Leveraging LTE For Smarter And Safer Mines

June 8, 2018 8:45 am27 comments

by Lux Maharaj Director, Africa Sales, Parallel Wireless
THE new-age Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology is set to outpace the legacy communications systems, like Land Mobile Radio (LMR), as mining companies look to use the technology to streamline their operations and enhance the safety of the mines. The LTE technology is emerging as a preferred technology to address the key challenges being faced by the South African mining industry.

The South African mining industry is a significant driver of its economic development due to its abundance in mineral reserves, which contributes around 6,8 percent to the country’s GDP. However, it poses enormous risk towards its workforce.

With some of the deepest mines based in Africa, the miners are forced to dig much deeper to access of new deposits putting their lives at risk. South Africa mining industry is often accused of poor safety record as the number of accidents continues to rise. According to the latest statistical
reports, 86 people lost their lives in mining-related accidents in 2017, compared to 73 in 2016.

Amid constant decline in reserves and inadequate measures of safety in place for miners, the industry is continuously under stress. The mining industry needs to leverage LTE technology to streamline its operations to enhance productivity which ensures better connectivity to miners who spend a considerable amount of time underground.

Why LTE For Mines?
The traditional LMR technology system is unable to meet the evolving needs of the mining industry due to its limitations. To begin with, it can transmit only voice and not images, location information or videos. These capabilities are essential to the modern-day information-based public
safety systems.

Harnessing technology is central to making mining safer and more efficient – from proprietary technologies that help to locate deposits to autonomous equipment and fatigue monitoring systems that protect people. Hence, with the help of LTE, the mining firms can share the location, real-time images, and videos even during an emergency, thus enhancing overall workforce safety.

Many in the industry base their opinion about LTE on their personal use of the technology as a retail customer. However, LTE for mining is far more robust and resilient and is perfectly suitable for the remote and harsh environmental conditions in which the industry operates.

Retail LTE consumers do experience call drops, and limited or no coverage in some areas, the technology is able to meet the needs of the mining industry. What we experience as retail customers of commercial LTE network is deployed over a large area and is used by millions of subscribers. On the other hand, LTE for mines is ultimately a private network installed
over a smaller area and provides access to only a limited number of people and things. Hence, it is much more secure, reliable and delivers an overall better quality of services.

One of the significant features of this technology is that it is interoperable with the existing technologies used by the mining industry. So, the companies are unlikely to face any significant challenge while moving from legacy system to the modern LTE system.

To drive home the point that the LTE is the future of communication that can enormously help the mining space, a recent ABI Research report 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 a private wireless broadband
network by 2022. Because of its features of high speed, low latency, and location intelligence, LTE is an obvious choice to meet the demands of the mining industry.

Enabling Internet of Things With LTE
The LTE technology for mines is especially useful for connecting things for better remote tracking and management of the operations. For the mining industry, the ultra high-speed in combination with low latency capability makes LTE a perfect technology to track people, devices, and
vehicles with an accuracy of 1 cm.

The mining industry is looking at automation as a way to streamline its processes and to reduce its cost of management. LTE is a key driver of this digitization. A key reason for automating is also that it will reduce the dependence on the workforce and this indirectly helps in improving the safety of the mines. Automation will also facilitate the companies to run operations round the clock, thus increasing productivity.

LTE To Enhance Safety Of Mines
The concept of Bring-Your-Own-Coverage (BYOC) leverages the capabilities of LTE to make it all the more relevant for the mining industry. It ensures that people in the remotest location do not experience any glitch in coverage or quality of connectivity. Moreover, it is easy to carry as
the base station can be put in the miner’s backpack or a wagon thus providing high-speed mobile broadband connectivity in the remotest areas of the mine.

Due to blasts at the site of mining, the base stations are frequently shifted from one place to another. The BYOC is especially helpful in ensuring coverage even when fixed base stations need to be moved for blasting. This helps in identifying the miner at work at any location and
in case of emergency it helps the rescue team with faster response time. The self-optimization and traffic prioritization features of BYOC ensure that the network can be deployed quickly and that the end-user is always connected.

The mining industry is ready to undergo a transformation driven by LTE which will not only improve the safety of the mines but also reduce their cost. It can enable the South African mining industry to resolve the challenges and realize its real potential.
-CAJ News

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