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WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of


Industrial Wireless for Smart
Oil Fields
Jeffrey Ke

Moxa Product Manager

WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

Abstract
Oil and gas fields seem like a perfect market for wireless networksand a potentially lucrative
one. Yet operators are reluctant to use wireless, because of concerns about reliability and
security in an industry where downtime can cost millions and the product is literally explosive.
However, recent advances in technology are finally providing reliable, secure wireless systems
that systems integrators can offer to the energy industry with confidence.

Introduction
Modern oil and natural gas wells typically operate unattended for extended periods. Downtime
means lost profitswhich could be thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars per hour for
a new wellso oil companies are willing to pay a premium for an industrial grade system that
can maximize their wellhead uptime. With modern sensor technologies, centralized wellhead
monitoring alerts operators to device failures, so they can take immediate action to bypass,
replace or repair faulty equipment before it affects production. There are several ways to
collect the monitoring databut wireless technologies offer the lowest cost and the fastest
deployment.
System integrators would love to use wireless, but their energy industry customers have
serious doubts about it, particularly in the most critical areas of production. In this whitepaper,
we will discuss the two most common objections you will hear when upgrading an oil or gas
field with industrial wireless technologies: (1) Wireless communication is unreliable, and (2)
Wireless communication is insecure.

Benefits of Wireless Communications in Oil Fields


The industrial world is at the beginning of a revolutionary change; lets call it the age of the
Industrial Internet of Things (Industrial IoT). The Industrial IoT collects and analyzes your oil
fields performance data to bring cost reductions and greater efficiency. To achieve this, it
requires sophisticated modern communication technologies. With recent advances in robust
wireless technology, you can now easily create a reliable and secure network to realize the
Industrial IoT concept. Here we will compare this new type of network with the traditional
wired solution to see what benefits wireless brings:
1. Lower Implementation Cost and Faster Deploymentavoiding the time and cost of laying
hundreds or thousands of meters of traditional cables. With wireless, theres no need to dig

Released on July 14, 2015


2015 Moxa Inc. All rights reserved.
Moxa is a leading manufacturer of industrial networking, computing, and automation solutions. With over 25 years of
industry experience, Moxa has connected more than 30 million devices worldwide and has a distribution and service
network that reaches customers in more than 70 countries. Moxa delivers lasting business value by empowering
industry with reliable networks and sincere service for automation systems. Information about Moxas solutions is
available at www.moxa.com. You may also contact Moxa by email at info@moxa.com.

How to contact Moxa


Tel:
Fax:

1-714-528-6777
1-714-528-6778

2015 Moxa Inc.

WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

trenches or to run conduits through crowded, busy and hazardous environments.


2. Reduced Maintenance Time and Costwith wired communication, paying for cable
maintenance and repair staff is inevitable. Cables are vulnerable to accidental cutting,
snapping, or disconnection. Wireless communication narrows down the maintenance scope
from lines to points. This can significantly reduce the maintenance time and cost.
3. Maximizing System Uptimewith a redundant wireless design, multiple communication
paths can ensure the highest system uptime, no matter whether there is a hardware failure
or wireless interference.
To realize all the above advantages, it is important to clearly understand the options you have
for creating reliable and secure wireless communications. We hope this white paper will help
introduce the key concepts, and some potential solutions.
As we discussed above, oil and gas industry customers have two common objections to
accepting wireless: reliability and security. We will discuss these objections, and suggest how
they can be overcome.

Challenge 1: Wireless Communication is Unreliable


Wireless choices: Defining the scope
There are many wireless data technologies, for example: Bluetooth, Zigbee, WiFi (802.11based systems), and mobile/cellular data, as well as proprietary microwave systems. For
longer-distance communication, WiFi and cellular technologies are now the most popular
options, as they provide a relatively wider range and higher bandwidth.
In the case of cellular data, the most common cause of communication instability is the service
providers cell tower becoming overloaded by other users, or suffering hardware failure.
Technologies like Moxa GuaranLink or Cellular Connection Alive Check are generally used to
monitor cellular connection status and ensure the link stays upso we will not discuss cellular
data technology in detail in this white paper, and instead focus on WiFi.
Unlike cellular, WiFi uses unlicensed public radio frequencies and therefore it is less strictly
regulated. This has helped WiFi technology grow rapidly in the past 20 years, in both usage
and capabilities. For example, the data rate has increased 100x from 11 Mbps (802.11b) to
1,300 Mbps (802.11ac). However, the openness of the WiFi market has resulted in a
technology that cannot always be relied upon. How can we enjoy the benefits of WiFis high
bandwidth, without falling victim to its unreliability?

Why do people think wireless (802.11) communication is unreliable?


