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Subsea radio frequency, which transmits large amounts of data short distances underwater wirelessly, is changing the face of underwater communication in the offshore oil and gas industry, replacing traditional acoustic systems and the need for cables.

WFS Technologies, a leader in subsea radio frequency technology over the last ten years, is one company benefiting from the increased interest in such technology.

Earlier this year, the company announced it had agreed a partnership with remotely operated vehicle (ROV) manufacturer Fugro, a company it has worked with many times before, to offer its subsea wireless capacity on Fugro’s FCV range of ROVs from 2015. The collaboration will allow the ROVs to wirelessly communicate with all devices equipped with WFS’s Seatooth technology, including a range of subsea modems that transmit data and video through water. It will be the first time WFS’s wireless technology is offered as standard on Fugro’s ROVs.

WTF Technologies’ sales and marketing director Ian Crowther discusses the project, the growing demand for subsea wireless and how the technology is transforming the industry.

Heidi Vella-Starr: Please explain more about WFS’s latest partnership with Furgo.

Ian Crowther: As a result of a number of individual projects requiring us to work together, we thought it would make sense to integrate Fugro’s FCV ROV range with our wireless technology. This means that every Fugro ROV will leave the factory in Singapore embedded with Seatooth capabilities instead of installing systems on a project-by-project basis.

This is very similar to the way most cars now leave the factory Bluetooth-enabled so they can talk to any Bluetooth device that you might have, like your phone or MP3 player. Fugro ROVs can now talk to any Seatooth-enabled device; that might be a wireless gyro, or a wireless sensor on a pipeline.

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HVS: This project is unique in that the Seatooth technology is installed at the factory. What usually happens?

IC: Usually, we supply a full system to a particular project and it is delivered to a customer, perhaps in one of their onshore offices, or we send our product directly to the vessel. As an example, we recently supplied a subsea wireless video camera to Total’s Moho Nord project in the Congo. The project required a standalone wireless video camera that would stream a video signal wirelessly back to the ROV, and a receiver plugged into the ROV control system so as to give the ROV pilot a second perspective on the operation.

Sometimes we supply the subsea wireless camera system to the project site and the project team integrates it with the ROV. Now all of this integration is done in-house before the vehicle leaves the factory.

HVS: What challenges has the project faced?

IC: I wouldn’t say challenges, but one of the things we have addressed for the first time with this project is oil filling of our equipment. Often we put our systems to ocean depths of up to 4,000m and typically those systems will be in atmosphere enclosures. However, a lot of Fugro enclosures are filled and so pressure tolerant. As a result of this supply we wanted to be compliant to the way Fugro makes its vehicles, so we’ve modified our standard antenna to be oil fillable and therefore pressure tolerant. That is a new piece of engineering for us and that has been really exciting. We have learnt a lot along the way and, actually, I can see more and more demand for that way of supporting deepwater deployment of electronics.

HVS: How far along is the project?

IC: We’ll be supply a number of antenna systems to Fugro for them to install into the systems. The first ones of this particular project have been delivered. The remaining ones are currently being manufactured at our facilities in Scotland, ready to be dispatched later this month. I can tell you we are going to be on every one of Fugro’s vehicles.

HVS: What advantages does Seatooth offer ROV operators?

IC: The wireless video camera essentially gives a second perspective on the ROV’s operations, particularly when it is undertaking complex tasks. Our subsea camera gives a second perspective to ROVs allowing for more precise alignment. This helps ROVs complete the task right first time and in a shorter period of time.

HVS: How does the wireless technology work?

IC: It is essentially radiofrequency communications subsea. It is like wifi or Bluetooth underwater. We operate at a different frequency because transmitting radio signals through water isn’t easy. We have developed our own radio techniques for communicating wirelessly underwater.

Wireless technology is very important to the offshore oil and gas industry because the technology behind the Seatooth systems has the distinct advantage of operating in adverse water conditions, such as in the presence of gas bubbles or high turbidity. Radio frequency signals are unaffected by acoustic noise or biofouling, and are free from multipath problems. Using radio frequency, WFS’s products support data transmission across the water/air and ground/air boundaries, penetrating the surf zone, ice, harbour walls, and other materials normally considered impenetrable.

HVS: Do you have to adjust the technology depending on the environment you are working in?

IC: We have two approaches. We have a range of standard products and some of those are even available to purchase from our website. They are very easy to integrate. We have implemented a range of standards so that, as you follow a certain number of guidelines, you can be sure that your vehicle will talk to someone else’s sensor, someone else’s control centre, because you are both talking the same Seatooth language.

But, at the same time, we still deliver bespoke projects for clients with a reasonable amount of customisation. So we might take on a particularly challenging problem that requires dedicated R&D activity, or we might simply modify our core product range in order to address a particular application.

HVS: What happens to all the data the devices collect?

IC: We typically offer the data formatted and easy to understand, or provide a user interface that enables customers to collect and analyse data whenever and however they wish.

For example, presently we are working on projects for a number of North Sea operators installing Seatooth Pipelogger devices. Pipelogger is a wireless sensor platform that is retrofitted on to subsea assets, and deployed logging data for up to ten years. Some customers will deploy them for several years and return once a year, or every six months, to gather that information and analyse it at intervals.

HVS: Do you see an increase in demand for wireless technology in the offshore industry?

IC: Absolutely. The reason WFS is in business is partly because of our technical innovation, but it is also because there is such a change in the way the industry operates. A drive towards deeper water operations, a drive towards more and more unmanned operations, the need for flexible reliable communications and the challenges around cables and connectors – all these things together are driving demand.

Essentially, we see wireless underwater having the same potential mobile telephones have in terrestrial communications; ultimately they will replace a huge amount of hard wired connections because they offer greater reliability and greater flexibility.

HVS: What other services does WFS provide to the offshore oil and gas industry?

IC: We also offer drilling asset integrity management, retrofit instrumentation on to subsea assets like pipelines and risers, and subsea operations, and this includes collaborations such as the one with Fugro.

In each of these areas we will deliver standard, custom, and OEM [original equipment manufacturer] products; we also deliver research and development and engineering projects, and even license our technology so that others can utilise it.

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