Cellular operators need to “get their heads together” if they want to offer cellular as a primary solution for telemetry, said a Houston-based company that manages that service for large U.S. pipeline companies.
“If cellular wants to play heavily in this market, they’re going to have to talk to each other more and be coordinated,” said Mark Goloby, general manager of CPS Technologies Inc.
The monitoring of a natural gas pipeline in Kansas was interrupted recently when control of the service area changed hands. A portion of the Wichita metropolitan statistical area was reclaimed by the Federal Communications Commission several years ago because it was deemed unserved. When the new owner turned on service in October, CPS lost coverage in that region.
“Here I am, trying to sell cellular as a primary solution to a Fortune 100 company. And as we were roaming, we didn’t have coverage because the new operator didn’t have agreements or something. A large pipeline company doesn’t care about FCC licenses. They can’t afford to lose coverage and go into alarm status for even one day. Now, I have to reconvince them that cellular is stable,” Goloby said.
Cellular service is by far the most cost-effective solution, Goloby noted. Nevertheless, CPS is in negotiations with satellite communication companies, which are interested in the telemetry market if cellular operators drop the ball.
“But if you look at the economics, cellular is best. If I go spread spectrum, it’s $1,200 a link. You buy new hardware and pay usage. Satellite can be $2,500 to $3,000 for a radio. Some are $1.50 per minute, and we get cellular rates at $9.95 a month,” Goloby said.
American Mobile Satellite Corp. has identified the oil pipeline industry as one of its target markets because of that industry’s need to operate in remote, unserved areas.
Pipeline companies generally install private radio systems in areas where they monitor flow because the flow of product is directly connected to revenue. A supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system may be installed in those areas.
But in areas like rural southeastern Kansas, the pipe is being monitored for corrosion. It’s not directly connected to revenue, so costs must be spared, Goloby said.
“It can really cost to tie it into the SCADA system. You can lay wire for three miles, but then you have resistance with the distance. Or fiber optic for three miles, but someone will come and dig it up. That’s why there are applications available to cellular carriers, but it’s a market that has to be grown,” Goloby said.