mission-critical technology, offers a series of functionalities that are required in this type of environment, such as group calls, Priority Call, ambience listening, emergency calls, etc.

Another of the great challenges faced by communications solutions in this type of environment is that they must be scalable. The system has to be flexible enough to ensure its growth according to the needs of users. In this sense, a TETRA solution such as Teltronic’s NEBULA infrastructure, thanks to its native IP architecture, allows all the necessary elements to be easily added as the network is being built. This feature is also beneficial in terms of availability, since it allows for easy inclusion of redundancies to each and every element of the system.

A third challenge for telecommunications in the utilities sector is data transmission, which is an essential aspect. TETRA shows here one of its great strengths, being able to transmit voice and data through a single system.  Although it is narrowband technology, TETRA has proven its efficiency in hundreds of deployments around the world for the efficient transmission of short data, including, location data, status messages from remote units or alarms, as well as sending larger operation files through the PDP service (Packet Data Service)

In this sense, Teltronic devised and patented the SDM (Synchronous Data Manager) functionality, that optimizes and improves the data transmission capacity of the TETRA standard. An example: in a scenario with 10,000 terminals and 100 base stations, the time needed to manage the Keep-alive signals and alarms generated would take more than two hours with the standard TETRA data transmission systems; thanks to the SDM this process is done in less than 10 seconds. This feature makes this technology a particularly valuable tool for integration with SCADA systems for telemetry and remote control, or obtaining alarms and information from remote units deployed, for example, in the generation and distribution networks of a power company.

The list of uses is wide, from sending images to Job Ticketing… Furthermore, in combination with a Control Center solution incorporating a GIS module for location and AVL, the system offers interesting possibilities. Imagine that an accident occurs, worker’s terminal thanks to man-down functionality, sends an alarm that is received by the operator of the control center which is able to locate on the map where the injured is and send help in the most efficient way.

And of course, the last challenge is the one that is related to the cost: it is about obtaining the maximum return on investment. In this sense, investing in a TETRA network means doing so in a network with high levels of customisation and with the capacity to be expanded, as well as it is a consolidated technology of critical services, prepared for future improvements and new services.

Besides, there is a key factor for energy companies: Reducing the CAIDI (Customer Average Interruption Duration Index) or what is the same, the time in which service is not being provided. This index is very important, because the lower it is, the lower the compensation they have to face and the higher the subsidies they can receive. In this way, if a failure occurs at any point in the distribution network, the sooner it is detected, the sooner it can be resolved, and by means of the SDM this alarm can be transmitted in real time, making it resolved more quickly and, consequently, making the CAIDI lower and positively impacting the profit and loss account.

Along these lines, solutions must be equally efficient in terms of energy consumption. Incorporating equipment that is outdoor and can withstand any type of weather situation, that is easily installed outdoors without requiring a technical room and that has moderate consumption will mean a reduction in both costs and time in the deployment of the communication infrastructure.

Finally, it is necessary to take into consideration the terminals, which for this type of environment can appear in different formats: conventional equipment, ATEX for explosive atmospheres such as those found in Oil&Gas environments, TETRA radiomodems for data transmission for telemetry applications, etc.

Towards hybrid TETRA-LTE solutions

As is the case in other sectors, the growing demand for mass data transmission means that narrowband solutions such as TETRA are unable to meet new needs, such as video services.

In this sense, hybrid networks TETRA and broadband technologies (LTE) will be in great demand in the medium and long term, guaranteeing a sustainable and robust solution for the future. In this scenario, TETRA access would be used for short data services for telemetry, security services, voice communications and AVL applications for vehicles, among others, while LTE technology would be used for Video surveillance, Smart metering and bulk data transmission for other specific applications, IoT (Internet of Things) and Smart Grids.