How Do Offshore Communications Work?

Thirty years ago communications between offshore facilities and onshore locations was limited to a two-way radio and daily reports. Back then, oilfield workers stationed offshore were virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Additionally, the amount of staff required on each rig and facility offshore was great because all the information to make decisions was gathered at these remote locations.

Offshore communications have come a long way since then. Now, real-time communications networks not only allow for wi-fi connectivity and personal cell phone use, but also real-time transfer of offshore data to onshore offices. Allowing for remote unmanned and totally subsea developments, the way the offshore industry works has been transformed by improved communications systems.

Telecommunications Technologies

There are a number of communications technologies that can work together in a system or singly to solve offshore communications challenges. Communications solutions are chosen because of the distance data must travel, the remoteness of the installation, and the amount of data that must be transmitted, as well as the availability of the technology. Different communications technologies include satellite, microwave, fiber optics, and cellular services.

Satellite Installation on an Offshore Facility
Satellite Installation on an Offshore FacilitySource: : Schlumberger

The most widely chosen solution for offshore communications, satellite communications requires a VSAT, or very small aperture terminal, at the offshore site; a broadband satellite connection in space; and a teleport onshore. Available anywhere in the world, satellite services are used many times for vessels that may be on the move, or extremely remote locations. The only drawbacks to satellite services are a slight delay in data transmittal and finite bandwidth.

Using microwave telecommunications technology, data is transported via wavelengths that measure less than one meter in length. Microwave communications solutions offer more bandwidth for data, but at shorter distances. Many times, microwave telecommunications are chosen for locations that are within close proximity to each other, such as a cluster of facilities on a field.

Umbilical Containing Fiber Communications Cables
Umbilical Containing Fiber Communications CablesSource: JDR Cable Systems

Although limited because cables must be run from point to point, fiber is an optimal communications solution for clustered facilities or offshore locations that are in high-traffic areas, such as the North Sea or US Gulf of Mexico. Also, fiber cables are used to transmit data between subsea trees, manifolds, jumpers, sleds and controls via umbilicals.

Even cellular services can be accessible at some locations offshore. Specifically, the US Gulf of Mexico has cellular towers installed offshore that allow cellular communications from rigs and platforms near the coast to onshore locations, allowing offshore workers to communicate through their own private cell phones.

Integrated Solutions

Sometimes, a telecommunications solution for an offshore development might require satellite communications to a main facility and microwave or fiber between wells or facilities within the development. In other words, a unique combination of telecommunications technologies is integrated into each offshore situation, which allows everything from real-time transfer of data from subsea wells to office-like environments at offshore facilities.

Because real-time transmittal of data is available now in offshore environments, not as many workers are required for rigs and developments located offshore. Advances in telecommunications technologies have made immediate decisions to be made from shore. Now, offshore developments are trending toward unmanned and completely subsea installations.

Furthermore, improvements in offshore communication technologies have improved work-life balance environments for those workers who are required to work at these remote locations. Now, offshore staff is able to use wi-fi, talk to family and friends on the phone and watch television during their off time.


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