Critical Communications for Energy & Utilities

31 May 2019

Critical communications is essential for energy and utility companies. Hytera offers the widest range of choice including narrowband mission critical voice products, broadband data infrastructure and the most robust terminals and accessories in the market today.

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Electricity, gas and water companies provide critical amenities and services to people. Failures in distribution grids or supply pipelines have immediate consequences. The impact of outages can be far reaching and very damaging to people, businesses and the wider economy. Lack of fresh water and waste water disposal facilities can quickly become a major health problem.

Facilities for oil and gas extraction and energy transmission lines are often located in remote and harsh environments. And the impact of accidents or shutdowns can be catastrophic. Power failures, lack of gas and water, or accidents at oil and gas extraction facilities cause disruptions to normal operations, which can be very costly to the organisation itself, potentially harmful to people and the environment, and damaging to the firm’s reputation. It is therefore vital that any problems are detected quickly and a response organised as fast as possible.

Private professional mobile radio (PMR) solutions such as DMR and TETRA two-way radio systems are designed for exactly these situations and people.

Electricity distribution and water companies operate many widely dispersed sites with electricity substations, electricity distribution pylons, reservoirs, pumping stations, clean water and wastewater treatment plants, pipelines and storage tanks located throughout the country. Offshore installations, including wind farms and oil and gas rigs, are an extreme example, along with land-based oil and gas extraction sites in remote, barely populated regions where cellular coverage is poor or more likely non-existent.

Modern digital communications solutions such as Hytera’s Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) and TETRA two-way radio portfolios provide instant push-to-talk (PTT) give people instant calls either to another individual or to a group of people, keeping people in touch with each other anywhere, any time. These technologies can also carry data for critical remote asset monitoring and integrate with other systems such as telephone networks to provide create a wider unified communications platform.

Resilient communications

PMR systems are resilient communications systems, with tailored capacity and coverage where it is needed. Mission critical levels of availability are possible thanks to the robustness of the equipment, which can operate safely in very harsh environments, backed up by multiple levels of redundancy, with no single point of failure, to ensure the network continues to operate no matter what happens.

Hytera offers the widest range of military grade rugged hand portable and mobile vehicle DMR terminals capable of operating in severe conditions and able to withstand impact shock, as well as high levels of protection against dust and water. Hytera terminals come with advanced noise cancelling technology to provide clear, instant communications in extremely noisy areas, especially useful for those working outdoors or close to loud machinery.

Hytera DMR products also provide a number of safety features to help protect people and ensure employers go beyond their duty of care to workers under Health & Safety Regulations. These include an emergency ‘panic’ button, Man Down tilt switching, remote Lone Worker monitoring as well as GPS satellite location services.

Locational situational awareness is key part of ensuring safe and efficient operations in the potentially risky energy and oil and gas sectors. Control rooms must know where personnel are at all times to ensure safety and to deliver the smooth running of the business.

Many Hytera radios come with built-in GPS, which allows supervisors and control room operatives to pinpoint exactly where workers are located. Not only can managers keep track of who is where in real time, but should anyone get into trouble they can be quickly located and help can be sent immediately.

Hytera DMR terminals are also Bluetooth enabled, which enables staff to be located indoors via Bluetooth beacons. This technology has even been used by Hytera companies to provide location services in offshore wind farms.

Intrinsically safe terminals

For those working in potential flammable environments, Hytera has a range of ‘intrinsically safe’ ATEX compliant DMR (and TETRA) hand portables in the shape of the PD715Ex, PD795Ex, PD715IS and PD795IS. The IS models are the first DMR radios to be ‘ia’ certified meaning they are safe to use in Zone 0 (where high levels of explosive materials, gases or dust are present continuously).

Another great advantage of PMR communication systems over cellular mobile phones is their ability to communicate directly with each other. Direct Mode Operation (DMO) enables DMR and TETRA users to bypass the main network and communicate directly radio-to-radio so long as they are within range. This enables crews to keep in touch if the main network or nearest base station is out of action or if they are out of range of the main network.

Maintenance and inspection crews working at remote sites often only need to talk to each other in working groups and switch to DMO, which requires no network. Or if needed these groups can further extend the network coverage by using a more powerful vehicle-mounted mobile radio or gateway to the main network should that be required.

SCADA and telemetry

As mentioned earlier, DMR is a digital IP-based PMR network and can use one or more of the available radio channels to carry data as well as voice services. This allows the DMR network to be used for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), telemetry and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Remote telemetry or radio units (RTUs/RRUs) can monitor key assets on electricity grids, control points, machinery, pipelines, storage tanks and then send the data Over-the-Air using the DMR network to an central monitoring location or directly to a person’s hand portable radio as a text message. The amount of information is usually quite small so it can be instantly transmitted even on narrowband networks like DMR and TETRA.

The RTUs sends an alert if the asset malfunctions or is showing indications that it might do so. This means operators can rapidly identify the fault, know exactly where it is and if necessary remotely shut down the piece equipment before problems escalate.

Not only does this provide a greater return on the investment in the communications network, as it is being used for more than just critical voice services, but it helps reduce operating costs on the main asset by aiding proactive maintenance and reducing the need to send out inspection, repair and maintenance crews.

Smart management of water, electricity, oil and gas networks provides greater control, better management and more efficient operations. Downtime costs money and potentially fines, while accidents can be horrendously costly financially and reputationally to the company involved if lives are lost or the environment is damaged and must be cleaned up.

Hytera offers a number of dispatching solutions to help provide a more efficient way to manage the network, its services and subscribers. Solutions include the modular Smart Dispatch for DMR Tier II conventional systems, DWS (Dispatch WorkStation) for use with DMR Tier III trunking systems and the comprehensive unified communication platform SmartOne. These support a large number of features including OTAP (over-the-air-programming) of the radio fleet and the ability to pull in multiple voice and data feeds and combine them visually onto a single screen.

Unified communications

DMR networks can be combined into a converged communications system bringing together mission critical voice, CCTV, vehicle and body worn camera feeds, IoT sensor data, artificial intelligence and data analytics, PABX/PSTN telephony networks and broadband LTE cellular networks. The Hytera PMR-LTE Convergence solution interconnects PMR, Wi-Fi and LTE onto a single unified platform.

Hytera companies can also deliver the necessary fixed infrastructure for private LTE networks if spectrum is available, as well as offering a mobile broadband ad hoc communication solution to provide islands of 4G LTE coverage within a relatively localised area.

In addition, Hytera also offers its portable e-Pack100 wireless ad-hoc repeater for temporary ad hoc networks, Push-to-Talk over Cellular devices and a range of body worn cameras that double as remote speaker microphones. These can be deployed as standalone devices or paired with Hytera radios, including the DMR PDC760 multi-mode advanced hybrid radio, which supports both DMR and 4G LTE and can be used for live video streaming.

The energy and utilities sectors are complex and critical national industries. A robust and reliable communications systems is a vital necessity and Hytera’s family of products can provide a communication solution to suit any scenario.

For more information on any of Hytera's solutions for the Energy & Utilities industry, contact one of our Approved Dealer Partners.