United Oil Finds 4G

Cuts wires on store-to-HQ communications

GARDENA, Calif. -- United Oil Co. wanted a dependable and cost-effective wide area network that would facilitate communications between its gasoline stations/convenience stores and its headquarters in Gardena, Calif.

The company traditionally used DSL at its field locations, but there were fluctuations in communications quality and wide variations in billings. "The inconsistency made this network very unpredictable and hard to manage," Bill De La Espriella, United Oil's director of technology, told the Network Computing newsletter. "At one station, we had a DSL provider charging $59 per month; at another station that was just one block away, the charge was $184 per month."

With multiple communications lines at each station, he said the administrative office had to deal with a mountain of paperwork just to pay the bills.

In 2010, the company began investigating wireless options for its field operations, including 4G cellular communications and satellite connections. "Many of our payment processing systems were using satellite communications for network access, so we considered satellite as a potential DSL replacement," said De La Espriella. "But satellite communications were just too slow unless we paid a premium for it. We had to look for something else."

That "something else" turned out to be 4G, facilitated by a combination of Verizon 4G service and Cradlepoint routers that are integrated for 3G/4G wireless communications, according to the report. "We knew that we wanted to get off of DSL, and there were a number of vendors that we had looked at in making the decision to move to 4G, but in the end, the Cradlepoint and Verizon team was able to bring to us the technology expertise and resources that enabled us to do what we wanted to do," said De La Espriella, "That was critical because the technology was new to us.”

Vendor expertise was also critical because United Oil runs a lean IT shop; a staff of 12 supports the company's 700 employees and IT operations throughout Southern California.

United Oil chose a phased implementation strategy, cutting over its first service station to 4G for a three-month period in late 2010 and then adding three service stations for the second three months.

"This gave us the opportunity to see if the 4G technology was working the way that we thought it would, and if we could anticipate gaining the business advantages that we were projecting." The company expects the entire project to be finished this year, depending on available resources and other priorities.

United Oil operates 127 gasoline stations and supplies fuel to another 80 service stations throughout Southern California.