Tech Focus: Satellite communications for O&G firms
Managed VSATs in upstream oil and gas work: An inseparable combination
Farid Faraidooni, Chief Commercial Officer at du, shares his findings on how customers can achieve better service and value with their remote operations satellite comms.
With more than 7.8 billion devices currently connected in one way or another, being connected is quickly becoming nothing less than a human right. As a revolution that shows no signs of stopping, it is more important than ever for enterprises – particularly large ones – to keep up with online trends in order to maintain their competitive advantage. Being connected has never been more vital.
The economic reset and changes in the global financial situation are making it more and more difficult for large enterprises to compete with their smaller, nimble, innovative and global counterparts to continue to be profitable and viable. Driven by the need to stay connected to customers, partners and employees, enterprises are forever looking at innovative ways of delivering their differentiators - anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) technologies have fast progressed in technology and economic viability to fulfill that promise. This is truer than ever for the oil and gas sector, where staying connected is a key to not only ensure productivity, but safety as well.
Telcos are often your go-to provider for VSAT services. They can offer you a variety of connectivity technologies, and can often provide you with the choice that is most suited, both technology- and economics-wise, making them a necessary consideration when looking for a VSAT provider.
Recently, increasing liberalisation and deregulation of the telecommunications sector in most of the Middle East and Africa, as well as on the global scene, has seen a significant increase in the number of satellite providers leading to steep competition that is driving down prices and improving the quality of services. Technological advances are also being realised that make it possible to offer more cost-effective VSAT solutions. These factors have led to a prevalence of VSAT systems and their recognition as a feasible option to provide access cost-effectively in the short term.
VSAT Services, a cost effective and quick solution for oil and gas communication needs
Reliable, cost-effective communications are a necessity for any industry. For oil and gas exploration, with drilling sites frequently situated in inaccessible locations, conventional means of communications are either too costly or inadequate. They require a well thought out satellite telecommunications infrastructure to answer their specific requirements.
Powerful, low-cost VSAT earth stations have helped address connectivity requirements in remote areas of the world. VSAT networks enable oil and gas businesses to have access to the latest communications services, those that support voice, data and the Internet from remote locations, without a requirement of terrestrial infrastructure. These networks can be deployed quickly – usually within a few days. Once the network is operational, remote sites can be deployed or re-deployed in matter of hours at minimal costs. Furthermore, the use of satellite communications allows bandwidth to be applied to match the application and Quality of Service requirements. These inherent features make VSAT communication very attractive for oil and gas industry applications.
VSATs are most commonly used to transmit narrowband data (point of sale transactions such as credit card, polling or RFID data, or SCADA), or broadband data (for the provision of satellite Internet access to remote locations, VoIP or video). They are also used for transportable, on-the-move (utilizing phased array antennas) or mobile maritime communications. However, with the rapidly decreasing cost of VSAT solution, more varied applications such as M2M (Machine to Machine) solutions are fast finding ways to utilize VSAT connectivity to deliver applications. Whether they are used for asset tracking, fleet tracking, smart metering or field sales productivity applications, VSATs can be used as a cost effective alternative to traditional connectivity means of delivering M2M solutions.
Managed services and VSATs
As with traditional IT, managed services offerings on VSAT have become a great value proposition for customers. With no upfront investments and an end-to-end offering of the service, it surely is a viable economical alternative to buying and maintaining the services in-house. For one, VSAT resources and skills are far and few in between, the other, being the high cost of implementing and maintaining the service.
A managed VSAT offering takes the hassle out of buying and self-managing a VSAT solution.
Current managed VSAT offerings provide SLAs, combined with detailed reporting and 24x7x365 support helpdesk to run a critical service. Most managed VSAT providers also bundle some form of application acceleration or compression capabilities with the service. This ensures optimized bandwidth and improvement in application performance.
The buying experience
However, buying a VSAT system involves considering a complex mosaic of technologies, services and equipment, far beyond the comprehension of the average buyer. This is not made any easier by the lack of openly available information to enable buyers to make an informed purchase decision, and to help determine whether they are getting value for their money. For example, it is not unusual to find two institutions procuring exactly the same amount of bandwidth, equipment and after sales services from the same provider, in the same country, but paying vastly different amounts.
While providers have (in some cases) valid technical, marketing and economic reasons for situations of this sort, the problem is exacerbated by a distinct lack of knowledge on what exactly is being bought. Ensuring that you match apples to apples is key; for example, one might provide you assured bandwidth while the other can provide contended bandwidth (shared bandwidth). Even though both offer the same speed the quality of the connections are vastly different. This is only one such example.
There are some key parameters and requirements to consider when choosing VSAT technologies, such as banding (choose the one that suits the application the most C, Ka or Ku); look angles; elevation and azimuth; network topologies (Broadcast, Point to Point, Star, Mesh or Hybrid) or access technologies, such as single channel per carrier (SCPC); frequency division multiple access (FDMA); demand assigned multiple access (DAMA) and time division multiple access (TDMA).
Also, due consideration should be given to common technical considerations such as: whether to use inclined orbit satellites; whether to use C, Ka or Ku band or whether to use shared or dedicated bandwidth.
Last but not least, you need to be mindful of provider’s capabilities, its background in offering VSAT services and the quality of its teleport/hub. A good idea is to visit the VSAT provider’s teleport to get a glance into their ability to serve various needs, especially focusing on their technical, process and people capabilities.
Considering the rapidly changing needs for connectivity for the modern enterprise, VSATs are a commercial reality. Their viability, considering slow growth of terrestrial systems in a vastly growing landscape, is solid. VSATs are here to stay - and they will only get better, cheaper and faster.