Before we talk about the solution, lets talk about why wireless is unreliable. Wireless signals
are transmitted through the air, and everybody must share the same small range of
frequencies. Image this: if there are a hundred people in a room and all of them are talking at
the same time, they will probably all have to slow down and keep repeating themselves in
order to be understood by the person they are talking to. WiFi devices are like a crowd of
people in a roomthe more there are, and the more they talk, the harder it becomes for
anyone to be heard clearly. Simply speaking louder is not effective because everyone nearby

2015 Moxa Inc.

WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

will start to speak louder, too. (In fact, for wireless, speaking louder usually cannot be very
effective because there are legal limits on transmitter power levels).
Fortunately, there are many techniques that can improve communications quality in these socalled multiple access (MA) situations. For example, using different frequencies (FDMA
Frequency Division Multiple Access), or using different time slots (TDMATime Division
Multiple Access).
WiFi (based on the IEEE 802.11 standard) uses a dynamic version of TDMA: Carrier Sense
Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance, CSMA-CA. To explain this briefly: Every WiFi device
listens briefly to the airwaves before transmitting, to detect if the frequency is free to use
(Carrier Sense). If no other device is transmitting nearby, then the device sends some data,
otherwise it waits until the frequency band is availablethe devices try to share the time. This
is like waiting for a break in conversation before speaking. However, this method suffers from
several potential problems that make it unreliable. Here we discuss these problems:
1. The frequency channel is overloaded. As we have mentioned, CSMA-CA devices share the
transmission time with others by checking whether the frequency is available. So if the
frequency is fully and continually
occupied, the transceiver will just keep
waiting. When installing any new
wireless devices, or moving existing
equipment, it is standard practice to
check which frequency channels are
least crowded, and use those
frequencies. As wireless devices
proliferate, finding space becomes increasingly difficult.
2. There is co-channel interference. Some people consider this part of the issue of overloaded
channels, but there is a difference
between a legitimate signal and
interference. The definition of co-channel
interference is: Transmitting while
another radio is transmitting. Such
interference is usually caused by
wireless radios that do not follow the
CSMA-CA protocolintentionally or
unintentionally. Intentional interference
could even be a malicious attack in
which someone is trying to hack or jam
your communications. An example of
unintentional interference is the hiddennode issue that is commonly seen in
badly set-up wireless networks and
requires enabling CTS/RTS. This can
easily cause co-channel interference that
makes your wireless network unstable.
3. There is adjacent-channel interference. The public wireless frequency range is divided into
a small number of channels. Each is so narrow that some of a signals energy will spill over

2015 Moxa Inc.

WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

into neighboring channels. Sometimes this prevents CSMA-CA from reliably detecting
whether a frequency is already being used. As a result, even if we appear to have a
channel available for our devices data, the signals transmitted on closely adjacent
channels can collide with each other and become unintelligible at the receiving end. This
problem is most commonly seen in 2.4 GHz channels (802.11b/g/n) as the available
frequency range is narrower, compared to 5 GHz (802.11a).
4. There is non-WiFi interference. Many other devices produce radio frequencies that interfere
with WiFi communications. For example, consumer
microwave ovens emit energy around the 2.45 GHz
frequency, with far more power than a WiFi device.
Some of this energy leaks out. So, if you are using an
802.11b/g/n device close to a microwave, your data
transmission can be severely disrupted.
5. A moving obstacle blocks the line-of-sight. In an office, it is not necessary to have a lineof-sight to your access point, because, over short distances, radio signals can bypass
obstacles by bouncing off walls and passing through some materials. However, for long
distance communication, line-of-sight is the best way to ensure wireless connection quality
and throughput. But if that line-of-sight is blocked by some large object, like a truck or
crane, you will usually experience a loss of connection or, at least, a drop in available
bandwidth.

So how do we overcome all these interference problems?


We dont, in the same way as we cannot always prevent a fiber cable from being cut by
someone excavating the road without checking the metro cable layout. And similarly, we
cannot foresee if one of your subcontractors will use a proprietary communications solution
that interferes with your WiFi or cellular links, or even if someone will deliberately attack your
wireless connection.
Of course, you should still use professional wireless installers to do a site survey when they
first install your wireless devices and ensure that everything is working well. But they cannot
protect you from the unexpected, such as an access point suffering a power failure, or
somebody nearby starting to use the same frequency channel as you, or staff moving a
microwave oven close to a wireless device.
So, as we cannot overcome every possible problem in the real world, the only solution is to
dodge the interference. This is achieved with wireless redundancy. There are several different
types of redundancy that can be used:

Frequency-level redundancy with concurrent radio redundancy:


The basic principle of frequency-level redundancy is to use two or more radio frequencies
to transmit the same data. So, if one frequency is blocked or jammed by radio
interferencesuch as another WiFi devices transmissionthe data can be sent over the
other frequency instead. Using very widely-separated frequencies (such as the 2.4 GHz and
5 GHz bands) prevents the same source of interference blocking both frequencies. For
example, Moxas access points with Concurrent Dual-Radio Technology continually transmit
the same data over two different frequencies simultaneously, so if one frequency is blocked,

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WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

they can instantly switch to the other stream of data, and the network will continue
working without interruption or data loss.

