GAIL, India’s largest natural gas company, entered the telecom business in 2001 as a “carrier’s carrier” by extending its pipeline optic fibre cable (OFC) telecom network to nearby cities and towns. GAIL holds IP-I (infrastructure) as well as IP-II (bandwidth) licenscs, and today is present across over 175 locations under the brand name GAILTEL. Currently, its OFC network stands at over 9,000 km with a capacity of 10/2.5 Gbps.

GAILTEL provides captive telecommunication and telemetry services for secure, reliable, efficient and economic operation of GAIL’s countrywide pipelines and plant installations, apart from commercially leasing pan-India telecom services. It maintains the OFC infrastructure laid along GAIL’s cross-country trunk natural gas (NG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) pipeline networks. Based on the OFC network, GAILTEL maintains the following critical telecommunication systems:

  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system for real-time 24×7 monitoring and control of NG and LPG pipelines from various regional gas management centres (RGMC), a national gas management centre (NGMC), control rooms, etc. along the pipeline network.
  • All NG/LPG-related parameters such as pressure, temperature, flow, gas composition and valve status are monitored in real time via remote terminal units (RTUs) placed at various pipeline installations (sectionalising valve (SV) stations, intermediate pigging (IP) stations, compressor/pumping stations, etc.). These RTUs gather data from the respective field instruments and transmit the same to the SCADA system for monitoring/controlling field devices.
  • Monitoring and controlling of respective P/Ls is done via SCADA at two levels: the regional level through the RGMCs, and the pan-India level at the NGMC, Noida.

The company has a network operation and control centre (NOCC) at Noida, from where it monitors and controls its pan-India OFC-based telecom network and systems on a 24×7 basis. All telecom systems (nodes) laid along the pipeline installations (SVs, IPs, etc.) that carry the traffic of captive services such as SCADA, voice, email, and SAP are monitored, controlled and coordinated at the NOCC, Noida.

Meanwhile, all pipeline installations and plant premises are monitored via CCTVs installed at the respective locations. These CCTVs are monitored on a 24×7 basis from the respective control rooms/RGMCs for effective surveillance of the pipeline and plant assets. Dedicated voice systems (electronic private automatic branch exchange) at pipeline installations (SVs, IPs, compressor stations, etc.), plants, offices, townships, etc. are also maintained for reliable and effective intra-company communications.

The company uses a centralised APPS system for leak detection and inventory monitoring. It is a software analytical tool that assists in safe and reliable pipeline operations, by processing real-time SCADA data to provide functionalities required as per statutory regulations such as leak detection, line-pack (inventory) monitoring, real-time mapping of pipeline parameters (such as pressure and flow), scraper tracking, composition tracking, and offline predictive analysis.

Further, dedicated wireless microwave communication systems are provisioned for captive services (SCADA, voice, CCTV, etc.) in pipeline sections in places where the OFC-based telecommunication system is not available. The company also uses a software analytical tool based on OFC for detecting physical intrusion within the rights of user of pipelines, required for the safety of pipeline assets.

Dark fibre leasing

Under the IP-I registration, GAILTEL also leases spare dark fibre (left after captive use) and co-location infrastructure to third-party telecom service providers on long (15 years)- and short-(annual)-term bases. It offers single or two pairs as per availability, collocation facilities, a 19 inch rack space (indoor/outdoor) as per design and feasibility on GAIL premises, access to raw power as per site availability, and a secure environment.

Key challenges

The key telecom industry concerns include lack of policy guidelines on leasing of dark fibre, no utility corridor for trunk and last-mile connectivity, costly permissions in city areas and railway crossings, and no integrated nodal agency to monitor the execution/maintenance activities of various utilities. Further, excavation work is often undertaken without informing and involving the concerned parties. Moreover, fibre gets extensively damaged due to road expansion activities.

The way forward

Going forward, GAIL will continue to build and operate safe and secure OFC networks along its gas pipelines. An additional 5,200 km of OFC has been planned over the next three years in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, etc.

GAIL will continue to play a role in the telecom industry by leveraging its OFC infrastructure for commercially viable operations. It is exploring the option of signing MoUs with interested service providers for sharing of fibre and duct on a long-term basis through existing rights of use in new and upcoming pipelines. GAIL is also exploring the option of laying 48 fibre cables along the new pipelines to cater to captive and business requirements.

Based on a presentation by Ashutosh Shukla, Chief Manager (GAILTEL), GAIL, at a recent conference