Can 5G save the oil and gas industry?

Nov 22, 2021 by Energy Connects

Energy Connects discuss with Kalina Barboutov, Head of Wireless Presales and Business Development at Hitachi Energy, how the 5G network affects oil and gas industry.

Kalina Barboutov

Kalina Barboutov, Head of Wireless Presales and Business Development.

What are the main communication barriers the oil and gas industry is facing?

The main communication barrier that the Oil and Gas (O&G) industry faces is the reliance on ageing technology, WiMAX, which has been in use for a long time but is unable to cope with the emerging applications and requirements of the industry. WiMAX primarily works in the unlicensed spectrum and doesn’t provide as much capacity and the low latencies that can be had with 5G. More and more, bandwidth-hungry applications like surveillance, drilling optimisation, inspection drones or robots, automated guided vehicles, and other similar applications that are essential for this industry to enhance profitability and efficiency, cannot be supported by WiMAX. Hence, the increasing gap between current network capability and future application needs is the single biggest communication barrier. In addition, o&g customers are also keen to use licensed frequencies to build their own private networks since it allows them to keep data in-house without exposure to external service providers. 

We are also seeing the direction in the market where regulatory bodies in different countries are recognizing the need to secure private frequencies for large customers such as o&g companies who contribute significantly to the country’s economy, especially in the Middle East region. 

The increasing gap between current network capability and future application needs is the single biggest communication barrier.

How can communication technology in the oil and gas industry promote operational efficiency and safety?

We are seeing a lot of emerging applications in this domain. In o&g, we see a significant adoption of drones and inspection robots. Not only does this increase efficiency, but a drone can cover more ground than a human being within a specified time. The usage of robots also has a large safety aspect by decreasing the exposure of personnel to hazardous situations. 

We are seeing things like remote asset monitoring and asset management and this contributes hugely to improving operational efficiency. It is not just monitoring, but also specialised analytics and prognostics that can predict when an asset needs a shutdown for maintenance or is nearing end-of-life. This is of particular interest to the o&g segment, since the combination of monitoring applications, robust communications and advanced analytics such as Hitachi’s Lumada APM aid in investment planning ahead of time.

Historically, customers deployed separate infrastructure based on a single technology for each application - a separate network for voice and a separate WiMAX network for data communications. But now, 4G and 5G allows o&g customers to have a single network that can serve all applications reliably, as well as provide future capacity for new and emerging use cases. Some of these include asset connectivity, industrial IoT and real-time monitoring, inspection drones/robots and unmanned operations, monitoring of process, HSE violations and security of field premises, VR/AR training of field resources and digital twin of field assets.

It is not just monitoring, but also specialised analytics and prognostics that can predict when an asset needs a shutdown.

Describe how 5G has emerged as a more scalable, cheaper option compared to that of wired infrastructures. 

5G is a much more scalable and cheaper option when a roll-out must cover a large geographical area like we typically see in o&g. Take the Gulf countries for example, where exploration operations need to cover a very large percentage of the country’s geographical area. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, it is the Eastern coast and in Oman, oil exploration spans the entire country.

Imagine wanting to connect millions of assets, sensors and thousands of workers and teams who are traveling constantly - it is impossible to connect everything and everyone in an economic way with wired infrastructure. No matter the application, even if it is very time-sensitive, requiring ultra-low latencies previously only achievable by fiber, 5G has evolved to fulfil a large portion of mission critical needs. 5G is truly becoming the technology that combines the capacity and speeds of 4G, as well as the low latencies of wired technologies, while remaining affordable and scalable over a large geographic area. 

How can 5G help the oil and gas industry overcome historic barriers to communications? 

Historically, fiber was a must if the use-case or application was time-sensitive or critical. Now 5G with its ultra-low latency can enable the scalability of these applications. Wired communications are historically very expensive to deploy since it requires trenching in remote areas and often in very harsh and unsafe working conditions. 5G has now combined ultra-low latency with ultra-high capacity and hyper-throughput to support the most bandwidth hungry or most time-sensitive applications for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of devices within a single network.

5G has now combined ultra-low latency with ultra-high capacity and hyper-throughput to support the most bandwidth hungry.

What is Hitachi Energy doing in terms of supporting oil and gas field communications?

O&G fields often span hundreds and even thousands of square kilometers across remote areas that often lack cellular coverage. Such communications require reliable and resilient, high-capacity wireless networks that operate over vast areas under extreme environmental conditions. Ideally, such networks must form the scalable foundation to securely support multiple applications that increase operational efficiency and safety with a single cost-effective physical infrastructure. 

We have a very long history of supporting oil and gas field communications either through cellular technologies or our patented broadband mesh and we are now working with our customers to support them with 5G enabled industrial CPEs that they can use to connect their assets and their people. 

Back To Top