2.4 GHz

5 GHz

Network level redundancy with AeroLink Protection:


Moxas AeroLink Protection creates a reliable wireless bridge between two networks to
provide network-level redundancy. The technology guards against numerous issues that
could prove fatal for an unprotected wireless network:
1. Communication Failover: AeroLink Protection devices negotiate with each other to
automatically elect an active node for data communicationother nodes serve as
backups. Later, if the active node is no longer capable of sending data to its access
point, the other nodes will quickly re-negotiate to resume the communication via
another path.

2. Frequency-Interference Failover: This concept works similarly to Frequency-level


redundancy, introduced above. If there is interference on the active communication
frequency and data can no longer be transmitted, the network swiftly and automatically
restores the connection via a backup frequency.

2015 Moxa Inc.

WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

3. Device Failover: A critical wireless network should never be disabled by a single-pointof-failure. AeroLink Protection continually monitors each devices status. If the active
node is disabled by a local power failure or hardware fault, the backup nodes will
automatically take over to keep the data moving.

4. Scalable: AeroLink Protection is designed to allow almost unlimited backup paths,


allowing users to create a completely redundant wireless network, safe from all the
above failures.
5. Fast Recovery: Maintaining a redundant wireless network is important, but its just as
important to avoid seriously interrupting communications when a failure occurs.
AeroLink Protection is designed to restore the communications within 300 ms from any
failure.

Challenge 2: Wireless Communication is Insecure


How is data at risk?
Corporate users of WiFi and cellularthe most common wireless data technologieswere
initially concerned about the security risks of transmitting their information through the air.
But those communication channels can now be encrypted for secure transmission. WPA2
combined with AES provides strong encryption for WiFi. And in the case of cellular, not only is
the data encrypted, but access to the frequency range is also restricted by law to strictlylicensed organizations and devicesunlike WiFi.

2015 Moxa Inc.

WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

However, despite this protection, data is still at risk when it passes through the public Internet.
For example, when you use cellular to collect data locally, you might assume your data is
safely contained onsite. In fact, your data probably goes from the mobile service provider out
onto the public Internet, before returning through your corporate router and firewall and finally
to your monitoring center. How do you secure your data even though it passes through the
public domain?
Its now an increasingly common industry practice for data to be encrypted whenever it passes
over the Internetfor example, companies such as Google encrypt all their users searches,
email, and so on. All organizations can greatly improve their security with end-to-end
encryption of data to keep data safe as it passes through the Internet or other less-secure
channels.

Why do users need cybersecurity?


Forty-one percent of global organizations are hit by one of the most common forms of cyberattack, a Denial of Service (DoS or DDoS), at least once per year, with the energy industry
targeted more often than other sectors, according to a 2014 survey by global communications
company, BT. In a DoS event, an attacker floods the network with data to prevent it from
operating normally. If the attack is successful, communication can be stopped or severely
slowed, and poorly-designed communications hardware may crash. A successful [Denial of
Service] attack on the hazard management systems at an oil refinery would be catastrophic,
the BT report warned.
Oil and gas companies are increasingly aware of the mounting threats posed to their business
from online attacks. There are threats to their sensitive business information, and perhaps of
even greater concern, to their operating control infrastructure. For example, network access
allows control of flow rates, pump speeds, valve openings, and numerous other physical
parameters that could cause extensive equipment damage or even harm to staff and the public,
if they are tampered withor if access is simply denied to legitimate users by a Denial of
Service attack. As Internet use has become more widespread over the past decade, the oil and
gas industry has seen heightened risks surrounding the security of Internet-enabled equipment.
A defense-in-depth approach should be applied to industrial control systems for protection of
critical equipment. Security coverage should extend to the entire automation network.
Choosing the right industrial network security equipment could be the key to avoiding
seriousand costlyissues in the future.

So what can we do to make the network more secure?


Choosing the best cybersecurity hardware for oil and gas applications is not easyconsumergrade devices are very unlikely to be adequate. Here are some considerations for choosing a
suitable industrial firewall:
1. A firewall that offers routed mode and transparent mode provides the flexibility needed to
make deployment easier and less disruptive to the existing network.
2. High-performance filtering and low latency allow seamless network traffic inspection, and
avoid disruption.

