New Satellite Data Handling Platform Boosts Bolivia’s Pipeline Operations

February 2011, Vol. 238 No. 2

Michel Zimet, director, Vertical Marketing, iDirect

Bolivia has more than 4,700 miles of gas and liquid pipelines comprising a vital part of the nation’s infrastructure and critical to its economic wellbeing and security.

One company manages more than 80% of Bolivia’s pipeline operations: YPFB Transporte.

Given the magnitude of the job, it is crucial for YPFB Transporte to know exactly what is happening at each of its 60 remote monitoring, pump and compressor stations along its pipeline infrastructure.

Today, thanks to a shared satellite network built on the iDirect Intelligent Platform™, YPFB Transporte has real-time access to every pipeline station. The company is able to control all aspects of its business from a centralized operations center — ensuring that a top Bolivian export is always flowing at full capacity.

Automating Remote Management
Over the past decade, YPFB Transporte completed a major overhaul of its remote station management. To transition from manually monitoring and operating its remote stations, which resulted in significant labor costs, the company developed a SCADA communications network based on microwave radio and Single Channel Per Carrier (SCPC) satellite links. By 2006, YPFB Transporte had successfully automated basic data gathering at 80% of its remote sites.

The microwave radio network, however, proved to have significant limitations. Due to inherently low data transmission speeds, YPFB Transporte could only transmit small volumes of data, and voice communications were often unreliable. Further, the extreme Bolivian terrain made it very difficult and cost prohibitive to deploy microwave at some sites.

The company’s point-to-point SCPC satellite links, while a viable alternative to microwave for high-traffic remote sites, came with their own set of challenges. SCPC links require dedicated satellite capacity for each remote site that must be sized to accommodate peak traffic demands. Bandwidth cannot be shared across multiple sites as traffic distribution patterns change. As a result, unused capacity is wasted, creating an unnecessary operating expense.

While YPFB Transporte had made progress on automating key remote operations, it realized it needed a more cost-effective communications network. The company completed a five-year analysis of ongoing cost requirements to keep its existing system of microwave and C-band satellite links in place. The study confirmed the need for an alternative solution that would lower recurring costs and improve network quality for site data transmission, voice communications and Internet access.

Economical Communication
In 2007, YPFB Transporte opened a public tender and invited several companies to develop a 25-site satellite network that would replace the microwave system. In addition, it planned to replace C-band satellite links with a Ku-band system to lower equipment costs. Based on a comprehensive technical and economic evaluation, the company chose iDirect to provide a solution.

YPFB Transporte selected iDirect because of the economies of its Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) shared bandwidth platform. TDMA satellite systems can significantly reduce the required space segment by dynamically allocating bandwidth from a centralized pool across remote stations. This provides a more efficient option compared to dedicated SCPC satellite links.

The iDirect platform also enables YPFB Transporte to prioritize bandwidth according to each location’s specific application requirements through a feature called Group Quality of Service (GQoS). YPFB Transporte can establish minimum Committed Information Rate and Quality of Service settings for high-priority SCADA applications, while allowing spare capacity to be utilized for applications such as Voice over IP and corporate data network access.

Productivity Gains
Since initiating the new iDirect-based satellite network in early 2008, YPFB Transporte has experienced an average bandwidth efficiency improvement of more than 35% for larger compression station sites. The company has also increased its ability to control pipeline operations remotely and has been able to reduce on-site personnel visits by 50%, lessening the risk of accidents and improving technician productivity.

“Our prior system over microwave radio required us to have three local specialists in the field at all times responding to network issues,” said Roberto Antezana, YPFB Transporte´s SCADA and communications manager. “Currently, we only need one contractor, thanks to the ease of network configuration and change management that iDirect’s platform provides.”

YPFB Transporte can now extend network functionality for many applications beyond traditional narrowband SCADA data transmission. From larger stations, the company not only gathers data on pressure, temperature and flow, but also uses the network for voice, Internet and corporate intranet access for on-site personnel.

For those issues that still require on-site support, technicians can use the network to instantly transmit work orders and maintenance reports back to the control center. Additionally, control center personnel have the ability to hold on-site conference calls with technicians and receive live video for diagnostic and security purposes.

New Automation Levels
With the iDirect platform enabling increased remote access to YPFB Transporte’s pipeline sites, the company’s engineering department is currently equipping sites with new technology to further enhance automation. These include remote operated valves and leak detection systems.

YPFB Transporte’s engineers now include the iDirect platform as part of their scope for developing new projects. They have seen the value of transmitting critical data over the network as well as running advanced applications to improve productivity.

“Implementing the iDirect network took us half the time that we planned,” added Antezana. “Not only is it easy to implement, but the flexible software features of the iDirect platform make it easier for us to meet a variety of different client requirements.”

Today, YPFB Transporte benefits from improved control and functionality at all of its remote sites, with less labor and expense. With the iDirect platform providing real-time remote access to its expansive SCADA infrastructure, YPFB Transporte is able to monitor and control pipeline operations across all locations no matter how far they extend.

The author
Michel Zimet
is director, Vertical Marketing, for iDirect. He has worked in the telecommunications and network industry for over 20 years. He joined iDirect in 2004 as a senior director, channel development. Since 2009, he has led the company’s marketing and business development efforts within the Energy and Utilities vertical. Previous to iDirect, Zimet was product director, Internet Services, at NewSkies Satellites where he managed NewSkies’ global suite of Internet connectivity product offerings. Previous to his role at NewSkies, he was product manager, Global Internet Services at Teleglobe International where he pioneered the use and development of satellite transport for backhaul connectivity to the Internet backbone.
Zimet holds a B.Eng. degree in electrical engineering from McGill University in Montreal and a master of business administration degree from York University in Toronto. Ph: 703-648-8000, Website:

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