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Commtel is all geared up to commence its next growth phase

May 2022, Business India, Corporate Reports by Mr. Arbind Gupta: 

Commtel Networks is a global engineering and technology company which provides high-performance digital communications, surveillance, security, safety, and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for clients in the oil & gas, power, mining, transportation, and other critical national infrastructure sectors. The Mumbai-headquartered company, founded in 1998, has been at the forefront of engineering intelligence with expertise in executing turnkey solutions – design, engineering, multisystem integration, project management, testing, commissioning, and life cycle management.

Commtel employs 300-odd people and has delivered over 500 projects across four continents, enabling the digital transformation of mission-critical infrastructure for its clients. The company, with offices in India, UAE and the US and customised solutions delivery centres in India and UAE, is also putting up a systems integration centre and a delivery centre in the US. Competing with names like ABB, Honeywell, Siemens, 3W Networks, RigNet, Speedcast and Tejas Networks, Commtel has deployed over 115,000km of dedicated telecommunications (optical fibre) networks, including systems for Kuwait Integrated Petroleum Industries Company or KIPIC (a subsidiary of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation) which is one of the largest greenfield refineries in the world.

The 615,000-bpd mega KIPIC refinery project is being implemented in a phased manner (2019-24). Commtel, which generates around 60 per cent of its revenue from the overseas market, has delivered an Enterprise Integrated Communication Systems package for this large grassroots refinery. It has assumed turnkey responsibility, from design, engineering, procurement, system integration, packing and dispatch. Over the years, the company, a telecom, safety and security systems integrator, has emerged as the preferred vendor for organisations like Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum, Indian Oil Corporation, ONGC, Reliance, Shell, Petronet LNG Ltd, Saudi Aramco, Oman LNG and many other players in the oil and gas sector. In the power sector, Commtel has been catering to customers like BHEL, NTPC, Power Grid, Tata Power, NHPC, Adani, KEC, Kalpataru, state utilities and others, while in the transportation space Indian Railways, Delhi Metro, Bombardier and Ansaldo STS are its clients. Commtel works closely with large EPC players (who are also its clients) like Samsung Engineering, L&T, EIL, Bechtel, Petrofac and Yokogawa.

In fact, the company has a client base of over 300 customers across these sectors and has deployed over 100,000 industrial IoT devices and 50,000 addressable nodes. It has delivered projects in multiple locations globally, including India, USA, Australia, UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Oman, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Norway and Ethiopia.

Commtel is currently engaged in providing a complete telecommunications and security systems package for operation and maintenance for the prestigious 2,757km Kandla-Gorakhpur LPG pipeline project, implemented by IHB Ltd, a joint venture of three oil & gas PSUs – Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum. Constructed at an investment of around R10,000 crore, stretching from Kandla port in Gujarat to the city of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh via Madhya Pradesh, it is expected to be the world’s longest LPG pipeline. The pipeline will facilitate transportation of LPG from the western coast to various demand centres. It will source LPG from LPG import terminals at Kandla, Dahej and Pipavav, and also from the two refineries at Koyali and Bina and will directly link to 22 LPG bottling plants in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

“This LPG pipeline project is quite strategic in nature and massive in size, belonging to the mission-critical infrastructure space. We are proud to be part of this project. Over the past two decades, Commtel has developed and implemented its three ‘C’ model – Conceptualise-Construct-Care, a unique customer engagement model that governs seamless delivery, encompassing all aspects of the business, from the early stages of design to final deployments, maintenance, and committed support. Over the years, we have built our capability which has the ability to meet the customer’s specific needs. Most importantly, we are known for timely delivery of projects,” says Shriprakash Pandey, 53, chairman & managing director, Commtel.

AI solutions

In the oil and gas sector which contributes 60 per cent to its revenue, the company has delivered over 60 projects totalling to 28,600 km of pipeline telecom systems with equipment across more than 1,100 stations. It has implemented systems for the longest 1,400km pipeline project, East-West Pipeline (48” Dia LNG) and deployed a radio network on the 1,280 kmlong HVJ Pipeline with 35 stations. Commtel has delivered systems for more than six pipeline projects with a length in excess of 1,000km. Besides, it has built telecom systems for a statewide integrated Gas Grid spanning 2,335km and 125 stations. In fact, the company enjoys 55 per cent market share in optical fibre cable-based pipeline intrusion detection systems in India, covering a total of 6,200 km of pipelines.

While the company has significant exposure to the oil and gas sector, over the last few years, it is consciously trying to diversify into other areas like power, transportation and mining in order to create a well-diversified offering. Recently, it bagged a large order from Madhya Pradesh Power Transmission Co Ltd for R77 crore, for executing telecommunications and tele-protection systems for a state-wide power distribution network consisting of over 450 stations.

In order to scale up its business further and get into the next growth phase, the company is building capability in the AI space where it will provide AI solutions to its clients. To be launched by the end of the year, a threat-detection, prediction, and resolution system – CN SHIELD – will use client’s existing data and past experience through AI and ML to build an advanced, artificial intelligence-based physical security management system. The system is a central monitoring, analytical, action-oriented tool that enables secured, high definition, integrated execution and layered detection of threats.

The AI solutions system is built on UAE-based firm Nybl’s ML platform that turns mountains of underutilised data into actionable intelligence. Nybl has developed a framework for codeless development of machine learning models and AI applications. This end-to-end technology platform is industry and application agnostic, making it one of the most versatile ones in the world. In fact, last year, Commtel picked up 10 per cent stake in Nybl.

“CN-SHIELD provides a single pane-of-glass view by generating intelligence from disparate systems and technologies, enhancing the organisation’s response time in managing and closing out a critical incident. Association with Nybl allows us to leverage the complementary strengths of deep industry knowledge and experience of Commtel with Nybl’s AI expertise to help clients use the vast amount of under-utilised data and create better value for them,” says Pandey who believes that this AI solutions vertical will generate over R100 crore from Fiscal 2024 when the company is aiming for a revenue of over R500 crore from the R300 crore at present.

