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1 April 2016

Ingenu’s RPMA gives Shell a $1m saving on $87k spend

Ingenu’s RPMA low-power wide-area networking (LPWAN) technology has secured a deployment in Nigeria, as the connectivity component of Shell Nigeria’s oil pipeline infrastructure. Shell claims that an investment of $87,000 has saved the company over $1m within a year, largely from having to carry out fewer field visits.

Shell employed Upland Consulting, a Nigerian firm, to assess and deploy the networking technology best suited to the task – which forms the backbone of the Digital Oilfield (DOF) system, provided by Koncar Electronics and Informatics – a Croatian manufacturer of industrial equipment for the power industry.  Ingenu CEO John Horn said that Shell used eight RPMA access points for the deployment, which was completed in three months.

Koncar has secured a license for RPMA, and is incorporating it into its hardware – allowing many of its devices to talk to the eight access points in the oil field, in a private network. The backhaul from these access points can be fixed-line broadband, cellular, or even satellite, but the link to the end-devices is using Ingenu’s RPMA.

The Koncar DOF platform uses Koncar’s Remote Terminal Unit (RTU) and wireless pressure and temperature sensors to gather data from the pipeline infrastructure, which is then backhauled to a management and monitoring platform. This links the flow stations, manifolds, and wellheads to the back office staff, which allows them to make fewer visits to the deployed assets. The RTUs are also able to issue alarms, control the power consumption of the connected asset, and report statuses, all via encrypted data.

Such systems allow businesses to significantly reduce their truck roll expenditure, and also allow them to reduce the number of staff or contractors they employ to monitor equipment in the field. In addition, the data generated opens doors to SaaS analytics that might help predict failures or required maintenance, which in turn can reduce the operational costs of the existing business – as well as potentially informing future investments.

In both of these cases, the data is what is valuable to the business. For the upper management and the budget-holders, the transport and application layers are almost irrelevant. All they want to see is the dashboard that lets them better run their operations, no matter how enthusiastic their engineering team may be.

Ingenu says that Shell also investigated SMS, GPRS, and satellite alternatives, but found that the others required “significant infrastructure investment for towers, radios, data communications equipment, battery banks, logistics and installation.” Consequently, the small amount of equipment needed for RPMA has apparently resulted in savings of more than $1m compared to the rival solutions.

It’s quite a claim, but these sorts of IoT deployments are the posterchild for IoT adoption. A focused project, with clear goals, and the technology to make the installation and operation straightforward – all for a diminutive cost.

RPMA (Random Phase Multiple Access) is a 2.4GHz wireless protocol that was developed by a group of former Qualcomm engineers who were heavily involved in the creation of CDMA. Using Direct Spread Spectrum (DSS) modulation, the LPWAN protocol claims great efficiency in terms of its required network infrastructure. Ingenu claims that it typically uses one base station where an equivalent cellular installation would use between ten and thirty. In terms of deployment costs, this is a huge advantage.

Of course, some are skeptical of the capabilities of 2.4GHz spectrum, more typically associated with WiFi and Bluetooth. But CEO Horn says that the proof of the technology is found in its customer base – with Ingenu’s most powerful sales tool being the ability to send interested parties to an existing deployment to hear the results straight from its adopters. The Shell deal is a pretty good sales tool for future revenue.

Under Ingenu’s current business model, exclusive national licenses are negotiated for RPMA, which are determined based on coverage footprint targets. On the back of this, there’s the potential for further expansion in Nigeria for Koncar. Ingenu currently supplies the base station units, but has expressed an interest in moving to a hardware IP licensing model in the past.

“Upland evaluated several communication technologies to present Shell Nigeria with a solution to replace its manual oilfield data collection processes,” said Bola Awobamise, president and CEO of Upland Consulting Nigeria. “The key criteria for selecting a solution were the technology’s ability to cover difficult terrain, power performance, and long-range transmission as well as network scalability, two-way communications, and secure data transmission. Ingenu’s RPMA offered all of these attributes and eclipsed the competition with its connectivity, network capacity, and exceptional value.”