Software, smart phones can replace hardware solutions

The offshore industry is more diverse and distributed than most. Innovation for the offshore community means discovering better ways to be productive in remote and harsh environments.

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James Mustarde
Twisted Pair Solutions

The offshore industry is more diverse and distributed than most. Innovation for the offshore community means discovering better ways to be productive in remote and harsh environments. Arguably, no industry could benefit more from the increasingly sophisticated communications than the oil and gas industry.

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Communications offshore may be able to take advantage of existing software and smart telephone technology to be more productive by putting more people in contact easier.

Software applications, long commoditized by consumer demand, are driving this communication revolution and can provide a true gateway to better speed and accuracy in discovering and developing offshore oil and gas.

Specifically, these software platforms have the potential to deliver major productivity improvements and cost savings, allowing workers to share voice, video, presence, and data instantaneously while using existing communications networks and/or the newest consumer devices.

While the oil and gas industry places greater value on quicker and more refined information exchange, it has yet to realize a truly integrated approach to communications and operations – one that places less significance on physical presence.

Video teleconferencing has been infused into rig and land-based operations. And they do allow two or more locations to interact simultaneously, helping inch closer to a more collaboration-focused decision-making process. But, these cameras, monitors, and microphones are in fixed locations and require meeting coordination and the physical presence at installations. Video teleconferencing was not designed for, nor can it support, the urgent and mission critical communication necessary for collaboration on the fly. And, while the offshore community is leveraging Internet Protocol (IP) to send and receive video and voice, the approach is still hardware-centric.

The current communications practice for on-rig exchanges, helicopter logistics, emergency management – essentially any function related to the field – is supported by proprietary hardware-based systems that include bulky and expensive dispatch consoles as well as costly push-to-talk two-way radios. And, all of the discussion and data flowing between these systems and devices is managed by radio operators and routed through a dedicated radio room.

Many other industries, including the military, have taken advantage of innovations from the consumer market. New applications could empower subsea and mechanical engineers, for example, to discuss the same live video feeds via tablets or smart phones – on or offshore. Software is making hardware decisions easier and less expensive.

These platforms not only impact workflow because of new abilities to collaborate, they also extend existing networks to unify incumbent communications technologies like push-to-talk two-way radios with smart devices that are common, accessible, and familiar to the mobile offshore workforce. With software it would be easy and cheap to add 30 people to a communications network. A hardware-based approach would limit device options and likely materialize into the purchase of push-to-talk two-way radios that cost several thousands of dollars each. Software can transform smart phones into push-to-talk two-way radios – and this is technology they can afford.

By coupling a software-based approach to collaboration with other innovations and new voice, video, presence, and other data applications, the industry may gain more accurate measurement instruments or better aggregation and visualization of well information. These are the sparks of a true digital oilfield.

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