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This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features SCADA and IT guru William Gage returning to the podcast to discuss the recent introduction of 5G technology to enhance data communications.

In this episode, you will learn about different standards of WiFi and the evolution of 5G technology. You will also learn about different types of networks, what type of locations they work best at, and how the oil and gas industry is using the latest technology to support data communications.

5G for Data Communications: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

  • William Gage is the Director, SCADA at Targa Resources. Connect with Will on LinkedIn.
  • 2G was a second-generation cellular network that was designed to bring voice as an HD signal.
  • 3G was the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology.
  • 4G was the fourth generation of broadband cellular network technology, succeeding 3G.
  • 5G is an advanced wireless technology that began wide deployment in 2019. 
  • Gigahertz (GHz) the measurement of the speed of microprocessors, called the clock speed.
  • WiFi is a family of wireless networking technologies, based on the IEEE 802.11 family of standards, which are commonly used for local area networking of devices and Internet access. 
    • The larger the GHz number the faster the speed. (Ex: 2.4 GHz is faster than 5.4 GHz.)
  • 802.11A was an amendment to the IEEE 802.11 wireless local network specifications that defined requirements for an orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) communication system. It was originally designed to support wireless communication in the unlicensed national information infrastructure (U-NII) bands (in the 5–6 GHz frequency range) as regulated in the United States by the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47, Section 15.407.
  • 802.11B is an amendment to the IEEE 802.11 wireless networking specification that extends throughput up to 11 Mbit/s using the same 2.4GHz band. A related amendment was incorporated into the IEEE 802.11-2007 standard.
  • 802.11G is an amendment to the IEEE 802.11 specification that operates in the 2.4 GHz microwave band. The standard has extended throughput to up to 54 Mbit/s using the same 20MHz bandwidth as 802.11b uses to achieve 11 Mbit/s. This specification under the marketing name of Wi-Fi has been implemented all over the world.
  • Remote Telemetry Units are electronic devices placed in the field. RTUs enable remote automation by communicating data back to a facility and taking specific action after receiving input from the facility.
  • LTE (Long Term Evolution) network is a 4G wireless communications standard developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) that’s designed to provide up to 10x the speeds of 3G networks for mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, netbooks, notebooks and wireless hotspots.
  • EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution) is a third-generation mobile data technology, according to AT&T. It is used to provide fast Internet service to cell phones, and can be used to fill in the gaps of coverage networks from the cell phone providers.
  • IoT (Internet of Things) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
  • GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is a packet-oriented mobile data standard on the 2G and 3G cellular communication network’s global system for mobile communications.
  • High-Consequence Areas (HCAs) are defined by PHMSA as a potential impact zone that contains 20 or more structures intended for human occupancy or an identified site. PHMSA identifies how pipeline operators must identify, prioritize, assess, evaluate, repair, and validate the integrity of gas transmission pipelines that could, in the event of a leak or failure, affect HCAs.
  • ENTELEC is a user association that has provided education and information for over 90 years to its association members. The member organization focuses on communications and control technologies used by petroleum, natural gas, pipeline and electric utility companies.
  • The Pipeliner’s Blues by Johnny Bush is a song from the album Green Snakes on the Ceiling.
    • This is the theme song of Pipeliners Podcast.

5G for Data Communications: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 107, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, providers of POEMS, the Pipeliner Operations Excellent Management System, SCADA, compliance, and operations software for the pipeline control center. Find out more about POEMS at enersyscorp.com.

[background music]

Announcer:  The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.

And now your host, Russel Treat.

Russel:  Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we are giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Jonny Stockton, with ONEOK. Congratulations, Johnny, your YETI is on the way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around ‘til the end of the episode.

This week on the Pipeliners Podcast, Will Gage is coming back, and we’re going to talk about 5G. Will, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.

Will Gage:  Russel, thanks for having me back.

Russel:  Great. I am very excited to talk to you about 5G, because I hear all these fancy commercials about how 5G is going to be so very awesome. I want to talk to someone who might know a little bit about it and might have worked with it a little bit and can tell me, what is 5G?