This fiscal year, the company which is also planning an IPO in the next couple of years or so, is aiming at a revenue of over R350 crore. In the next three-four years, the Commtel management is expecting a big expansion in its AI solutions business, contributing almost 50 per cent to its total revenue. Most importantly, the addition will improve its overall business margin (EBIDTA) to over 25 per cent from the current 17 per cent.

Value addition

“The addition of this AI vertical will provide a new dimension to our overall business which desperately needed some trigger to move on to the next level. This offering will add tremendous resilience and value to our customers’ business. As we are formally launching this business at the end of this year, we are all thrilled to commence our next growth phase,” says Pandey who started Commtel way back in 1998 when the Australian multinational, Olex Cables decided to withdraw its India operation. Pandey who was working with the Australian company as a systems engineer, saw this as an opportunity and set up Commtel with Olex’s small team and its clients.

Thereafter he has never looked back and today Commtel has emerged as a strong player in the business. His continual quest for learning has seen him recently completing a postgraduate programme in artificial intelligence from the University of Texas, Austin. He earlier completed the Advanced Management Program from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad and the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, Illinois.

No doubt, Commtel has proved its mettle in the last couple of decades and emerged as a formidable player in the business. However, the last few years have seen its topline stagnating a bit. But now its decision to get into the AI solutions business will ensure that it scales up its revenue significantly, going ahead. In the last few years, the company has also consciously tried to diversify into areas like power and transportation. Moreover, it is also diversifying geographically and ramping up its presence in the US market. Backed by all these efforts, Commtel is all set to start its Journey 2.0.

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Importance of Critical Communication for the Reliability of Electricity

April 2022, Energetica India , Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: 

We take electricity for granted, and its disruptions are the rare occasions when we even think about it. However, ensuring its reliability is an extremely complex and onerous task. With generation sources rapidly evolving, the demand growing manifold, clean energy on global focus, and cyber-threat risks increasingly becoming real, the disruptions in electricity too are becoming that much more possible. Electricity outages can cascade into recursive negative financial impact upon the producer and distributors besides a dent in their reputation.

The significance of electricity in modern life is self-evident and undisputed. A complex network that carries and distributes electricity facilitates today’s modern-day interconnected society. It is a universal enabler – from conveyance, commerce, entertainment, education, healthcare to hospitality.

We take electricity for granted, and its disruptions are the rare occasions when we even think about it. However, ensur­ing its reliability is an extremely com­plex and onerous task. With generation sources rapidly evolving, the demand growing manifold, clean energy on global focus, and cyber-threat risks increasingly becoming real, the disruptions in electricity too are becoming that much more possible. Electricity outages can cascade into recursive negative financial impact upon the producer and distribu­tors besides a dent in their reputation. Some of those often make international headlines, adversely impacting the country’s credibility.

Earlier, the reliability of electricity used to he about the dependability of the energy fuelling the power generation stations. The distribution lines laid in various terrain often dispersed across harsh conditions and spread over thousands of kilometers, also was a reliability factor. Today, the shift of power reliability is towards ensuring ‘instant reaction agility’ that needs remote monitoring, instant operator connections, predicting and rectifying asset malfunctions, reduced latency in a reliable, safe, and efficient way.

Such agility requires combining the most robust communication technologies available to not only meet the current needs hut also to be able to preserve current investments when transitioning to future grid requirements. In tandem with the evolution of electrici­ty to electricity 2.0, its mission-critical communications, called Unified Criti­cal Communications, has progressed to Communications 2.0, ready to serve the needs of future grids.

Unified Critical Communications (UCC) ensures the consolidation of multiple communication networks into one converged intelligent network. Also, it ensures interoperability between multiple-equipment vendors and technologies, facilitating collaboration and innovation within the networks. To imagine Communication 2.0, one can envision the traditional substation transforming into a ‘digital’ substation, having advantages analogous to modern day mobile telephony over the traditional landline phones. Such a new age-critical communication in electricity allows transmission of varied and humongous data with ease, allowing a host of proprietary apps to function on the network to facilitate and ease different functions. This, in turn, creates greater reliability of the networks.

Another crucial advancement that UCC brings is its ability to harness Artificial Intelligence to the myriad data that flows through these communication networks. The use of AI in UCC helps human actions because of the higher predictability and reliability of the data under analysis. AI helps make faster decisions, an imperative in critical utilities like electricity. The communications networks of electric utilities are extremely complex. Hence, a bespoke AI solution, one that is dedicated to solving the challenges, current and in the future, can be of significant use.

In our AI solution, CN-SHIELD, pri­marily, we kept two aspects in mind while developing the same. Firstly, it must be rapidly deployable in a multi-layered environment like an electric utility. Secondly, the AI solution must directly help reduce failures, improve efficiency, and increase reliability in electric utilities.

There is much discussion regarding declaring electricity as a universal human right. And it is, without doubt, for individuals and businesses alike. And if electricity is not an optional utility today, then its reliability is a necessity.

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Unified Critical Communications – Powering the ‘Smart Grids’ of tomorrow

15 April 2022, Power Insight, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: 

Increasingly, we attribute the term “smart” to technology that enables humans to advance at a rapid rate and automate processes. Technology will empower us to transform further our industries and lives as we move forward. Within two decades, we have gone from smartphones to smart homes. These ‘smart’ changes are also occurring in an aspect of our life which we often do not give a second thought to, Electricity!

The (power) grid is the network for delivering electricity to consumers. And the grids are becoming smart. However, before we talk about smart grids, we must first understand what an electric grid is. A vast network of transmission lines across the countryside, including the substations, transformers, and distribution lines, ensures electricity from the power plant to your property. The electric grids have enabled us to distribute power seamlessly across various terrain; a marvel of technology.

