To maintain production and worker safety, industries in hazardous environments depend on reliable, organization-wide communications. This is why EP Petroecuador, Ecuador’s national oil and gas company, chose to migrate to a Tait DMR digital radio system to cover its crucial pipelines.
This article originally appeared on the Radio Resource International website.
The Need for a Purpose-Built, Open Standards Radio Network
EP Petroecuador is the national oil and gas company of Ecuador, specializing in the refining, storage, transport and sale of petroleum derivatives, both domestically and internationally. The company’s operations are of critical importance to the country, as oil and gas form a significant part of the Ecuadorian economy.
An important part of EP Petroecuador’s operations is the management and maintenance of Ecuador’s national oil pipeline network. Petroleum derivatives from the country’s oil fields are transported through a network of 1,600 kilometers of pipelines, and connect Ecuador’s oil fields in the east with the Esmeraldas Refinery on the country’s Pacific west coast, crossing dense jungles and the Andes mountains.
The extremely challenging terrain and remote areas the pipelines cross mean there is no LTE coverage, making a purpose-built radio network EP Petroecuador’s only option for reliable communications along the pipelines. In a move to enhance their existing radio network, EP Petroecuador decided to replace their ageing critical communications network, which consisted of a mix of analog and proprietary digital equipment.
In late 2016, EP Petroecuador issued a request for proposals for a Critical VHF Digital Radio System. Open standards were a key requirement to integrate multi-vendor equipment and systems, so EP Petroecuador could continue to leverage some of their existing communications infrastructure.
Tait DMR Solution
In February 2017 EP Petroecuador decided that a DMR Tier 2 system proposed by Tait best met their needs. What made the Tait solution stand out is the fact that it is built solidly upon open/non‐proprietary industry standards, giving EP Petroecuador the advantage of multi-vendor supply, increased innovation, new product development and protection from obsolescence.
Tait is one of the last LMR suppliers that continues to design, manufacture, market and deploy its own products, and this assures a tight coordination and control of the supply chain, quality, hardware and software enhancements, upgrades and modifications. The increased responsiveness, flexibility, improved equipment lead times, and quality control this offers was another deciding factor for EP Petroecuador.
To deliver the DMR solution, Tait designed and deployed a phased migration from the existing analog network that covered the pipeline to a digital Tait DMR Tier 2 network. The solution is also ready for the future, as the TN9300 Channel Controller allows for an easy upgrade to DMR Tier 3 through a software update, without the need for additional equipment.
The new DMR system is maintained by local Tait partner Lambda-Tec Cía. Ltda., and the management and monitoring of the network is simplified for EP Petroecuador system administrators, allowing them to focus on improving the efficiency of operations and worker safety.
Coverage – Equipment and Installation
To guarantee reliable coverage in the remote areas the pipelines were located, several physical challenges needed to be overcome.
To negotiate Ecuador’s thick jungles and mountains, local Tait partner Lambda-Tec Cía. Ltda. deployed a complete solution on the preexisting 16 sites, replacing analog repeaters with 22 DMR Tier 2 repeaters, and adding Sinclair Q2220e Duplexers, Commscope DB224 Antennas, Astron power supplies, and Power Sonic batteries for the Tait TM9355 fixed mobile radios.
To provide better range and coverage in these challenging environments, the network operates on VHF frequencies, with 20 repeaters on 168/173 MHz, and 2 on 140 MHz to bypass heavier utilization of VHF spectrum around populated areas. The inaccessible nature of other parts of the environment presented an interesting challenge: several sites were over 150 miles away from the nearest repeater.
To reach these sites and cover the entire area of EP Petroecuador’s operations, custom software was developed by Tait to permit the DMR Tier 2 repeaters more time to receive a signal, allowing fixed-base radios at these remote sites to be connected to the radio network.
IP Telephony Integration
Besides reliable coverage, another important move forward for EP Petroecuador’s communications during critical situations is the integration between the Tait DMR system and the existing Cisco IP Telephone system. A Tait TN9300 Channel Controller was connected to EP Petroecuador’s existing CISCO UCM (Unified CallManager) to allow the company’s PBX (Personal Branch Exchange) private telephone network 6 simultaneous SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) calls between the IP Telephony and DMR networks.
