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Rajant - Kinetic mesh communications across the Gulf of Mexico

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rajant Corporation is building a mesh 25-100 mbps wireless communications system for the Gulf of Mexico, with nodes on all the platforms and vessels, to allow high speed data communications across the entire Gulf



Rajant Corporation of Malvern, Pennsylvania is building a 'mesh' communications network in the Gulf of Mexico, which will allow high speed (25 to 100 mbps) data communications over 97 per cent of the area of the Gulf where oil and gas operations take place.

Kinetic mesh communications means that instead of data just going from one point to another ('point to point', the data can hop between and across many different nodes, in different routes, and is never dependent on any one cable or piece of infrastructure.

The nodes are wireless routers which can be installed on all types of offshore infrastructure, including vessels and helicopters.

Rajant started in business after the Sept 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks, with a commission from the US government to develop a resilient communications technology system which could work in emergencies, if the cellular communications were out of action, as they were after the World Trade Center attacks.

Rajant was partially funded by the US Department of Defence to develop at a way of doing it.

It was clear at the outset that a 'mesh' communications system would be most resilient, because the system is not dependent on any one node or cable - if one is out of action, it can find another way.

But there was a lot of work to do developing a protocol for the nodes to use.
The company started by analysing all the existing wireless mesh protocols, and discovered that none of them were suitable. 'We realised we had to create our own,' said Gary S. Anderson, senior vice president of Rajant Corporation, speaking at the Dec 1 2011 Digital Energy Journal London conference, 'developments with the digital oilfield.'


Mining

Once Rajant had developed the system for the US Department of Defence, it was demanded in the mining industry, which had a similar challenge of needing a highly robust communications system which would work across the mine where mobility was essential to a successful network.

The system has been running in the mine for over 5 years, and now has 500 nodes and 27 different software applications running on them. It is used to carry video, to and from trucks and drilling equipment.

The system is secure enough to be used by two competing mining companies, who do not want their data to be revealed to the other.

The network has been continuously growing for the past 5 years, and has not reached any limits for how big it can get, Mr Anderson said. 'We're constantly developing new equipment, adding new frequencies. But we don't know what the limit is, I'll be honest with you.'

In future the mine will have totally autonomous (driver-less) trucks, communicating data using the system.

The mining project led to future work in Canadian oil sands, and then to other areas of the oil and gas industry, including Oil Shale and seismic exploration.

Gulf of Mexico

In the Gulf of Mexico, Rajant will be gradually installing its nodes on various pieces of offshore infrastructure, vessels and helicopters, working in partnership with the operators of the equipment.

The Gulf of Mexico has approximately 4200 oil rigs, of which 770 are active.

By installing mesh systems on all of the active oil rigs, you can cover about 97 per cent of the Gulf of Mexico with the mesh network, he said.

You can also include fibre optic cable, microwave systems, satellite communications, as a 'backbone' into the network.

BP, which operates a fibre optic communications system in the Gulf of Mexico, and RigNet, Inmarsat and Harris CapRock, which have VSAT communications networks, are potential partners in the project, and their infrastructure can be used as part of the backbone.

Business development

Rajant is working with oil and gas companies and equipment operators in the Gulf of Mexico to involve them in the project. They install the nodes on their equipment, and then they can communicate data at 25 to 100 mbps.

Rajant staff have held meetings with Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to talk about using the system for safety and security in the Gulf of Mexico, for example communication from security sensors.

'The federal government is evaluating requirements to have communications systems on these large oil platform environments for security purposes or safety purposes,' he said. 'Unfortunately there's a big problem out there in the Gulf with potential terrorist activity and people trying to get into the US.'

The company is also talking to companies working offshore Brazil about potentially installing the system there, and talking to companies in the Gulf of Oman.


System

The system was designed to be simple, flexible, quick to set up, mobile and scaleable.

For scalability, Rajant developed a system where all of the data management is on the 'front end', i.e. on the remote devices themselves, not all managed from a central centre. This means that there is no limit to how large the network can be.

The nodes can exchange data using a range of different radio frequencies, including both openly available frequencies and frequencies to which some of the companies involved have purchased licenses to use. Nodes can use 6 radio frequencies simultaneously and can transmit and receive on each one. Different frequencies can carry different data volumes, over different ranges.

97% of the rigs are within 5 miles from another rig and can communicate directly.

Rajant won't be managing the network itself, just providing the solution for it.

The system keeps all the data completely secure, and people can only access their own data, although it is running on the same network as rival companies.

At every stage in the data packet's journey, the system makes a decision about how the packet should be distributed. Each node can issue IP addresses to devices on the network and make its own decisions. There is very little central monitoring required.

The latency on the network (time for packets to be sent) is under 10ms, for a network covering 450 km2 with 700 nodes. This means it is fine for voice calls or video.

The data communications between devices and the nodes is Wifi (802.11 protocol). 'Wifi is the most resilient infrastructure that probably communications has ever had,' he said.

Wifi is a point to multipoint solution (designed for many devices to talk to the same node). 'It is very tolerant to interference and noise,' he said. It is different from WiMAX which is designed for communications from one point to another point only.



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