Traditional electric power grids have played a crucial role in our electricity infrastructure for decades, but they only provide a one-way flow of electricity. It can cause issues and result in data loss throughout the transfer procedure. In the age of smart technology, a new type of electric grid – that is responsive, efficient, and future-proof is required.

Over the next few decades, cities need grids that automate and manage the increasing demand, growing complexity, and expanding electricity requirements. Between generating stations, transmission grids, load dispatch centres, substations, and consumers, smart grids are designed to allow two-way electricity and information transfer seamlessly.

In the traditional power grids, communication is an essential component that has enabled safety, automation, and efficiency. With the introduction of smart grids, the communications footprint has grown to include generation and distribution, including all other aspects of the power business. Smart Grids allow automation of the real-time demand-supply to area-level substations and improve the performance of distribution networks via smart metering. They further help in raising the efficiency of electricity delivery.

Unified Critical Communication solutions are needed to keep up with the demands of the new smarter grids by incorporating cutting-edge innovations in information and communication technologies and combining them with both legacy power infrastructure and the most recent advances.

The energy environment will change even faster in the coming decade when compared to the transformation earlier in the century. Grids will have to get smarter at the edge, right at the consumer premises, with due emphasis on renewables and decarbonization to assure sustainability.

The future lies in using advancements in edge intelligence and data analytics. Smart grids are set to be ‘smarter’ to achieve next-level performance, efficiency, sustainability, and energy security, thanks to sophisticated control systems and an explosion of data powered by IoT sensors installed at every level – from generating stations to consumer meters. Future power grids will evolve into complex cyber-physical systems that seamlessly integrate the digital and physical worlds.

The confluence of the flow of power and information is at the heart of the smart grid. Grids become “smarter” with better sensing, control, and communication capabilities when Unified Critical Communications (UCC) is integrated into power systems. For starters, the UCC can assist with data analysis on the generation, collection, and response to help in the grid’s reliability than ever possible before.

From ultra-mega conventional power plants to thousands of smart households with low-capacity renewable energy units, UCC will have the grid work in synergy with all these different scenarios. Future smarter grids will combine non-renewable and renewable energy sources to enable granular demand and supply control, lowering energy losses and increasing efficiency, resulting in better sustainability.

The essential smart-grid concept, of two-way energy exchange and communications, is enhanced by Unified Critical Communications. It communicates through a variety of communication technologies and protocols to offer a single data plane throughout the power system tiers.

UCC ensures the availability of data for important automation, decision-making, and control tasks in real-time, besides the two-way energy exchange – by providing a seamless interface and tight integration between the communication layers at every level of the power system.

The objective of UCC is to unify underlying communication systems by using data that travels via diverse channels and enabling and offering better, more efficient, fault-tolerant, and real-time cooperation between machines and various stakeholders. It enables data to flow securely from beginning to end and provides unique solutions to cope with today’s cyber dangers facing industrial networks by incorporating and integrating with cutting-edge cyber-security platforms, as well as its inherent data analytics capabilities.

Individual system nodes in a ‘smarter’ grid are set up in separate contexts and have specific performance requirements based on their importance to the overall system. Unified Critical Communications, with its inherent ability to transport and transform large-scale data in a variety of forms and formats, allows each sensor and monitorable parameter to be used across millions of disparate components, allowing for unprecedented visibility and insights into system operations. 

CN-SHIELD, one of our UCC offerings, is an artificial intelligence software solution that unifies communication platforms across layers, monitors and analyses data, and implements faster and more coherent 360-degree protection.

A smart grid becomes smarter, more reliable, and more flexible when it uses Unified Critical Communications. Real-time information interaction, trustworthy asset supervision, and load control are all aided by the improved communication infrastructure.

More creative energy services, such as peer-to-peer electricity trading, customers or consumer groups with captive renewables participating in energy and carbon-credit exchanges, and so on, will soon be available thanks to smarter grids. Smarter grids are the solution in the not-so-distant future and UCC is the highway that will make this journey faster and better.

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Unified Critical Communications in O&G Sector: The era of Communications 2.0

15 March 2022, Chemical Weekly, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: 

To begin with, some facts about the growth of the oil and gas (O&G) industry in India from the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH): by 2045, oil demand in the country to register a 200% growth to reach 11 million barrels; diesel demand is also expected to double by 2030; and by 2024 natural gas consumption is expected to grow by 25 billion cubic meters. Indian refining capacity is also projected to expand by 30% to 6.9-mbpd (million barrels per day) by 2030, compared to a global refining capacity increase of only 3%.

These projections clearly show the significance of the O&G sector in India’s economy for the next three decades. The policy of Department for Promotion of Industry and International Trade (DPIIT) in July 2021 that allows 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) through an automatic route for O&G public sector undertakings (PSUs), and the 100% FDI in upstream and private sector refineries are clear steps to meet the expanding energy demand to take India’s economy to $5 trillion by 2025 and to $10 trillion by 2030.

The O&G industry always had stringent regulatory, design, operational, monitoring, and safety requirements, primarily arising from the presence of hazardous elements. We have supported the industry for over two decades through integrated multi-system solutions comprising numerous telecommunications, security, and safety systems.

Significant investments:

O&G infrastructure in all three segments – viz., upstream, midstream, and downstream – will see significant new investments, modernisation and capacity-augmentation of the existing infrastructure, to support increasing demand. The modern rigs, processing plants, and pipelines are becoming highly automated and increasingly complex systems. In the same period, sustainability and cybersecurity have emerged as the key issues for the O&G sector. The energy industry, worldwide, is looking for and investing in innovative data-driven intelligent solutions in every area to leverage the advances in the field of sensorization, data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI), to ensure safe, secure, and sustainable operations.

