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Smarter, faster, simplified: How converged field automation networks can help oil & gas companies optimize to meet market shifts

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Renewable energy, transportation electrification and corporate climate commitments are disrupting the energy landscape and compelling oil and gas companies to be agile and hyper-efficient. The industry is embracing Industry 4.0 and digital transformation to tackle a wide range of challenges, from market fluctuations to operational efficiency and safety in remote and harsh environments. Oil and gas companies need more “smarts” and automation in the field as well as deeper operational insights to optimize and thrive, making automation and big data essential.

The technological disruptions to oil and gas are coming fast and in significant ways. As of the first quarter of 2020, the whole of the UK was getting nearly half of all its power — 40% — from renewables instead of gas-fired plants.

Shifts like these are only going to continue as the world drives further toward climate goals. If oil and gas companies are going to respond with digital transformation, they need a network that’s up to the job — namely, a connected, end-to-end communications infrastructure that goes beyond the capabilities of basic Wi-Fi. Intelligent connectivity is needed downstream, midstream and upstream to transport data from industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices to edge compute platforms, control rooms or and data centers where analytics can be run.

While Wi-Fi has tended to be the sector’s go-to option for remote sites — especially where public mobile broadband services are unavailable — it provides only basic connectivity and rudimentary quality of service. Every new application deployed over Wi-Fi requires a distinct SSID (service set identifier) or, in some cases, even a completely separate network to support it. For mission-critical voice communications, oil and gas companies have had to use an entirely different technology set, usually a separate professional or land radio network (PMR/LMR) such as terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) or P25. The result has been multiple parallel networks for individual data applications and voice services.

Enter the converged FAN

To support data-rich applications and keep the communications infrastructure easy to manage, oil and gas companies need a service-centric network with multiservice flexibility and quality assurance built in. That’s exactly what converged field automation networks (FANs) deliver.

Converged FANs combine private wireless (LTE today and 5G going forward) with IP/MPLS technologies. With a converged FAN, network operational inefficiencies disappear since new applications can be deployed without having to re-plan the underlying connectivity — accelerating the pace of digital transformation. The multiservice capabilities of IP/MPLS ensure applications don’t interfere with one another while sharing the network, which makes converged FANs highly service-centric and secure. Encryption can also be applied for additional cyber defense.

MPLS diagram

New possibilities with service-centric thinking

Taking a service-centric approach means thinking in terms of communication services instead of just access connectivity.

For example, if the aim is to prevent personnel from going into red zones in the field, the solution or service could have multiple parts: video to monitor crew locations, analytics to detect unauthorized presences, an alarm warning system to issue alerts, and voice communications to directly reach teams in the field. The converged FAN can support all of those functions on a single, integrated network. The same would be true for interlinking and managing arrays of IIoT application sensors, sending their data to the control room for real-time monitoring and analytics that enable operational and business optimization.

By supporting the adoption of these types of applications, converged FANs allow oil and gas companies to increase productivity and efficiency while improving safety and sustainability — driving up shareholder value and employee confidence and contributing to overall corporate social responsibility. The converged FAN serves as an integral digital transformation tool for achieving company business and safety goals.

The flexibility of Nokia’s converged FAN

Nokia’s converged FAN has the flexibility to meet the needs of oil and gas companies in all deployment environments, allowing them to take advantage of both public and private LTE connectivity — whichever works best, case by case. In regions where access to the wireless spectrum is unavailable, companies can rely on a public provider. Along pipelines where it’s too costly to deploy and monitor private network infrastructure from end to end, public LTE can fill the gaps.

The Nokia converged FAN can also leverage mission-critical push-to-talk (MC-PTT) and mission-critical push-to-video (MC-PTV) to enhance or replace private mobile radio/land mobile radio (PMR/LMR)-based voice communications. And it provides managed, secure, multipoint virtual private network (VPN) connections that reach all the way to the wide-area network (WAN), while optimizing machine-to-machine communications for distributed industrial process controls — extending mission-critical connections to the cloud.

Combined, these capabilities make the Nokia converged FAN a powerful platform to help oil and gas operations embrace intelligent applications from end to end. Upstream at drilling rigs, it provides critical communications for production, supports unmanned or “low-manned” operations, enables the control of machines and drones, and more. Midstream, it enables applications for pipeline monitoring, geo-fencing and video analytics. Downstream at refinery locations and other sites, it supports industrial mobility for connected workers, industrial automation and control, health and safety monitoring, and other services.

These intelligent, Industry 4.0 network platforms and the applications they enable can help oil & gas companies adapt to market shifts and build resilience to market changes by extracting higher performance from their operations.  

Field-deployed, proven and in use today, Nokia’s solution is meeting the current demands of the oil and gas sector and laying the foundation for future innovation. If you’d like to learn more about how it works, register to watch my recent webinar.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokiaindustries using #oil&gas #privatewireless

Hansen Chan

About Hansen Chan

Hansen Chan is senior marketing manager for the IP product portfolio at Nokia with a special focus on industries. With over 25 years of protocol testing, network consulting and product management experience, he’s a go-to speaker at international industry conferences. When he’s not talking networks, he’s reading up on history and religion, and listening to Baroque and 20th century classical music.

Tweet him @hchan888

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