Let’s talk a little bit about what’s different about it and such. Maybe a good place to start is to maybe talk about the history of the Gs?

Will:  [laughs] Yeah, that’s a good place to start, actually. So 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, the iterations of the G, if you will. 2G was built to bring voice, really as a HD signal. It put a lot of emphasis on additional bandwidth for that. As we moved to 3G, it was the first time that carriers put an emphasis and actually built up the system to include data as being a priority.

Then 4G is that iteration of “everyone uses data.” They used data more than they used the voice, and so we needed to create a higher bandwidth, the capacity to handle that. A lot of that in the backend really did that.

5G, this is where we’re at today, where it’s the first carrier system built specific to what would be called IoT, the Internet of Things.

Russel:  I guess the promise, if you will, of 5G is that it carries a lot more data, and that you’ll be able to get your videos quicker and that type of thing. Is that kind of an oversimplification, maybe, but is that a way to position it?

Will:  That’s a great place to put it.

Russel:  How is 5G different than, say, 4G? What are the characteristics that make it able to carry more data?

Will:  Let’s look at spectrum bandwidth. It’s very interesting if we look at that, because light is actually on that same bandwidth, those frequencies. If we drop down, the core basis of 3 and 4G, really the upper end of 3 and the start of where 4 really began and where 5  sits is 3.4 3.6 gigahertz. Then 5G starts this huge inclusion of 24 gigahertz all the way up to 79, almost 80 gigahertz.

If you were to chart megahertz, gigahertz on a bar, right after the 80, you get a little bit higher, and you actually now are in light. Then you get infrared, then you get X-ray and gamma. It’s a very intriguing bar of frequencies.

Russel:  Yeah. Maybe for the listeners that aren’t geeks in this domain like you and I are, we ought to unpack a little bit, spectrum. This is an oversimplification, but I think as spectrum as that’s the radio wave, right?

Will:  Yep, that’s exactly right.

Russel:  The higher the number, the shorter the wave. The shorter the wave, the more data I can carry, because basically each wave is a one or a zero.

Will:  Yeah, so…

Russel:  All computer stuff always gets down to ones and zeros.

Will:  Exactly. You’re right. It’s how high and how far apart it all is, and as we scrunch it all in, and we get those bigger, let’s say…Very many people are familiar with 2.4 WiFi, and many people use 5.4 or 5.8 for backhauls and their home networks. People are used to, “Oh, 2.4 was the best,” [laughs] and you had A, B, and G. Now you’re getting up to N and more in the 5s, and so you can get a lot more throughput, a lot more data.

Russel:  That’s actually a great example, I think, because if you think about 2.4 in the house, I could put 2.4 in, and it would cover the entirety of my house, and maybe even out into my yard.

Then I’m like, “I’m going to put in this other network. I’m going to put in this 5.8 stuff,” and all the sudden, “Wow, it’s faster.” You can really see the difference, but I can’t get to it when I’m sitting on my patio.

Will:  Yeah, and I think that’s a great piece. Now let’s add to that next level, is homes are becoming mesh networks. You have multiple antennas throughout the house in order to get that quick handoff, and also create those additional zones that help get that signal to you. Just like you were saying, I can’t sit on the patio, but when I create mesh, I can. That’s really the thought behind 5G.

Russel:  So a higher concentration of antennas, more data, but I need to be closer to the antenna to get a good signal.

Will:  Correct.

Russel:  It ties to what I know about home networks, and it ties to what I’m understanding about 5G, so it kind of makes sense, but I suspect that starts getting problematic, potentially, in the oil and gas world when you start talking about remote telemetry.

Will:  Yes, it does. That’s really where the disappointment of 5G comes into place in our world. I know a lot of folks who were thinking, “Oh man, this is going to be great. We’re going to have higher bandwidth. We’re going to be able to pipe more through.” The entirety of putting more out at a wellhead, a compressor station, or a meter station, whatever that remote location might be, we’re bringing more data back.