Leveraging technology:

Traditionally, disparate and siloed communication technologies have often been deployed, operated, and managed individually in the O&G industry.  Although the industry has been historically hesitant to adapt to the latest technology, we need to leverage the advances in both AI and telecommunications while still supporting the proven legacy elements to fulfil the requirements of our modern O&G infrastructure. With the advent of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the inherent intelligence of the edge components, mission-critical communications are no longer simply a collection of data, voice, and video transport technologies. It is now evolving as a ‘network-of-networks’ unifying the underlying communication systems and not only transporting the data, but leveraging it to enable and provide smarter, efficient, fault-tolerant, and real-time collaboration among machines and humans. This is the ‘Unified Critical Communications’ or ‘Communications 2.0’.

What is UCC?

Unified Critical Communications (UCC) is a system that utilizes different communication technologies seamlessly to accomplish the task of improving surveillance, security, safety, and operations efficiency. The objective of UCC is to optimize and automate operations by establishing a node-to-node connection between thousands of data generation points, all of which exchange data in real-time. UCC integrates disparate communication systems, automatically selects the best path for every task set, understands various options, and resultantly, it provides deep insights into its operations, facilitating better and faster decision making. UCC binds the high-speed, scalable, and deterministic data backbone with the underlying user communication to create harmony among various technologies and time-critical control protocols.

Stringent standards:

Due to the crucial nature of the O&G industry, the networks and systems for O&G are designed to extremely stringent standards, ensuring high levels of safety, security, reliability, and resiliency. These standards cover every aspect of the system, beginning from the network architecture and performance requirements, to stringent electrical, environmental, material, and equipment specifications. UCC, with deep insights and in-built compliance tools, ensures compliance to these rigorous standards and regulations. UCC has evolved into an era of Communications 2.0 and is helping to digitally empower the O&G industry by providing real-time data across systems, enabling instant, informed, and accurate decision-making. UCC utilizes the recent developments of universal data interfaces, APIs, protocol converters, cross-platform plug-ins, and advanced analytics platforms to make this synergy possible.

Requirements of UCC systems:

Despite their complex and intricate underlying nature, UCC systems must be simple, secure, and flexible to operate. UCC needs to be fail-safe, minimizing data outages, and also be future-proof, working seamlessly even when newer technologies are introduced years later into the same system. UCC increases the reliability of shared information, reduces overheads, creates better response time, and makes the operators feel more secure with trusted information in their hands. It helps them react more confidently to situations they face in the critical environment of the O&G industry.

Future of UCC:

The future of UCC blends communications and AI technologies, providing next-level data insights, deep automation, and predictions to avoid costly mishaps, ensuring the preservation of mission-critical systems. It is imperative to have an AI solution that will unify all communication assets, monitor, assess data, and implement 360-degree protection, faster and cohesively. New-age solutions will provide novel ways to deal with new threats in cyber-physical systems. Customers get the power to collect data from myriad devices and systems on a single data processing platform. Some may call this future of UCC, Communications 3.0. But for us, it is only a normal evolution of UCC.

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Grid Transition Will Need Newer Communication Solutions

7 March 2022, T&D India, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: 

Telecommunication systems are applicable to the electricity value chain – right from generation to transmission, to distribution. Can we start by understanding the broad role that a telecom system plays in the electricity value chain?

We can correlate the role of the communication systems to that of the nervous system in the human body. Power systems are operated through myriads of control and automation systems throughout the power generation to delivery, all of which need communications for their operation. Be it the legacy RTUs communicating on serial protocols on copper cables, modern Industrial Ethernet networks inside control rooms and substations, high-bandwidth Fiber-Optic based ICCP links connecting LDCs across the length and breadth of the nation, or a narrow-band IoT link from a consumer smart meter, communications are everywhere.

Apart from the critical control and automation functions, telecommunication systems also provide normal business applications like LAN/ WAN, telephony, and video conferencing for the power sector entities, ensuring smooth operations from control rooms to consumer billing centers.

“Simply put, without communications, modern power systems cannot function.”

Please discuss the criticality of a telecom system in the power transmission sector, especially with transmission voltages going up to 765kV and even 800kV.

Communications were always a vital part of the transmission grids. It empoweres safety, automation, and efficiency in traditional power grids. In traditional grids up to 400kV, teleprotection (isolation of line within the stringent timeframe in milliseconds) is the most critical dependency on the communication system.

Additionally, telecommunications are vital to transport the RTU/SCADA/SAS, PMU/PDC, and Energy Metering data to and between SLDCs/ RLDCs/ NLDCs to enable monitoring and control of the transmission grids.

For 765kV HVAC and 800+kV HVDC transmission lines, safety and monitoring requirements are even more stringent than those for 400kV and below. The monitoring and control systems and special protection schemes for these transmission lines require reliable and deterministic communication systems for safe operations. Further, the HVAC and HVDC transmission lines are far longer than sub-400kV transmission lines, requiring special long-haul communication techniques.

What is the basic technical reason for using OPGW (optical ground wire) in power transmission?

OPGW or Optical Ground Wire is used in place of the traditional ground wire in transmission lines. Along with its primary purpose of shielding transmission conductors from lightning and other faults, it provides the added benefit of containing optical fibers which are used for telecommunication purposes. The fiber optic cable is an insulator and is immune to electrical induction, noise, and cross-talk, making it perfect for use with high-voltage transmission lines. Hence we use ‘optical’ ground wire.

In addition to the technical reasons, the position of ground wire (at the top of the pylon), general inaccessibility to intruders, and heavy outer construction to withstand the elements makes OPGW one of the most reliable communication media. Additionally, OPGW does not require separate right-of-way (RoW) and expenses related to digging trenches. If the transmission line already has a functioning ground conductor, then OPGW can be stringed in live condition without the need for line shutdowns. Once installed, the transmission utility can lease the spare dark fibers to third parties to earn additional revenue.

“Commtel provides end-to-end services including FEED, detailed design, procurement, integration, testing, deployment and SLA-based AMC support, through its unique 3C model.”

Please orient with the telecom-related services that Commtel provides to the power T&D sector.

Commtel is associated with India’s power sector for more than two decades. Commtel has deployed high-speed communication backbones for central, which is Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (POWERGRID), and various state electricity transmission entities.

