Oil workers' wireless links take communications to the extreme

Hermes Datacommunications International has implemented a network based on satellite, IP telephony and wireless Lans to connect sites in some of the harshest and most remote environments in the world.

Hermes Datacommunications International has implemented a network based on satellite, IP telephony and wireless Lans to connect sites in some of the harshest and most remote environments in the world.

The company, which provides data communications for oil and gas exploration, has clients including Exxon and Maersk.

Gary Steer, Hermes' technical director, said, "Engineers working on a drill site out in the field only need to carry with them wireless laptops and IP-enabled phones. These can connect via high-bandwidth wireless Lan technology to a central site up to 10 miles away, where the satellite terminal is located."

Communications are then uploaded to satellite and beamed back to a station in Shrewsbury. Here, engineers can connect to the international public switched telephone network and the internet. Alternatively, they can connect to dedicated fibre links working at any speed from 64kbps upwards, to ­clients' European and US offices.

Within the networks of satellite and fibre links, Hermes integrates Hipath IP-based communications servers from Siemens. These enable seamless voice and data services across multi-site networks.

"We install the Hipath servers at all sites and link them together to create a 'virtual private branch exchange' that makes desk-to-desk dialling and unified numbering across the network possible," said Steer.

"For some clients, we provide physical installation and support only, while for others we take full responsibility for e-mail and internet management and access, as well as Lan management."

Engineers at a drilling site in Kazakhstan, for example, can make voice over IP calls over the multi-point Ethernet network - which connects the collection points and pump stations scattered across the oil field - while Hipath servers compress satellite voice calls, minimising bandwidth, reducing latency and keeping call costs down.

Alongside the technology, Siemens provides on-site training for clients to maintain peak network performance and help them make full use of the technology's capabilities.

"The communications infrastructure in many of the locations in which our clients work is extremely poor and is largely based on old Russian microwave links and fault-prone local lines. But the job of their engineers is to drill holes in the ground, not tinker about with the communications infrastructure.

"For that reason, clients are generally ready to switch to a more robust and flexible approach to converged communications," said Steer.

Roadmap for unified comms

Benefits of IP telephony


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