This integration was crucial for EP Petroecuador, as it leveraged the company’s existing IP Telephony system and enables communications between office-based staff and supervisors using desk phones with end users in the field using Tait DMR radios, allowing for more efficient communications between administrative staff and operational teams in real time.
Previously, different divisions of EP Petroecuador shared communications resources, meaning there was always a risk of communications being unavailable. The new DMR network has given EP Petroecuador the ability to create dedicated talkgroups for the different divisions of the company. This separation significantly decreases radio noise from unrelated communications, and guarantees availability of communications for different divisions and groups within EP Petroecuador.
The DMR network provides 18 voice and data channels, with a nationwide logical channel for critical operations across the entire company. To have a nationwide talkgroup for communications across its entire operation was a priority for EP Petroecuador, as it allowed for transparency on all levels so any issues along the pipeline could be resolved quickly and efficiently.
As well as voice communications, the DMR network also enables users to send data and text messages over the radio network. This means that the teams at EP Petroecuador communicating over the DMR network can send information such as job status, site arrival and departure details, and repair requests from their radios, making operations more transparent and efficient.
Health and safety are a priority for EP Petroecuador, as oil and gas operations are potentially hazardous and can pose significant risk to employees. To ensure the safety of staff and prevent equipment becoming an ignition source in the explosive atmospheric working environment of Petroecuador’s operations, the company opted for 525 Tait TP9361 AEx portable radios with a range of worker safety features.
A key worker safety feature was GPS location services. As EP Petroecuador’s areas of operation are so remote, knowing the location of their staff is vital in cases of emergencies, or when maintenance on the pipelines is required. Combined with other safety features such as the Man Down and Lone Worker alarms, the GPS location service enables EP Petroecuador to exactly pinpoint where an accident might have occurred. This functionality cuts emergency response times significantly and vastly improves worker safety.
Programmable emergency keys have also proven invaluable, as it allows workers out in the field to automatically call for help with just a press of a button. The new safety features of the DMR system align with EP Petroecuador’s Health and Safety policy, and more importantly, users of the safety features have confirmed the benefits to worker safety out in the field.
Results and business benefits
The new system has already proven its value in a recent emergency event; in early April 2020, heavy rains in the Amazon caused landslides that damaged some of the pipelines operated by EP Petroecuador. The company used the DMR system to communicate effectively and respond quickly during the recovery and management of this emergency event. The direct communication between Quito-based staff and field personnel – facilitated by the nationwide talkgroup and IP Telephony integration – were key in ensuring there was minimal impact to personnel and equipment during the event, and a speedy recovery plan was actioned.
“Being able to rely on a nationwide talkgroup with excellent coverage, plus the transparent integration between the DMR system and our IP Telephony are the greatest benefits that the Tait DMR Tier 2 network has given EP Petroecuador”
– Javier Cabrera V., Network and Communications Supervisor
- The open standards-based DMR Tier 2 solution has given EP Petroecuador excellent coverage across its entire operations, and has allowed it to integrate existing third-party IP Telephony equipment, and full-interoperability with current and future DMR equipment from Tait or other vendors committed to open standards.
- The availability of real-time communications between administrative and operational staff through the IP Telephony integration has significantly improved efficiency and safety, and this coupled with the dedicated and nationwide talkgroups has given EP Petroecuador peace of mind that their communications will get through.
- The enhanced availability of communication channels has, together with the numerous new safety features, enhanced worker safety practices at EP Petroecuador, and meets current Health and Safety policies and procedures.
Local Tait dealer Lambda-Tec Cía. Ltda. was instrumental in the deployment of the network, as it carried out the equipment installation with minimal disruption to the ongoing operations of EP Petroecuador. It also provided user training to EP Petroecuador staff, ensuring quick adoption and buy-in, which led to a smooth transition from the old system to the new DMR system. Lambda-Tec continues to provide maintenance to the network when required.
Most importantly, the new solution has enabled EP Petroecuador staff to communicate more clearly with quality, reliable voice and data on the DMR network. This, combined with the ongoing maintenance of the reliable and high-performing hardware and technology from Tait has ensured teams working for Petroecuador trust the new DMR communications solution, and made them confident in using the new equipment.
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