The high-speed backbones are implemented through SDH/PDH, MPLS, and WDM technologies. These backbone networks carry critical control data and protection signals and facilitate automation of the transmission lines. In addition to the backbone networks for transmission utilities, Commtel also provides communications (LAN, telephony, video conferencing, etc.)  and security systems (CCTV, access control, etc.) for power plants, control rooms, substations, and distribution  grids.

Commtel provides end-to-end services including FEED, detailed design, procurement, integration, testing, deployment and SLA-based AMC support, through its unique 3C (Conceptualize, Construct, and Care) model.

We generally understand that Smart Grid architecture is very closely enmeshed with telecommunication services. Please elaborate.

If you look at any established definition of Smart Grid, it includes the terms “two-way communication” or “digital communication”. Communications provide a glue layer between electrical systems of the traditional grid and smart IT systems, to form smart grids.

The traditional grids become smart when the granular visibility in every aspect of the grid operation is utilized to match demand and supply, reduce losses, and deliver power safely and efficiently to the end-user. Additionally, the smart grid allows multiple energy sources (e.g., small renewable plants like home solar or commercial wind farms or captive industrial generation plants) to coexist in the same grid along with the traditional power plants.

The smart grid architecture consists of sensors, measurement components like smart meters, controllers, and switchgear; all of which provide either information (i.e., input) or control the part of the grid (i.e., output), or both. All these components require communications so that the data they generate can be monitored and analyzed to make decisions (which are implemented by sending commands to control elements) to operate the smart grid safely and efficiently. Communications are embedded in every part of the smart grid, from transmission substations to local distribution grids, right to the level of an individual smart meter or a sensor. Smart grid cannot be in existence without communications.

Does Commtel render services particularly to Smart Grid projects?

Commtel’s portfolio of Multi-Systems Solutions includes all communications components required for a smart grid. From backbone multiplexers on transmission lines to Industrial Ethernet Networks for substations and Ring Main Units, legacy serial communication protocols to the latest wireless networks for last-mile connectivity of Smart Metering Infrastructure, Commtel provides design, testing, implementation, and support services for the end-to-end integrated communication systems used in smart grids.

We understand that Commtel successfully completed a project for a Central government transmission company. Tell us more.

Commtel is privileged to be associated with POWERGRID that has implemented One Nation-One Grid through synchronizing its five regions — NR, ER, WR, SR, and NER. Commtel has designed and deployed high-speed backbone optical communication networks for NR and ER regions (including state transmission agencies in respective regions).

The networks deployed by Commtel carry critical communications for teleprotection,  RTU/ SCADA/Substation Automation Systems, Phasor Measurement (PMU and PDC), Energy Metering, SLDC-RLDC, RLDC-RLDC, and RLDC-NLDC communication links, and voice and video collaboration. The communication networks for NR and ER regions include 450+ locations/communication nodes and over 30,000 km of fiber optic links. Commtel also maintains these networks through SLA-based AMC agreements with POWERGRID.

“The energy landscape will change considerably in the next decade compared to its transition through the earlier century.”

Please orient us with Commtel’s future plans in the field of power T&D. We would like to specifically know if there are some hitherto un-serviced areas in the power T&D segment that you are planning to address in the coming years.

To answer this, we would like to add some context first.

The energy landscape will change considerably in the next decade compared to its transition through the earlier century. With the emphasis on renewables and decarbonization to ensure sustainability, the grids will have to get smarter at the edge, right at the consumer premises.

The way to go is to harness the advances in edge intelligence and data analytics. With the advanced control systems and the explosion of data powered through IIoT sensors deployed at every level from the generating stations to consumer meters, smart grids are ready to be ‘smarter’ to deliver the next-level performance, efficiency, sustainability, and energy security.

To support smart to smarter grid transition, new communication solutions are required that can keep pace with the demands of the new smarter grids by incorporating cutting-edge developments in information and communication technologies and merging them with both the legacy power infrastructure and the latest advances. Future power grids will evolve into complex cyber-physical systems where the digital and the physical will intertwine seamlessly. The importance of the information and communication network in a smarter grid becomes far higher and more critical than in the traditional power grids.

Commtel’s focus is on the ‘Unified Critical Communications’ (UCC) solution that aims to address these requirements of future power grids.

Could you elaborate on the UCC solution?

Our UCC offering “CN-SHIELD” is an artificial intelligence software solution that unifies all communication assets, monitors, assesses data, and implements 360-degree protection, faster and cohesively. By using Unified Critical Communications, a smart grid becomes smarter, highly reliable, and flexible, and with the enhanced communication infrastructure it helps real-time information interaction, reliable asset supervision, and load management.

“With the considerable change in the energy landscape in the next decade, Commtel is hopeful of participating in significant number of projects in the next few years.”

Given that India is planning massive investment in the power T&D segment (including smart grids), how do you see the business opportunity for Commtel?

India’s power sector is one of the most diversified in the world in terms of the sources of power generation. The Government’s focus on attaining ‘24×7 Power for All’ accelerated capacity addition in the country. India’s per capita energy consumption is expected to surge three-four times over the long term. Parallel to this, India has also committed to meeting 50 per cent of the nation’s energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030. ICRA estimates massive investment in the power transmission segment at an all-India level, driven by evacuation infrastructure for RE projects.

As stated above, with the considerable change in the energy landscape in the next decade, Commtel is hopeful of participating in significant number of projects in the next few years. Our portfolio of Multi-Systems Solution combined with the intelligence that we offer though the UCC solution will allow us to position ourselves uniquely.

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Smart Grids to ‘Smarter’ Grids – The Future of Power Systems with Unified Critical Communications

3 March 2022, EPR Magazine, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: One may have heard of the Smart Grid in the news, but unless you are from the utility industry, you may perhaps know what a grid is, but possibly not a smart grid. A grid refers to the electric grid, a marvel of technology – the vast network of transmission lines that one sees alongside roads and the substations, transformers, and everything else that helps deliver electricity from the power plant to your home or business. 

