Some Energy Executives Critical of Satellite at Offshore Communications 2009

By | November 6, 2009 | Feature, Telecom

[Satellite News 11-06-09] Telecommunications experts and executives from offshore exploration and energy companies were highly critical of the affordability and performance satellite-based solutions during the Offshore Communications trade show opening panel session, "What’s Here and What’s Next?"
    Don Happel, Telecoms Technical Authority for EP Americas and IT specialist for Shell, told audience members that finding a cost-effective solution to connect offshore platforms with high-speed broadband for personal and enterprise applications was one of the biggest challenges for his company. "We need reliability, but more importantly, viabillity when it comes to our offshore communications. We have had problems with satellite from spotty connections to lack of available bandwidth. With our fiber network in place, we have not had these problems," said Happel.
   Kurt Haaland, operations and maintenance manager for BP GOM fiber optic network, also criticized satellite for not being able to adapt to the needs and future applications of the offshore industry. "These are the reasons myself and a lot of my peers see fiber as the way of the future to connect the rigs to the beaches," he said.
   However, Haaland admitted that there has not been communication between BP and satellite providers on how to adapt a satellite network architecture to meet those needs. "We never approached a satellite company and asked them what changes they could make with their architecture. We feel that’s not our role as an end-user."
   The sentiments expressed by the panelists seem to conflict with market anaylsts on the direction of the industry. While Comsys senior consultant Simon Bull warned satellite operators not to inflate VSAT capacity pricing at the analyst firm’s VSAT 2009 event in London, Bull told Offshore Communications e-daily that the industry was robust and painted an upbeat picture of the VSAT industry as a whole, highlighting the 2008 performance which saw the sector rake  in $5.4 billion and shipp 380,000 terminals. While most of the growth has been driven by enterprise operations in other sectors, the same technology, which is getting lighter and less expensive, is applied to the offshore markets.
    “The industry is light years ahead of where we were a few years ago. We are at the points of technology and efficiency that we could not dream of 10 years ago. You are seeing revenues at record levels. We see tremendous improvements in architectural flexibility, as well as tremendous improvements in [adaptive coding and modulation], enabling us to maximize the ability of the individual terminal,” said Mike Cook, senior vice president of Hughes Network Systems. “We have shipped more than 1.9 million VSAT terminals. The most interesting part of the business is the expansion of the scope of services we offer. The customer is looking for more than simple connectivity. They are looking for a range of services. We have been able to respond to that. Today, we offer a whole range of services which encourages them to feel part of the HughesNet community.”
    Some executives in the satellite industry believe that terrestrial shouldn’t be in competition with satellite in order to produce affordable solutions “Terrestrial communication is continuing to expand and the satellite industry is under constant pressure. There are two alternatives to either competing with terrestrial or complementing terrestrial. There are many diverse customer needs, network topologies and multiple applications. Direct competition with terrestrial is viable, but complementing terrestrial maybe a better approach,” said Amiram Levinberg, CEO of Gilat.  
    The hybrid approach is also being taken up by the oil and gas industry. Broadpoint, a Houston-based global telecommunication provider, offers both fixed and stabilized VSAT solutions to maritime and energy concerns around the world. However, in the Gulf of Mexico, where Broadpoint also operates a mobile wireless network, the company offers a hybrid approach, bundling fixed VSATs with its GSM/GPRS/EDGE network. The fixed VSATs aim to provide reliable communications while a rig is drilling and the GSM/GPRS/EDGE network provides communications while under tow. By eliminating the cost of an expensive stabilized platform, Broadpoint can provide broadband services at a more economical rate. “The Broadpoint hybrid solution is what makes us unique in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Errol Olivier, president and CEO. “The mobile wireless network supported by a C-band infrastructure is very reliable especially during inclement weather, unlike the rain fade experienced with Ku-band satellite.”
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