by Lux Maharaj, director at Africa Sales, Parallel Wireless
South Africa has one of the most abundant mineral reserves in the world with the value of between $2.5 and $4.7 trillion. The industry contributes as much as 6.8% to the country’s GDP. Even so, the sector faces enormous challenges that prevent it from meeting its true potential.
To begin with, the declining reserves mean that the mining companies have to dig deeper to get to mineral deposits. Sadly, this increases the safety concerns. In South Africa, 86 people lost lives in mining-related accidents in 2017 compared to 73 in 2016. The safety risk makes it tough to find the trained workforce to work in remote and harsh mines.
Secondly, the industry is facing pressure on margins making it imperative for them to adopt automation to enhance its operational efficiency to bring down its expenses. Depressed commodity prices further add to the challenge. There is also pressure to adopt sustainable practices and address the environmental problems.
LTE: Aiding Mining Industry
The primary challenge for the mining industry is to increase profitability without impacting the safety of the manpower. The LTE technology can empower the mining companies to address this problem.
The traditional Land Mobile Radio (LMR) based communication system transmits only voice. Location based services and transmission of images or videos is not possible with LMR-based systems. On the other hand, LTE provides ultra high-speed connectivity with extremely low latency, which provides connectivity in the furthermost corner of the mines. LTE enables tracking people and vehicles to an accuracy of 1 cm. All this means that LTE is perfect for automation and digitization of the mining operations.
Here it is important to remember that LTE for mines is vastly different from LTE for retail customers. Most of the service providers have launched LTE in South Africa over the last few years. Sometimes subscribers may experience call drops or coverage gaps in the retail network. Retail LTE network is built for millions of subscribers and is also used across the country. However, private LTE network for mines is deployed for a limited number of people and things in a small area. It is highly resilient and reliable and is designed to meet the unique needs of the mining industry. So, it is not right to take your LTE experience as a reference point for LTE for mines.
Further LTE is interoperable with the existing technologies used by the mining industry, making it easier for the companies to move from legacy systems to the latest communications technology. The recent ABI Research further points to the growing acceptance of LTE as the de facto standard for a communication system for mines. The global mining industry is likely to spend around US$2.9 billion or 1.5% of the total mining capital expenditure on setting up the private wireless broadband network by 2022. A significant percentage of this amount is going to be spent on deploying LTE in mines.
The concept of Bring-Your-Own-Coverage (BYOC) further allows the mining industry to leverage LTE connectivity in the remotest areas of the mine. It can be easily deployed on tracks in open mines or in vehicles that go inside the mine. The self-optimization capability of BYOC means that the connectivity is not impacted in case fixed base stations are moved or shifted for blasting.
LTE: Driving Digitization For Mines
A vital requirement of the mining industry is to bring down operational cost of running a mining operation. Automation of the processes can help in bringing down the expenditure and LTE enables this automation. Besides, real-time remote monitoring of the mines can play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of the miners.
Mining is a very labor-intensive industry, and automation brings down this dependency on the workforce. Many processes, which are currently being managed by workforce can be automated, which in itself leads to a safer mines. Automation means that the companies can run operations round the clock, thus increasing productivity.
LTE: Enabling Safe and Smart Mining
A reliable, robust and secure communications network can go a long way in saving lives in the event of an accident or natural disaster. LTE allows reliable tracking and monitoring of the miners making it easier to rescue them.
LTE-powered BYOC truly leverages the power of reliable and robust connectivity during an accident. The LTE-base station can be put in a miner’s backpack or a truck ensuring connectivity in the deepest corner of the mine. It gives real-time access to the miner’s location helping in the rescue mission. BYOC also brings down response time in an emergency. Further, the self-optimization and traffic prioritization capabilities mean that it is extremely easy to deploy and ensures that the user is always connected.
More importantly, this connectivity at all times from any corner of the mine is sure to make the workforce feel confident about working in a secure and safe environment. It can even be a differentiating factor in attracting the right talent.
The BYOC solution comes with self-organizing, self-healing and self-configuration capabilities making it perfect to meet the evolving needs of the mining industry. It also supports the digitization efforts of the mining industry by connecting IoT sensors and devices to collect data. Many IoT applications, including emergency notification system, remote management of mining machinery, air quality monitoring, access control systems, among others, can enable improved management of the mines.
The LTE technology is empowering the mining industry the world over to automate their processes and to improve their safety measures. Mining is an integral part of South Africa’s economy, and faster adoption of LTE-based communication will ensure that the industry can address the challenges to realize its real potential.