However, there is now a need for a new kind of electric grid that is responsive, efficient, and future-proofed. One that automates and manages the increasing demand, complexity, and electricity requirements over the next few decades. Unlike traditional electric power grids that have a one-way electricity flow, the smart grids allow two-way electricity and information flow between generating stations, transmission grids, load dispatch centres, substations, and consumers. Smart grids, the updated version of traditional ‘dumb’ energy infrastructure, are essential for the concept of sustainable future cities. 

Communications were always a vital part of the transmission grids. It empowered safety, automation, and efficiency in traditional power grids. With the advent of smart grids, the communications footprint expanded to generation and distribution portions encompassing entire power industry operations. Pioneer smart-grid technologies enabled us to improve the performance of distribution networks using smart metering and increased efficiency of the power grids by automating real-time load demand-supply to the area-level substations. Over the years, Commtel has deployed various communication technologies for national power grids and citywide distribution networks to support operations, security, and safety of the smart grids. 

The energy landscape will change considerably in the next decade compared to its transition through the earlier century. With the emphasis on renewables and decarbonization to ensure sustainability, the grids will have to get smarter at the edge, right at the consumer premises. The way forward is to harness the advances in edge intelligence and data analytics. With the advanced control systems and the explosion of data powered through IIoT sensors deployed at every level from the generating stations to consumer meters, smart grids are ready to be ‘smarter’ to deliver next-level performance, efficiency, sustainability, and energy security. 

New communication solutions are required that keep pace with the demands of the new smarter grids by incorporating cutting-edge developments in information and communication technologies and merging them with both the legacy power infrastructure and the latest advances. Future power grids will evolve into complex cyber-physical systems where the digital and the physical will intertwine seamlessly. The importance of the information and communication network is far higher and more critical than in the traditional power grids, and it is, for this reason, we call our solution ‘Unified Critical Communications’.            

The convergence of the electricity flow with the information flow is at the heart of the smart grid. By integrating Unified Critical Communications (UCC) into power systems, the grids can become “smarter” with enhanced sensing, control, and communication capabilities. For one, the UCC can help generate, collect, analyze, and react to humongous data about the robustness of the electrical grid than before. The Unified Communications span from ultra-mega traditional power plants to thousands of smart homes with low-capacity renewable energy units. The smarter grids of the future will merge the non-renewable and renewable energy sources to provide granular control over demand and supply, thus reducing energy losses and improving efficiency, translating into greater sustainability. 

Our vision of UCC is to unify the underlying communication systems by leveraging data that flows through the various channels and enabling and providing smarter, efficient, fault-tolerant, and real-time collaboration among machines and the different stakeholders. Unified Critical Communications enhances the key smart-grid concept of two-way energy exchange and communications. It provides a unified data plane across the power system layers, communicating through myriads of communication technologies and protocols. It provides a smooth interface and tight integration between the communication layers at every level of the power system and ensures the data availability to critical power automation, decision-making, and control functions in real-time, ensuring the two-way energy exchange. Unified Critical Communications for the smart grids can be seen as a ‘network-of-networks’, catering to the future smart power grids, that are themselves system-of-systems.

In a smarter grid, the individual system nodes are set up in distinct environments and have specific performance requirements based on their criticality to the overall system. Unified Critical Communications and its inherent ability to transport and transform large-scale data in various forms and formats allow utilizing each sensor and monitorable parameter across millions of disparate components, thus permitting unprecedented visibility and insights into the system operations. Unified Critical Communications allow overhauling of the traditional, scheduled, and reactive O&M procedures to data-driven proactive and predictive procedures to ensure system availability, lowering maintenance costs, extending the system life, improving efficiency, and ultimately, sustainability.

Unified Critical Communications ensures the end-to-end data flow, and it does so securely. By incorporating and integrating with cutting-edge cyber-security platforms alongside its inherent data analytics capabilities, UCC provides novel ways to deal with present-day cyber threats facing industrial networks.      

Our UCC offering, CN-SHIELD, is an artificial intelligence software solution that unifies the communication platforms across layers, monitors, assesses the data, and implements faster and cohesive 360-degree protection. By using Unified Critical Communications, a smart grid becomes smarter, highly reliable, and flexible. The enhanced communication infrastructure helps real-time information interaction, reliable asset supervision, and load management. With smarter grids, we will soon see more innovative energy services such as peer-to-peer electricity trading, consumers or consumer groups with captive renewables participating in energy and carbon-credit exchanges, and so on. Smarter grids are the answer to the future. But to make a smart grid smarter, Unified Critical Communications is not a choice, but an imperative. 

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Unified critical communications is crucial for O&G operations, surveillance, security, and safety

18 January 2022, EPC World, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: The Oil and Gas (O&G) industry is crucial for India and the world. The complexity and magnitude of an O&G refinery redefine scale. To give an idea of the size of an O&G refinery, one of the largest ones in India has an area of approximately 7,500 acres (about 30 sq. kilometres), consisting of the manufacturing and allied facilities, utilities, off-sites, port facilities, and an employee township.

Several pipelines bring in and carry out the product, which can often extend to thousands of kilometres. And considering these pipelines carry an extremely flammable product that has the potential to cause harm to humans and the environment if mishaps occur, these pipelines need supervision as rigorously as the plant itself. Generally, the monitoring stations are placed every 20-km to 50-km of the Pipeline. An O&G refinery and its extensions could have close to 10,000 or more monitoring points, each capturing and processing enormous data every second.

