Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a growing export market for Australia and will be critical to its future as global demand for coal declines. Ironically, some seven-eighths of its estimated reserves are located in the country’s most remote region, off the North-West coast of Western Australia.
From 2016, Australia’s first purpose-built subsea fibre optic network for the oil and gas industry, the North West Cable System (NWCS) will seamlessly connect offshore facilities in the Browse, Bonaparte and Carnarvon Basins to onshore locations including data centres and business headquarters. This unique cooperation between the Telecommunications and Oil & Gas industries will result in unprecedented benefits for a massive but previously remote region.
Communications in the North-West have always been challenging in terms of cost and availability. Resource companies operate in remote land-based or offshore locations subject to extreme weather conditions. Many of the offshore rigs are many hundreds of kilometres out in the ocean, with their only current connectivity solution via satellite and wireless (radio) services.
So, while the industry has been fast to adopt productivity improvements via the digitisation of every aspect of platform operations and connectivity to support systems, transformation remained an issue.
The NWCS offers an alternative solution to satellite connectivity with greater speeds and superior reliability. In effect, it links the operations of resource companies and their multiple subcontractors directly to their head offices and onshore data centres – whether in Perth, Brisbane, Zurich or New York. Greater reliability of communications also offers opportunities for reducing costs by streamlining ICT infrastructure and taking advantage of cloud-based services.
This reliability is based on a service architecture that allows for a multi directional data path. This means that data can travel in either direction for the purpose of connecting with the Australian national network mesh. Undersea cable is also intrinsically less likely to be damaged than land-based cable, further increasing reliability of communications.
In summary, when the NWCS is commissioned in the first half of 2016, the first industry players to jump on board will find their ability to operate and improve productivity in harsh, remote conditions greatly enhanced. It will allow these companies to rethink their entire ICT infrastructure and its location – as well as its model for acquiring it. Most important, their people will be able to rely on technology for their safety, as well as opening the potential for new applications for collaboration across remote work sites, with colleagues and home.
As ground-breaking new infrastructure covering a large area of the continent, benefits of the NWCS extend way beyond the oil and gas sector
There is already extensive investment throughout the NW shelf for continued border control, space observatories and the management of information and services with SE Asia.
The NWCS also connects the Pilbara which, with 44,000 employees and annual exports in excess of $47B, make it key to Australia’s economic growth. Additional high speed services will leverage the investment – with a result that land-based industry and organisations outside the oil and gas sectors will have access to highly competitive high speed data. This will become increasingly important as the area opens up to new agricultural ventures and sees increased tourism.
The cable will provide access to voice and high-speed data communication services delivering multi-terabits of capacity and utilising state-of-the-art technology. Delivering an alternative fibre optic infrastructure to Darwin will improve service and diversity to the Northern Territory and the North-West. A not insignificant additional benefit is creating telecommunications competition in the Pilbara and Port Hedland for the first time, opening competition and supporting community development.
One of the most innovative aspects of the NWCS is its business model. The Nextgen Group partnered with Alcatel Lucent Submarine Networks ( ASN) to deliver a globally significant subsea optical fibre cable system to support Australia’s oil and gas industry, as well as corporate and government organisations operating in the North-West.
“Leveraging our capabilities in terrestrial fibre optics and Nextgen’s world class national fibre backbone network, combined with Alcatel-Lucents subsea expertise, we were able to provide a solution that exceeded the expectations of the oil & gas industry through provision of a highly robust, fully diverse fibre optic communications service.”Mathew Shields, Technical Director North West Cable System, Nextgen Group