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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

ITC Global delivers VSAT to world’s largest semi-submersible drilling rig

Thu 13 Oct 2016

ITC Global delivers VSAT to world’s largest semi-submersible drilling rig
Ocean GreatWhite was chartered to BP for drilling in harsh and deepwater environments

ITC Global supplies redundant dual-band VSAT to Diamond Offshore’s Ocean GreatWhite semi-submersible rig and Harris CapRock unveils long range wireless communications for offshore projects

When Hyundai Heavy Industries delivered the world’s largest semi-submersible drilling rig to Diamond Offshore, the US$630 million rig included a fully redundant communications system. The 123m long and 78m wide Ocean GreatWhite has an advanced communications system from ITC Global. The Moss CS60E design rig was built for drilling in deep waters in harsh environments. It is chartered to BP until the middle of 2019 to conduct exploration drilling in deep waters and harsh conditions. These will be remote operations that require high levels of redundancy and uninterrupted communications lines.

ITC Global installed a redundant communications package on DNV GL classed Ocean GreatWhite, including two 2.4m diameter Sea Tel 9711 antennas from Cobham Satcom. It also provides bespoke VSAT connectivity and teleport infrastructure for the broadband communications. ITC Global chief executive Joe Spytek described to Marine Electronics & Communications how this bespoke system provides continuous connectivity for rig operations and crew welfare.

“The solution we supplied is highly redundant with one active network, antennas, and two satellites in use, along with one back-up network, antenna and satellite,” he said. “This solution’s design and the level of investment show that energy companies are looking to allocate resources for quality and bespoke solutions.” VSAT connectivity is through C-band with Ku-band as the back-up.

“It is a layered solution that gives us flexibility and is invaluable to the operator,” said Mr Spytek. “It is a C-band solution that enables the rig to transit worldwide with full network connectivity. The solution is configured to automatically switch to the back-up Ku-band network, antenna and satellite if needed. The dual-switching C and Ku-band solution provides ultimate flexibility.”

The Sea Tel 9711 three-axis marine stabilised antennas can switch automatically and seamlessly between bands. They combine a C-band circular and linear switchable feed and a Ku-band cross- and co-polarised switchable feed with a sub-reflector. The Ku-band sub-reflector was designed to optimise the radio frequency performance of the 2.4m antenna. The two antennas are linked to iDirect X7 modems and the rig’s communications management systems.

Communications can be switched between antennas, modems and the different teleports. “When switching to the back-up network there is no packet loss and no dropped phone calls, even if there is a satellite or teleport failure,” said Mr Spytek. “There is no degradation as the system can use the second satellite. This way we have two available networks for true redundancy.”

ITC Global can offer a combination of satellite communications and wireless services that include 3G and long-term evolution (LTE) 4G mobile networks to offshore installations and vessels. It is working with an operator of floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels worldwide on deploying LTE and VSAT technology. “FPSO operators are looking to install wireless and LTE infrastructure on board as the ships come out of the shipyard,” said Mr Spytek. “They would then decide how to connect the LTE. If the FPSO is deployed in the North Sea that would be no problem, but when operating offshore West Africa LTE is not a viable option.”

There are LTE and fibre optic cable networks around the North Sea and the US side of the Gulf of Mexico to which FPSOs and offshore support vessels (OSVs) can connect. Outside this network, VSAT is the prime communications conduit. “We have seen OSV operators embrace Ku-band as a highly available solution using 1m antennas. Ku-band has flexibility, and with high throughput satellites coming there will be incredible throughput figures.

“Ku-band is being accepted offshore Angola and Nigeria even where there are rain fade difficulties as we can outfit vessels to cope with that.” Mr Spytek expects more demand for redundant network designs on OSVs, as operators want to offer clients seamless communications. “We will see different Ku-band antennas on vessels – dual-band antennas with Ku or C-band for operations and transits, with a single Ku-band antenna for back-up,” he said.

Harris CapRock Communications, too, can deliver integrated VSAT with LTE and wireless radio for offshore projects and vessels. It recently unveiled the OnePath Radio long-range wireless radio to complement its VSAT technology. Harris CapRock president Tracey Haslam said this technology could be deployed on drilling rigs, production installations and pipelayers. “If we put a transmitter for line of sight radio on a rig, we would then have an area of low-cost mobile communications as an ecosystem. There is an opportunity here,” she said.

“Connectivity needs to be seamless and integrated. We can use LTE, line of sight radio and all satellite bands to build up a global network. We also have modules that can choose either technology for least-cost routeing. We have always-on capabilities as we have redundancy, and can use LTE and wireless as back-up.”

It is important for any solution to have the ability to rapidly increase data transmission rates for project requirements. Operators want to be able to raise bandwidth to and from their vessels for oil company clients without having to wait for new VSAT hardware to be installed. “We need the ability to burst up and down the bandwidth to meet the user profile and not the asset profile,” said Ms Haslam.

As connectivity increases more offshore applications will be available to oil companies and vessel owners. For example, Ms Haslam expects the next generation of satellites will enable seismic vessel operators to offer better survey data services. “Imagine what we will be able to do with the bandwidth,” she said. “We could get to a point where real-time seismic surveys could be available. We can accelerate data transmission and there will be a price point where real-time seismic data transmission works.”

Harris CapRock gained a contract extension in July from offshore vessel operator Oceaneering International for VSAT services. This involves management of a new uncontended and dedicated time division multiple access (TDMA) network that increases the bandwidth flexibility on Oceaneering’s operated fleet of multipurpose support vessels. The architecture enables access to committed bandwidth levels at all times for voice and data services. The agreement includes initiating services on board Oceaneering’s Ocean Evolution, a multiservice support vessel that is currently under construction.

UK Electronic Solutions, part of the NSSLGlobal group, has unveiled a self-contained motion and impact monitoring system for offshore vessels. Oceanic Dynamics protects the longevity of offshore assets by monitoring and reporting vessel impacts on structures, crew safety, and engine performance. It monitors these impacts during docking and offloading operations using a micro electro-mechanical system. This uses an orientation sensor to monitor the motion and impact of the vessel as it docks.

Oceanic Dynamics is also able to monitor fuel efficiency, engine data, route information and the vessel’s dynamic stability within the water. It has a high definition bullet camera to record footage from the deck of the vessel at all times. Oceanic Dynamics can report on how the vessel, crew and environment are impacting on vessel performance. The information is stored on board until the vessel is within range of coastal mobile phone networks or WiFi and can then be downloaded to shore.

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