Various communication technologies for O&G require customers to harness and leverage the plant data and support operations, security, and safety. In Commtel’s deployments these mission-critical communications include applications such as local and wide-area networking, analog/ IP voice/ video communications, radio communications, satellite communications, public address, video surveillance, physical access control, and intrusion prevention, and many more. Traditionally, disparate communication systems have got operated and managed individually. However, with the advent of IIoT and the inherent intelligence of the edge components, mission-critical communications are no longer simply a collection of data, voice, and video transport technologies. It is now evolving as a ‘network-of-networks’ unifying the underlying communication systems and not only transporting the data but leveraging it to enable and provide smarter, efficient, fault-tolerant, and real-time collaboration among machines and humans. We call it ‘Unified Critical Communications’.

To understand this better, think of Unified Critical Communications as one which harnesses many technologies seamlessly to accomplish the mission. It integrates and automates the disparate systems, selects the best option for every task, and provides deep insights into its operations. Unified Critical Communications binds the high-speed, scalable, and deterministic data backbone with the underlying user communication to create harmony among the various technologies like DWDM/ MPLS/ SD-WAN, IP/ Ethernet, Voice/ Video, and time-critical control protocols.

Unified communications today, has moved beyond merely sharing the communication paths to the actual sharing of data and content across systems. It has empowered the O&G industry electronically like never-before by providing real-time data across systems, enabling quick and informed decision-making. This facilitation has been possible through the recent development of universal data interfaces, APIs, protocol converters, cross-platform plug-ins, and advanced analytics platforms to crunch the data.

The networks and systems for Oil & Gas are designed to very stringent standards specifically developed for the industry, ensuring high levels of safety, security, reliability, and resiliency.

These standards cover every aspect of the system, beginning from the network architecture and performance requirements, to stringent electrical, environmental, material, and equipment specifications. Most major international Oil & Gas companies have developed their own set of standards to meet their specific needs along with strict specifications defined by standards bodies such as IEC, UL, EIA/TIA, and ETSI. Critical applications like security and process control often operate on infrastructure that is completely isolated from any other networks. With deep insights and compliance tools, Unified Critical Communications help the end-user conform to the standards and regulations.

The benefits of using Unified Critical Communications technology are immense. It increases the reliability of information sharing, reduces overheads, creates better response time, and workers feel more secure with trustworthy information in their hands which helps them react more confidently to situations they face.

The Unified Critical Communications technology must be simple, secure, and flexible. It should be fail-safe, minimize data blackspots, also be future-proof, and robustly work even when newer technologies are introduced years later into the system. The key to establishing a robust and critical communications system is to use the ‘best technology’ principle, as different technologies bring different benefits, and Unified Critical Communications aims to host the best together. However, these varied technologies must work faultlessly together. The goal of any Unified Critical Communications is to optimize and automate operations, by establishing a node-to-node connection between thousands of data generation points, all of which exchange data in real-time.

Let us also peek into the very near future of Unified Critical Communications, a path that Commtel has already embarked on. The fibre optic cables that carry Unified Critical Communications are full of terabytes of data constantly flowing through them. A data-scientist mind is needed to continuously figure how this big data can be analysed and create autonomous systems that learn through ML/AI. Such a system allows to predict a situation, prevent a mishap, and helps the preservation of all mission-critical systems.

Our latest innovation, CN-SHIELD, whose first implementation is already underway, is an artificial intelligence software solution that unifies all assets, monitors, assesses the data, and implements faster and cohesive 360-degree protection. It enables novel ways to deal with the threats associated with the present-day cyber-physical systems. It provides customers the power to collect data from myriad devices and systems on a single data processing platform. We believe this will be the future of Unified Critical Communications, and I can confidently say it is also ours.

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Commtel enters into an enterprise agreement for its AI and Analytics Solution with Quality International

20 October 2021, GITEX Global, Dubai, UAE: Commtel, a global leader in engineering and technology solutions, has entered into an enterprise agreement with Quality International (QI), UAE, a leading (process) equipment manufacturer and turnkey provider of total integrated solution to the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors. As part of the multi-year agreement, Commtel will be transforming QI’s operations through its Artificially Intelligent software solution, CN-SHIELD. 

The agreement signed between Commtel and QI entails Commtel to digitally transform all aspect of QI’s operations, allowing the company to control operations remotely across all its facilities and, most importantly, to predict conditions and failures, ensuring the safety and security of QI’s human assets, equipment, and the physical estate. CN-SHIELD has been built on nybl’s AI platform.

Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks said, “The systems at a Critical National Infrastructure and companies servicing the CNI sectors presently is a combination of legacy technologies and new digital solutions giving rise to the challenge of getting data AI-ready expensive and time-consuming. The industry’s collective digital transformation is widening the surface for threat actors to attack. The risk profile of a CNI and its ecosystem has broadened with the increasing use of digital, connected, smart IoT (IIoT). CN-SHIELD leverages nybl’s advanced ML technology combined with the deep CNI domain expertise of Commtel, to ensure that there isn’t a trade-off between security and digitalization. QI using CN-SHIELD reflects the interconnections and interdependencies inherent in a CNI ecosystem. It is a partnership for a collective defense”.

Quality International has multiple facilities throughout the UAE, totalling over 400,000square metres of mixed-use space and employing over 1,300 people. “Commtel will be deploying the AI-powered CN-SHIELD to modernize, standardize and automate the QI workplace, allowing QI to monitor and respond effectively to potential risks and establish a modernized and secured digital workplace. We wanted a partner to not only enhance our digital transformation journey but who could eliminate the need to have significant resources to implement sophisticated AI programs to stay secure and advance digital capabilities on our own,” said Mr. Aneesh P. V., Director, Quality International.

About Commtel Networks:

Commtel is a global engineering and technology company providing high-performance digital communication, surveillance, security, safety, and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for clients in the Oil & Gas, Power, Mining, Transportation, and other critical national infrastructure sectors. Commtel is at the forefront of engineering intelligence with expertise in executing turnkey solutions – design, engineering, multi-system integration, project management, commissioning, and life cycle management. Founded in 1998, Commtel has delivered over 500 projects across four continents, enabling the digital transformation of the mission-critical infrastructure of the clients. To learn more, log on to www.commtelnetworks.com

About Quality International:

Quality International is a leading Process Equipment Manufacturer and Turnkey solutions provider in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) having manufacturing facilities at Sharjah, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi. Quality is an ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 Company and also accredited with ASME “U”, “U2” & “S” stamps and National Board “R” & “NB” certifications. QI caters to Oil & Gas, Petrochemical & Refinery, Chemical & Fertilizer, Power & Desalination, Water & Wastewater and Offshore Industries.

