Driving the offshore technology revolution with reliable satellite data

By Simon Gatty Saunt, SES Networks

O3b mPOWER provides unprecedented flexibility, performance, and scale to extend new, bandwidth-intensive network services and applications
O3b mPOWER provides unprecedented flexibility, performance, and scale to extend new, bandwidth-intensive network services and applications (illustration: SES Networks)

Without cutting-edge innovation, the offshore industry as we know today would not exist. However, even with all its advances, producing and storing oil and gas in remotely located offshore platforms remains a major technological challenge.

For the last few years, offshore production facilities around the world have begun to understand how cloud can act as a powerful enabler for improving their operating efficiencies. The industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, and even as the oil and gas outlook improves, companies have continued to focus on capex reduction. But most offshore sites in remote areas face the challenge of transporting data from platform to shore remains due to technology constraints. Fibre-optic connectivity is often prohibitively expensive – if possible, at all – while wireless technologies frequently lack the reach and availability needed.

Data driven innovation for offshore industry
Data is at the core of IOT and Machine-to-machine (M2M). With modern sensors integrated into more assets and measuring more parameters, one of the key draws of this IOT technology is being able to maintain the most efficient operational settings for any condition and manage or fix issues before they cause shutdowns. This is also enabling a new level of automation, allowing more precise and effective production through onshore data processing. Additionally, offshore is making increasingly more use of remote training, welfare and e-medical over video, which are all big consumers of data.

Some energy producers are using this equipment to go even further and implementing “digital twins” of their offshore assets. These digital twins are virtual replicas of a platform or rig that is populated with real-time sensor data, providing s unparalleled insights on the asset’s wear, maintenance requirements and performance allowing proactive maintenance and better-informed forward planning.

As operational technologies become increasingly connected, offshore systems that once functioned in isolation are now linked to each other, as well as to onshore servers. This shift has driven the need for offshore connectivity that has the throughput, performance and coverage needed to transfer vast amounts of data generated by these “smarter” offshore assets.

The rise of MEO
Many of the data-driven applications that have the most impact rely on near real-time data transfer. By aggregating data from remote sensors and sending these to onshore or cloud-based data centres for analysis, oil producers are benefitting from the nearly 1 Tb of data generated each day on an oil rig: they gain key insights that not only reduce costs but also improve overall safety and productivity. It allows for remotely as well as automated changes to be made.

This opportunity was unlocked when the O3b Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellation became operational in 2014. Positioned at 8,000 km away from Earth, this constellation provides low-latency, high-throughput connectivity services and provided the change that the offshore industry needed urgently.

The O3b MEO constellation is today powering connectivity for four out of the six oil and gas supermajors today in remote offshore regions in the oil fields of Brazil, West Africa, and the Gulf of Mexico.

O3b satellites prior to launch (photo: SES Networks/Marie Ange Sanguy)
O3b satellites prior to launch (photo: SES Networks/Marie Ange Sanguy)

O3B MEO has significantly increased the throughput per link capability, which is critical for both energy and mining applications, and is capable of delivering more than a Gbps per site. This capability will also be further enhanced with the upcoming O3b mPOWER constellation which can deliver up to 10 Gbps per links. As the complexity of some applications increases, lower latency becomes more important for operators. One potential problem is that some systems have to transfer data between several nodes before it has reached its final destination, causing a lag between input and output. Working directly with cloud players also means that data can go directly from satellite to cloud service providers such as Microsoft and back without added latency.

At the same time, the O3b MEO constellation is not the end of the road when it comes to satellite technology. Demand for real-time data is growing as the amount of information measured expands and technologies are developed to exploit that.

That’s why SES is ready to take MEO technology even further when the O3b mPOWER system becomes available for service in the second half of 2022. This next-generation satellite network features unprecedented flexibility and scalability, ensuring energy producers have the connectivity they need to fully leverage the data their offshore assets are generating.

As an engineering- and science-led industry, offshore has always been a data-driven business, while its investments in data quality, data standards, and enabling technologies to have consistently made the sector safer and more productive. Making use of data driven and flexible communications systems can help the offshore industry to remain innovative and boost its success.

Simon Gatty Saunt, VP Commercial Maritime and Energy at SES NetworksSimon Gatty Saunt, VP Commercial Maritime and Energy at SES Networks, has held a number of senior positions in the satellite business for the past 20 years. This includes over 15 years at SES, which most recently included Vice President of Sales EMEA prior to his current role. In his current role, Simon’s team is responsible for the management of many SES key accounts, which include many of the world’s largest cross segment global service providers.