WiFi Mesh Network Offers Enhanced Communications

For oil and gas companies, transporting and positioning oil platforms and other subsea assets is an extraordinarily challenging task. In some cases, operations extend to depths as great as 4,000 meters (more than 13,100 feet), transport distances reach hundreds of miles and platforms require highly precise positioning.

DOF Subsea, a leading global provider of subsea services, uses offshore vehicles, remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and specialized diving systems to float huge platforms into place and secure them in locations such as the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea and the Asia-Pacific region.

In the past, the task was accomplished using UHF radio frequencies, says Haseeb Rafeek, assistant technical manager for DOF Subsea. The company bounced sound waves off physical objects to map underwater topography and position systems.

“The problem was that the approach provided extremely limited bandwidth,” Rafeek explains. “We were fortunate to get 200 kilobits per second of data through the point-to-point system.” In many cases, line-of-sight issues entered into the picture as four or five tugboats and other surface vessels attempted to collect and coordinate data.

Installing a Robust Communications Platform

In 2013, the company began exploring more advanced options. After researching technologies, DOF Subsea opted for a wireless Kinetic Mesh Network from Rajant and worked with Becker WMS to install and integrate a fault-tolerant, robust communications platform for towing and tug boat navigation. The network, which can extend for up to six nautical miles, went live in January 2015.

“Previously, there had been very little use of WiFi offshore because it doesn’t work well in a high-metal environment,” Rafeek says. “Our problems with line-of-sight and metal disappeared with this network. We now are able to connect effectively and manage everything from a single location.”

The high-bandwidth mesh network delivers throughput above 250 megabits per second. This allows DOF Subsea to use closed-circuit cameras, video and a connected phone system (rather than two-way radios) to communicate between the different units. The enhanced communication capabilities allow boats and other systems to transmit positions, navigate in real time and generate 3D models.

In addition, Rafeek says that the firm can now log into computers remotely and fix problems as they occur. The result? The technology speeds project completion by 20 to 30 percent. In some cases, specific tasks that required 15 to 20 minutes now take place instantaneously.

The system also reduces the equipment required for a project and the number of workers needed in the field. Another important benefit is that the mesh network increases safety by providing live data that’s used to make key decisions. “It substantially lowers the risk for incidents during the inshore tow and mooring operations,” Rafeek points out.

The network has helped DOF Subsea take its business into the 21st century and realize gains that transform the business.

“We now have far more sophisticated capabilities in place,” Rafeek reports. “This has not only introduced remarkable efficiencies, it has also opened up a world of data sharing. The system makes our work easier and allows us to incorporate data in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.”