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Commtel launches CN-SHIELD, its state-of-the-art AI solution offering 360-degree protection for Critical National Infrastructure

19 October, Mumbai: Commtel, a global leader in engineering and technology solutions, launched its new integrated platform that leverages big data analytics to provide actionable intelligence for robust end-to-end protection to any Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). Commtel made this announcement at the ongoing GITEX 2021, Global Event in Dubai, UAE.

CN-Shield is an artificial intelligence software solution that integrates all assets, monitors, assesses the data, and implements faster and cohesive 360-degree protection. It aims at bridging the gap in security in the era of cyber-physical systems. CN-SHIELD is implemented on Nybl’s AI platform.  It is an engineered system deployment that is customised, and purpose built for a specific customer site. Using its unique C6Ai architecture it provides the customer with power to collect data from myriad devices and systems on a single data processing platform.

“Today, when we are witnessing an increasing convergence between the digital and physical worlds, it is crucial for any CNI to detect physical manifestations of cyber events as well physical events that may impact the security and safety of their assets. CN-SHIELD will enable a CNI to achieve that objective. This offering demonstrates our capabilities in building software solutions based upon our accumulated domain knowledge”, says Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks.

CN-SHIELD is the first in a new line of AI-based solutions from Commtel for protecting the CNI and its ecosystem. The solution uses advanced ML/AI technology for timely delivery and action of threat intelligence, allowing CNI to optimize and secure its mission-critical assets and communications networks amidst the complexity of rapidly digitalizing operating environments. CN-SHIELD will help CNI stay secure, enable them to tap into the power of their organizational data, manage their operations and security fundamentals.

Shriprakash further states, “This significant development is a natural progression for Commtel, as over two decades, we have catered predominantly to customers in the CNI sectors. It is one more step in furthering our vision to help build a smarter, faster, and safer world.”

CN-SHIELD is a perfect example of the incredible achievements possible at the intersection of subject matter expertise and expertise in Artificial Intelligence. Nybl is on a mission to democratize AI by eliminating the technical barriers of developing and deploying AI applications and our partnership with Commtel and CN-SHIELD, built on Nybl, is a testament to the extraordinary results when two experts in their respective domains collaborate.” added Mr. Noor Alnahhas, CEO, nybl.

About Commtel Networks:

Commtel is a global engineering and technology company providing high-performance digital communication, surveillance, security, safety, and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for clients in the Oil & Gas, Power, Mining, Transportation, and other critical national infrastructure sectors. Commtel is at the forefront of engineering intelligence with expertise in executing turnkey solutions – design, engineering, multi-system integration, project management, commissioning, and life cycle management. Founded in 1998, Commtel has delivered over 500 projects across four continents, enabling the digital transformation of the mission-critical infrastructure of the clients. To learn more, log on to www.commtelnetworks.com

About nybl.ai:

nybl is smarter AI: a science-based machine learning platform that turns mountains of underutilized data into actionable intelligence, launched in 2019. Nybl has developed a framework for the codeless development of machine learning models and AI applications. This end-to-end technology platform is industry and application-agnostic making their tech one of the most versatile in the world. In this sense, they’re creating an ecosystem that enables anyone to deploy AI tech, and opening up the principle of AI to everyone. In essence, they are democratising AI, by making it easily accessible and reducing barriers to entry. More on www.nybl.ai 

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Girish Dev joins Commtel as AI and Digital Transformation Head

Mumbai, 13-09-2021: Commtel, the global engineering, and technology company, has appointed Girish Dev as Head of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Transformation (DT) Business Unit. The company created Commtel Labs in 2019, focusing on the Research and Development of AI-powered solutions and platforms. It has now formed the AI and DT Unit to help companies operating in the critical national infrastructure (CNI) sectors through tailormade AI and DT solutions.

Dev has spent over 25 years in financial markets with a significant track record in creating trading and digital financial services platforms. Before joining Commtel, Dev served as a Strategic Advisor and Head at a global technology group for their Blockchain and DLT ventures. Earlier, he held several roles including, the position of Chief Regulatory Officer at Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX), a Critical Information Infrastructure, was Executive Director in the Capital First Group, and MD & CEO at Geofin Comtrade.

Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks, said, “Our AI and DT division aims to work closely with customers for intelligent use of the data that flows through their systems. Girish combines the skills and flexibility to lead Commtel’s activities in this area as the companies in the CNI sectors continue to respond to greater challenges and accelerated change. He brings in a unique approach with the strategic intelligence and leadership to propel our new division, which we are putting intense focus on.” In the recent past Commtel had invested in nybl.ai, a knowledge-driven machine-learning platform.

Commenting on his appointment, Dev said, “The critical infrastructure sectors, especially Energy, Power, Transportation, and the Defense have been facing increasing threats of physical and cyber-attacks. Many of these sectors are also at the forefront of significant efforts towards sustainable development. To begin with, through our AI solutions, we intend to enhance the security of the physical estate of our customers besides partnering with them for implementation of their key priorities under a comprehensive digital acceleration programme.”

About Commtel Networks:

Commtel is a global engineering and technology company providing high-performance digital communication, surveillance, security, safety, and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for clients in the Oil & Gas, Power, Mining, Transportation, and other critical national infrastructure sectors. Commtel is at the forefront of engineering intelligence with expertise in executing turnkey solutions – design, engineering, multi-system integration, project management, commissioning, and life cycle management. Founded in 1998, Commtel has delivered over 500 projects across four continents, enabling the digital transformation of the mission-critical infrastructure of the clients.