Technology and network solutions company Parallel Wireless believes LTE technology should be considered a front runner in addressing safety, efficiency and productivity in underground mining.

New-age Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology is set to outpace 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 mines, says Africa sales director Lux Maharaj.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 7 2018

“Most underground mining operations make use of traditional LMR systems, which relies on WI-FI based networks, to address communication needs. The traditional LMR based communication system transmits only voice. Location based services and transmission of images or videos is not possible with LMR-based systems,” he explains.

AUTHOR: Sascha-Lee Solomonds, Mining Review Africa content editor

Maharaj emphasises that underground mines can be hot and noisy, dark and damp, while in others water may be found covering tunnel floors, all impacting on communication and as a result, safety.

LTE technology can assist in improving this.

LTE provides ultra-high-speed connectivity with extremely low latency, which provides connectivity in the furthermost corners of the mines.

It enables tracking of people and vehicles to an accuracy of 1 cm.

This means that LTE is perfect for automation and digitisation of mining operations.

A safer and smarter option

“A reliable, robust and secure communications network can go a long way in saving lives in the event of an accident or natural disaster because it allows reliable tracking and monitoring of miners, making it easier to rescue them,” he highlights.

LTE-powered Bring-Your-Own-Coverage (BYOC) truly leverages the power of reliable and robust connectivity during an accident because an 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. In addition, the self-optimisation and traffic prioritisation capabilities mean that it is extremely easy to deploy and ensures that the user is always connected,” he comments.

Further, Maharaj points out that another important requirement of the mining industry is to bring down operational costs 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,” he adds.

Mining companies should embrace this new technology which is easy to implement in existing or new mining operations.

The installation or use of LTE is dynamic and when moved just requires readjustment. It doesn’t require the removal or replacement of previous systems such as LMR.

“The implementation is easy because it’s self-configuring and self-optimising so we can install LTE in vehicles in any mining environment. Installation is done in under a day and the testing process may take between six and nine months without interrupting operations or the need to shut down,” he states.

“It has been trialled in a South African mine and we are currently in the process of implementing the system. It has already been implemented successfully in Europe and the US.”

Maharaj highlights that LTE technology is empowering the mining industry 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 realise its real potential,” he concludes.

Beyond the mining industry

LTE is a game changer not only for the mining industry. 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 in a small area.

It is highly resilient and reliable and is designed to meet the unique needs of the mining industry.

It is therefore not relevant to link your LTE experience as a reference point for LTE installations in a mining environment.

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