MENA 5G efforts to supercharge IoT projects

Published: 12 May 2020 - 5:15 a.m.
The Middle East and Africa region (MENA) is forging ahead of the rest of the world in the quest to launch commercial 5G networks. A new GSMA study estimated that there will be more than 50 million 5G connections across the MENA region by 2025, covering around 30 per cent of the region’s population.

With MENA also being one of the largest net energy exporters in the world, it is expected the region will be one of the first to use these new 5G networks to supercharge their Internet of Things projects.

Although production costs are among the world’s lowest, increased competition for market share from newer suppliers, such as the United States, means that the MENA region must step up. By embracing operational excellence via 5G and IoT, MENA producers can maintain and grow their share in oil and gas markets.

Establishing a digital record of workflow processes that can be analyzed and visualized – with workflow orchestrated across business units – is one of the main drivers toward operational excellence. And the emergence of 5G gives MENA producers the means to marry advanced production and operations techniques with smart digital technologies. They can create a digital enterprise that is not only interconnected and autonomous but can communicate, analyze, and use data to drive further intelligent action back in the physical world.

The need for a robust system

5G, the 5th generation mobile network, is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. It is meant to deliver higher data speeds, ultra-low latency, greater reliability and increased availability.

5G will operate in three bands –from low to high, each band is engineered to deliver improved operating performances relative to latency, peak data rates and reliability. This flexibility is ideal for the oil and gas use cases across the entire value creation stream – upstream, midstream and downstream operations. Additionally, the flexibility of 5G allows use case deployments to be engineered for both public/telco clouds as well as private network implementations.

How 5G IoT can change the sector

There are five key technology trends that will become critical to oil and gas use cases over the next five years. They are as follows:
  • Wired LAN Displacement: One of the greatest opportunities for 5G technologies is the displacement of wired LAN environments. With the introduction of 5G, operators can displace the wired networked approach with wireless connectivity.
  • OEM Failsafe Condition Monitoring: For certain high-speed high-risk assets, operators are investigating the deployment of IoT overlay technologies to monitor, capture data and initiate shut down instructions. To make these investments affordable, connectivity via 5G high bandwidth architectures is critical.
  • Intelligent Asset Management: While most operators will acknowledge that predictive maintenance is the ideal state, the enablement pathway is not easy. With the advent of field-tested and affordable sensors, the ability to generate quality data is no longer a constraint. The principal obstacle is the cost associated with moving analytical processing capability to the edge. With 5G, this concern is largely mitigated.
  • AR Enhanced Decision Support: Enhanced decision support enabled by augmented reality (AR) will transform the oil and gas mobile field practices. Every production and maintenance process that leverages AR will allow operators to perform field functions in a more efficient manner through collaboration with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) via shared virtual environments.
  • Cybersecurity: 5G modems with embedded authentication keys can continuously validate certified devices that are provisioned onto the network’s domains, and also enable a third level of defense by running cloud centric AI/ML algorithms to identify abnormal processes for networked elements.

Challenges and opportunities

There are some major challenges facing the O&G sector for the next five years. There will be reduced demand as the world recovers from the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. This in turn will reduce the number of companies who survive the rationalization process. The companies left standing will be the ones with the lowest production, transport, refining and distribution cost basis.

Despite the obvious challenges, there are some amazing opportunities out there to solve them via technology. Here is what some in MENA are already doing:

  • National Oil Companies (NOCs) are establishing regional oil and gas R&D centers. An example of this is Khalifa’s Petroleum Research Institute that was established by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company in partnership with BP, Japan Oil Development Company, Shell and Total.
  • At an international level, NOCs are also launching investments in physical oil and gas R&D facilities. Saudi Aramco has the lead in this regard as evidenced by the multiple research centers it has established across the globe.
  • Lastly, NOCs are establishing large-scale multi-party collaboration agreements. An example of this is Qatar Petroleum’s collaboration with Imperial College London in the Qatar Carbonate and Carbon Storage Research Centre.

Consequently, the MENA regional oil and gas sector is ideally situated to leverage 5G, IoT and R&D capabilities to innovate at pace and scale, solving existing - and new - challenges.

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