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Considering communications

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Oilfield Technology,

Joe Spytek, ITC Global, examines the communications needs of an ever more connected and information-hungry industry.

The oil and gas sector is seeing business start to rebound in 2017 as the pricing environment stabilises and renewed growth moves throughout the industry. As oil and gas customers pursue new opportunities, they remain focused on the central elements that supported their survival throughout the downturn – reducing costs and downtime, and increasing overall operational efficiency. The satellite communications industry has developed advanced capabilities that can continue to strengthen operations across this sector including video applications and big data, data analytics, and advanced crew welfare services. All of these technologies have been developed while taking into account critical security and cyber security enhancements.

ITC Crew Live is a modern crew welfare platform for company and crew.

All industries, including energy, need partners who understand their business and foster growth through the use of appropriately tested next-generation technologies. Oil and gas requires this technological cooperation in its ongoing support of the industrialised world and its business and consumer services – from cars to powering and heating homes. ITC Global has closely focused on the needs of this market and the changes expected to emerge in the years to come, creating partnerships with oil and gas entities to ensure their ongoing success.

Even during the past two years of drastically reduced oil prices, ITC Global has responded to the communications needs of remote offshore sites that are unreachable by traditional terrestrial technologies. This demand for satellite communications in the oil and gas industry has remained strong as critical operations require connectivity – monitoring operations through video streaming and providing offshore staff with communications and welfare services that equate to those back home. In addition to providing these much-needed services, the company has been tracking market developments for new exploration and production expected to take place in deeper waters beyond current site locations. To increase the energy resources from ultra-deepwater operations, production sites require highly reliable communications that are tailored to these complex projects. As an example, the company supports remote offshore communications to two floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels in Western Africa. This development project spans six different fields at significant depths. The communications network establishes 5 - 10 Mbps high data-rate service to each vessel and enables massive amounts of information to be collected and sent back to corporate headquarters. Beyond Africa, the company also provides broadband connectivity to the largest ultra-deepwater semisubmersible drilling rig in the world currently under contract for production.

As with patterns in many other industry downturns, the decreased price of oil globally is only a temporary phenomenon that is showing signs of reversal. This transition is expected to steadily improve over the coming years, as pricing and efficiencies become a relevant trend and dictate spending in the industry. A senior executive at one major global oil and gas operator recently reminded the industry that the need for price competitiveness will require placing a premium on efficiency, technology, innovation and relationships. One way to respond to this competition and need for efficiency is to adopt digital oilfield technologies that can significantly increase productivity and cut costs. According to, oil and gas seems to be ripe for this shift, as major changes have already been proved in other economic sectors including transportation and personal communications. Big Data and the use of connected devices are enabling many new applications to increase productivity that will support oil and gas in the coming years.

One growing application is crew welfare, which many more players in the sector are adopting. These services support two important business needs: data security and crew retention. Due to growing data security threats, oil and gas production companies and their management realise the importance of finding ways to secure and protect corporate data. The industry is experiencing a range of security issues, from incidental damage to their network, to deliberate damage to the network and physical infrastructure. One way ITC Global and its customers are actively managing this, is through the implementation of new crew welfare services. ITC Global’s Crew LIVE service provides complete remote staff connectivity and keeps crew and corporate data separate. The service is supported by dedicated bandwidth and satellite equipment that includes a go-anywhere 1 m antenna for easy deployment and installation. Remote workers stay connected without accessing the same link that handles corporate traffic. This fulfils the need for proactive security, enabling customers to stay focused on their other business requirements. Customers are gaining additional operational efficiencies as Crew LIVE can deliver savings in the business’ monthly corporate network bill with crew-members no longer making personal calls using operational bandwidth, leading to a sharp decline in call minutes for customers. Also, the service provides customers with a built-in backup service for emergencies without any additional costs. All of these benefits are now being realised at more than 30 remote sites around the globe, with a strong pipeline of new installs planned as we move into 2017.

A leading seabed-to-surface engineering services company, along with other customers – including major deepwater drilling contractors and oil and gas service companies – have recognised significant operational efficiencies through the Crew LIVE platform. These customers note advantages at the corporate level and enhanced end-user experience that influences crew morale and retention. The service allows remote workers to video chat with family, keep in touch with friends through social networking, monitor personal banking, and reliably stream the latest movies and entertainment to make their worksite feel more like home. Some of the nearly 20 000 registered users of the service have even reported using it to access and view footage from their trail and hunting cameras, all from the comfort of crew quarters at their remote site. What’s more, at the end of 2016 the service showed that captains and crew alike heavily relied on Crew LIVE for seamless holiday shopping on their off hours. During the last week of December, the system saw a 20% jump in registered users as remote workers looked to make phone calls, exchange pictures and videos, and celebrate holiday moments with loved ones back home. Furthermore, on Christmas Day alone, the Crew LIVE network surpassed a collective 50 gigabytes of data usage across its sites in the Gulf of Mexico. This service responds to the long-standing ‘pain point’ related to competing network priorities and access to reliable Internet for remote staff and crew.

These advantages provided by ITC Global go above and beyond the standard for the oil and gas industry. Many remote and offshore oil and gas users still expect little from satellite communications, seeing it as a ‘work-around’ that does not provide robust and effective capabilities. Despite this impression by some, there are pockets across the energy sector that are as excited as we are about new satellite technology and its inherent value for scalability and security of ongoing operations. As part of Panasonic Corporation, ITC Global shares technology and business insights with innovative businesses across Panasonic for new scalable and feature-rich services that further support the experience of users as well as their operational requirements. Crew LIVE is just one example of how ITC Global has leveraged Panasonic innovations for our customers. Another is the implementation of advanced high-throughput satellites and soon-to-be-launched extreme high-throughput (XTS) satellites with throughput that will support the growth expected from Big Data and IoT applications. Combining crew connectivity and entertainment with high-throughput capabilities will bring the ‘at home’ experience that much closer for remote staff. This is especially true when it comes to social media accessibility and video streaming services for crew – the most popular of which on Crew LIVE include Netflix, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype and Facetime.

In partnership with Panasonic, we are looking at more business support tools and developing capabilities that will make customer operations more resilient. One example of this is weather forecasting, where oil and gas exploration downtime can become extremely costly. Very often, weather events create outages that can cost upwards of US$50 000 a day and last for a several days in cases such as hurricanes. Advanced planning using detailed models and extremely high-data quality can alleviate much of downtime through significantly improved and more accurate forecasting. Panasonic’s weathercast technology provides automated and customisable weather forecasting tools that give constant updates from global 4D models. This technology, being used by the likes of governments and organisations including NOAA, can advance real time decision-making and optimise uptime to have a real effect on customers’ bottom line.

Other areas where energy sector customers could capitalise on efficiencies from Panasonic technology innovations include next-generation video systems for work site security and safety inspections and monitoring, and 5G wireless capabilities that provide a communications path from the remote site back to the satellite-based backhaul.

Oil and gas players will continue ramping up their digital technology investments in the next few years as the sector readjusts to more stable oil prices. This progress may lead to significant industry spending to adopt new technologies and further optimise processes and production. Based on this, some analysts foresee growth in oilfield automation that could double productivity by 2020. All of this is exciting news as the industry begins to come out of the market downturn and look ahead to what the future holds for the energy sector.

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