That promise is not necessarily going to be true unless you’re a company working through a metropolitan area where the density of people allows for the density of antenna array. 5G in the metropolitan areas makes sense because the density of people on a tower allows for the greater bandwidth.

It allows for the faster speed, but as we get further out, because we have spaced out all these antennas, all these towers, it makes it a very large challenge because we’re looking at something from, say, five square miles to one square mile.

In oil and gas, we aren’t a downtown area. We’re not a very small neighborhood that we work within. It’s always stretched out, and we all know that it’s difficult already to get remote telemetry at places. Now, as we see the carriers start turning off older technology to begin to use that for the newer technologies, it’s going to affect us.

Russel:  Yeah. It’s like I may have had good cell signal at my house, and then all of the sudden, I don’t have good cell signal at my house because they converted the nearest tower. Now I’m not close enough to the nearest tower to get 5G and get it well.

Will:  Correct.

Russel:  That’s a problem.

Will:  It is, and so the carriers and other tower industries, if you will, have been working on erecting additional structures. You’re seeing a lot more arrays, which are antenna, on buildings now in the middle of a commercial area in a neighborhood.

Russel:  You’re even seeing inside of venues, like sports stadiums and stuff, they’re mounting antennas inside the venue.

Will:  Yes, they are, and that’s a huge thing, because again, it’s penetration, right? We’re again talking about those higher frequencies that can’t penetrate as well, so you have to provide local connectivity.

Russel:  I guess another way to think about this is I might be able to use 5G if I stuck a tower at my compressor site or at my pump site, but I probably couldn’t use 5G on a single tower to cover an entire field.

Will:  Correct, and that’s a number of pieces where you have folks who have been building out private LTE networks. That’s working fairly well for them, because again, range. It’s not nearly as line of sight, but as we start looking at 5G, it’s definitely a game-changer for metropolitan areas like Houston, but not for oil and gas in the field.

Russel:  I think that’s really interesting to me. One of the things I think a lot of people don’t really understand — I say understand, or don’t know is maybe a better way to say it — is that there’s this tradeoff between the amount of data I can get and how quickly I can get it versus how far I can throw a signal.

Likewise, the other thing about these shorter energy waves, your microwave oven is basically very short energy waves being sent at high power at a target. It excites the electrons and heats it up. You don’t want to do that with your antennas that are close to people.

Will:  Yep. Correct.

Russel:  [laughs] That would be bad.

Will:  Yes. It’s the idea of cooking things, right?

Russel:  Yeah, exactly. Where do you think we’re headed in the oil field as it relates to wireless telemetry? What do you think’s kind of, where are people headed? What’s industry doing to…because we are moving more data, and there’s all this conversation about EDGE and IoT. What do you think’s going on there? How does this hook together?

Will:  Honestly, I think that companies that are currently providing backhaul services or using GPRS, which again, the GPRS modem is that 3G/4G. I don’t think that’s really going to change circuits, landline circuits.

I think we’re going to see an increase of that over cellular services, depending upon buildout areas. But as we start getting into the metropolitan areas, I honestly think there is going to be the use of 5G because the cost perspective is going to be less than having a landline circuit.

Every company is going to have to look at how they’re going to adopt it, and rightfully so, but most companies that are putting out the cellular networks are putting their own private network, and that helps with part of the cybersecurity pieces.

It’s not [laughs] the lone gun to that, but I really think that as the backhaul technologies continue to develop, there’s still going to be private networks built, not necessarily using the carrier systems. I really still think that the privatization of backhaul networks are still in high demand.

Russel:  I guess that makes sense, too, because as the cellular companies begin to give away that spectrum — because they’re moving to new spectrum — it actually opens up more opportunity for these private carriers.

Will:  Yes. We’ll see what happens, because sometimes they don’t want to give things up, but as we know and we’ve seen, auction block things pop up and get sold, and things change. We’re hoping for oil and gas, even electric, wastewater, I think it’s all applicable. Even farming. It’s the hope that there is going to be real spectrum for us to utilize — and utilize well.