2015 Moxa Inc.

WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

3. In particular, the ability to perform deep packet inspection of specialized industrial and
automation protocols, such as Modbus/TCP, is important for seamlessly filtering out
unwanted or harmful data.
4. Tough, industrial-grade physical design helps protect devices and keeps them running
reliably. This is important in oil and gas applications, as maintenance can be difficult due to
hazardous environments or long distances.
5. A well-designed web interface allows faster setup and easier firewall rule maintenance. This
saves staff time and energy, making it easier to create and maintain a secure network,
with no security loopholes overlooked.
6. Denial of Service protection is important to keep the network available. A broadcast storm
can easily crash an unprotected network.
In view of these issues, a stronger, more secure oil field network can maximize system uptime,
keep data and equipment safe, and greatly reduce maintenance work.

Summary
Recent innovations are making low-cost wireless networks as reliable as old-fashioned
communications technologies, such as wired networks. While this makes switching to wireless
an attractive proposition for industrial users, the energy industry faces some special challenges,
particularly in the oil and gas production and processing sectors:

Reliability: For the energy industry, 100 percent uptime is critical for safety, and to avoid
costly interruptions in output.

Security: Control systems and production data must be protected from attackers. Even
after this is achieved, the network itself is also a critical asset which must be protected
against denial of service attacks.

Safety: Network hardware must be safe for use in environments where flammable or
explosive gas and vapor are present.

As we have learned in this white paper, solutions now exist for these challenges, and suitable
products are available today:

Reliability: Robust wireless networks monitor their own performance. They handle a wide
range of problems by instantly opening alternate communications links to maintain
seamless connectivity.

Security: Multiple layers of strong encryption keep out attackers. Sophisticated firewall
filtering techniques guard against denial of service attacks.

Safety: Hardware is designed with industry-standard safety certification in mind.

How to Offer an Attractive Solution to the Oil and Gas


Industry Today
As oil and gas fields often span hundreds or thousands of square miles in remote areas,
wireless networks can greatly improve communication efficiency and lower costs. Although

2015 Moxa Inc.

WHITE PAPER

Tackling the Challenges of Industrial Wireless


for Smart Oil Fields

large oil and gas companies are beginning to use wireless to collect and transmit missioncritical data, reliability and security are the two major concerns delaying full adoption.
Addressing these concerns, Moxas AWK-3131A series Wireless Access Point supports features
such as AeroLink Protection, which creates a reliable wireless bridge between two networks
and provides network-level redundancy.
When acting as access points for data aggregation on oil well pads, the devices might be
located close to the wellhead. For safety reasons, this requires Class I Division II / ATEX Zone
2 compliance. The AWK-3131A series is undergoing compliance testing with an independent
organization, and is targeted to achieve this certification by the end of 2015.
As oil and gas fields are often located in deserts, oceans, and other harsh environments, large
oil and gas companies require network hardware that can endure extreme operating
temperatures and has ingress protection. The AWK-6232 series Wireless Access Point has an
IP68-rated metal casing, preventing internal damage from dust, rain, moisture and extreme
temperatures, and enabling it to deliver continuous wireless transmission for data aggregation
on pads. Moreover, the AWK-6232 series supports Dual RF Wireless Redundancy, which
guarantees a reliable wireless connection with zero packet loss.
In addition to a reliable wireless network, oil and gas companies require a comprehensive
range of cybersecurity options when transmitting information between oil well pads and a
remote control center. The EDR-810 series secure router provides stringent cybersecurity
protection, including a VPN, firewall, packet checking and support for specialized industrial and
automation protocols, to ensure a high level of protection for mission-critical assets. It also has
Class I Division II / ATEX Zone 2 certification to meet safety and regulatory standards.
More information about these products is available on Moxas website at:

AWK-3131A series: http://www.moxa.com/product/AWK-3131A.htm

AWK-6232 series: http://www.moxa.com/product/AWK-6232_Series.htm

EDR-810 series: http://www.moxa.com/product/EDR-810.htm

Visit Moxas Wireless Solutions for Digital Oil Fields site for more information:
http://www.moxa.com/Event/Vertical_markets/OG_WirelessSolutions/index.htm

Disclaimer
This document is provided for information purposes only, and the contents hereof are subject
to change without notice. This document is not warranted to be error-free, nor subject to any
other warranties or conditions, whether expressed orally or implied by law, including implied
warranties and conditions of merchantability, or fitness for a particular purpose. We specifically
disclaim any liability with respect to this document and no contractual obligations are formed
either directly or indirectly by this document.

2015 Moxa Inc.