Lux Maharaj, Director- Africa Sales, Parallel Wireless
A robust and reliable communication system has the power to transform any industry vertical and this is especially true for the mining industry. The new-age Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology has the wherewithal to address some of the key challenges being faced by the South African mining industry.
South Africa is rich in mineral reserves and the industry generates significant revenue and employs a sizeable workforce. It contributes as much as 6.8% to the country’s GDP. However, the potential of the industry is much more.
The most prominent problem faced by the industry is to ensure the safety of its workforce. It is a very workforce intensive industry and sadly declining reserves mean that the miners are forced to go deeper to access new deposits. This increases the risk and this is obvious from the increasing number of mining-related accidents. As per the statistics, 86 people lost their lives in mining-related accidents in 2017, compared to 73 in 2016.
Apart from the safety of the workforce, falling reserves, pressure on commodity prices means that the industry is continuously under stress. The mining industry needs to leverage technology to streamline its operations to enhance productivity. All this is possible by using LTE technology.
Why LTE For Mines?
The outdated Land Mobile Radio (LMR) system is unable to meet the evolving needs of the mining industry. The legacy LMR system can transmit only voice which limits the rescue operations and might even result in loss of lives. On the other hand, with the help of LTE one can share the location, real-time images, and videos even during an emergency, thus enhancing overall workforce safety.
Many in the industry find it hard to believe that the LTE networks they use to make calls and access internet on their smartphone is robust and resilient enough to deliver in the remote and harsh environment of mine. It is common for retail customers for LTE to experience call drops and blind spots in coverage.
However, the fact is that the LTE for the mining industry is fundamentally different from the ones we use as retail customers. While the LTE network installed by the telecom service providers is deployed over a large area and is typically used by millions of subscribers. LTE for mines is generally a private network implemented over a smaller area and is used by a limited number of people and things, thus is more secure, reliable and provides a better quality of services.
Another significant advantage of LTE is that it is interoperable with the existing technologies used by the mining industry. This makes it easier for the firms to move from legacy systems to the modern LTE-based communication system.
A strong need for a reliable, smart and secure communication system in the mining industry is evident from the recent report by ABI Research which says that the global mining industry is likely to spend around $2.9 billion or 1.5% of the total mining capex on setting up private wireless broadband network by 2022. Because of its features of high speed, low latency, and location intelligence, it is an obvious choice to meet the demands of the mining industry.
Enabling Internet of Things With LTE
LTE supports digitization of the mining industry. The ultra high-speed coupled with low latency capability makes LTE a perfect technology to track people, devices and vehicles with an accuracy of 1 cm.
LTE enables IoT capability which helps in automating the operations thus enhancing the overall efficiency and productivity as well. A key reason for automating is that it will reduce the dependence on the workforce and this indirectly helps in improving the safety of the mines. Automation also means that mines can run operations round the clock to increase productivity. It also allows remote monitoring of the mines. Further automation significantly brings down the cost of running mining operations.
It enables the functioning of many applications, including notification system, remote management of mining machinery, air quality monitoring and access control system to enhance efficiency.
LTE To Enhance Safety Of Mines
LTE enables the concept of Bring-Your-Own-Coverage (BYOC) which ensures availability of network in the farthest corners of the mine. The LTE base station can be deployed easily like in miner’s backpack or wagon, thus providing high-speed mobile broadband connectivity in the remotest areas of the mine. Many times the base stations have to be moved for blasting. The BYOC is especially helpful in ensuring coverage even when fixed base stations have to be shifted.
Further, BYOC aids the first responders in case of an emergency by bringing down the response time by providing miner’s location. The self-optimization and traffic prioritization features of BYOC ensure that the network can be deployed quickly and that the user is always connected. BYOC is relevant to drive automation efforts of the mining firms as it can be used for connecting sensors and devices as well.
The LTE technology is a must for using automation for operational and cost efficiency and also for improving the safety of the mines. It can enable the South African mining industry to resolve the challenges and realize its true potential.