Russel:  I think that’s right. I think the other thing, as we’re talking, that’s coming up for me is 5G’s probably going to be a big deal for gas utility companies, because they’re going to be able to leverage infrastructure that’s being built by others, and they’re going to be able to get more data and get that data more cheaply.

Will:  Yes.

Russel:  To me, that, if I’m operating a utility, and I’m in a high-density area where I’m operating this utility, then yeah, 5G might make some sense. It also might make sense in areas on pipelines that are high-consequence areas, and for whatever reason, I have more data I need to get because it’s a high-consequence area.

If I’m collecting more information around video, intrusion detection, or that sort of thing, than I would if it were highly rural. If I’m running a pipeline and it’s rural, and I need to move data, then my issue, particularly on a transmission line, is more pipe in the sky…

Will:  [laughs] Yeah, it is.

Russel:  …than it is throwing an umbrella over all these assets that I might find in a gathering field.

Will:  Correct.

Russel:  Like anything else, it’s easy when you talk about it conceptually. When you really start digging into it, this domain in particular, I think it can become quite complex quite quick.

Will:  It definitely is. There are so many pieces that we could have dozens of podcasts on it, but thankfully, I don’t think we should bore people.

[laughter]

Russel:  I’m a geek. I’m not that easy to bore.

Will:  Yeah, I know, and some people would enjoy it. There’s a lot to be heard and understand, and learn about in this area that a lot of people don’t. I know quite a few people from ENTELEC who can just…they eat on this all day long. That’s what they do.

Russel:  Oh, sure. That’s where they guys who live in this particular flavor of geekdom concentrate themselves is around the energy telecommunications conference.

Will:  Exactly.

Russel:  I’m going to change the subject a little bit here, because this episode is actually going out on Christmas Eve.

Will:  Oh, man.

Russel:  This episode will actually get released on December 24th. What I like to do on Christmas is there’s kind of an Easter egg in the Pipeliners Podcast. We like to talk about it at Christmas. I know that’s all very confusing, but here’s the thing. Do you know where the theme music for the Pipeliners Podcast comes from?

Will:  I do not.

Russel:  Would you like to know?

Will:  Oh, heck, yeah. It’s a good pick, too. I like it.

Russel:  It’s actually off of an album by a country artist by the name of Johnny Bush. Johnny Bush was really big in the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, when I was in college in the late ’70s, I used to go to a place called the Texas Hall of Fame in College Station, Texas and dance holes in my boots listening to Johnny Bush.

Will:  [laughs]

Russel:  It’s off an album called “Green Snakes on the Ceiling.” Johnny Bush is your classic country artist. He talks about heartbreak and drinking, which those are my favorite kind of country songs. I don’t like those in experience, but I like them in country music.

Will:  Then the dog left, and your truck broke down.

Russel:  Yeah, exactly. The name of the song is “The Pipeliner’s Blues.”

Will:  Ooh, very nice. Then, touché.

Russel:  So if you’re a Pipeliners Podcast listener, and you like the theme music, go on to iTunes and buy a copy of Johnny Bush and Green Snakes on the Ceiling, and that can be our Christmas gift to the person who gifted us the bump music.

Will:  There you go. That’s a good idea.

Russel:  [laughs]

Will:  I bet you can get it off of Amazon Music, too.

Russel:  Yeah, I’m sure you can. I’m sure you can. Johnny’s got to be in his 80s now, and I’ve seen him play as recently as a year ago, so still kicking up dust.

Will:  Oh, man. That’s awesome.

Russel:  All right. Well, look, I sure appreciate you coming on board. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, and I look forward to having you back soon.

Will:  Absolutely. It was great, and I always enjoy this.

Russel:  I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Will Gage. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.

If you would like to support the podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes/Apple Podcast, Google Play, or whatever smart device podcast app you use to listen. You can find instructions at pipelinerspodcast.com.

[background music]

Russel:  If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page of pipelinerspodcast.com, or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.

Transcription by CastingWords

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