The challenge of leveraging next-generation wireless broadband technology in underground operations is one that hasn’t quite been cracked in Australia.
Aqura Technologies has taken on the challenge and has been awarded a grant from the Australian Government under the 5G Innovation Initiative to augment the organisation’s own development work to address the challenge of delivering underground 5G LTE.
The grant is an important step to overcome the technical and commercial barriers associated with operating next-generation broadband wireless networks in sub-surface environments.
Aqura Managing Director, Alan Seery, stated the project was founded on extensive customer and industry feedback as critical to enable mining operators to unlock the benefits that surface operators had been enjoying for a number of years.
“With over 50% of mining in Australia being conducted underground and increasing, the industry is still playing catch-up with technology that is being widely utilised to great benefit in surface operations,” said Seery.
“Our track record and development work, coupled with the 5G Innovation Grant will enable our team to work to deliver technical architectures and a validated commercial model which will enable and accelerate adoption.”
Investing in future capability
The 5G Innovation Initiative grant will complement investment already made by Aqura to deliver technical architectures, commercial model development and installation of a live Private 5G LTE network in an operating mine. The project leverages a lot of learnings from a 2017 project where Aqura successfully delivered Private 4G LTE in an underground mine in the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia.
The focus of the program is to fast-track the enablement of applications and processes that are being adopted in surface operations so underground operators can realise the benefits that enhanced environmental, safety and productivity outcomes that advanced wireless communications can deliver.
Seery shared that underground operators were wanting a kick-start to advance their technology capabilities.
“Many underground mines use processes and technologies that are decades old and operators want to leverage the latest technology, but the technical challenges and the commercial model to acquire can be prohibitive,” said Seery.
“We’ve learnt a lot through our previous work in underground, and we believe our new Private 5G platform optimised to deliver next-generation private industrial operations networks will support a new commercial approach that will better suit the business models utilised by mining operators.
And with new advances in radio access, we’re excited to have the opportunity to work with some very motivated partners to develop and make available new architectures which will bridge the underground connectivity gap.”
A project to bring the future forward
Aqura has a solid track record in the delivery of advanced industrial networks. Many of Aqura’s core team were behind the first Private 4G LTE network in Australian resources, delivered Private 4G LTE underground and supported delivery of one of the first aboveground Private 5G LTE networks in North Queensland earlier this year.
The project has kicked off with Aqura working with a large gold operator to commence scoping. Various partners have indicated support to validate applications, devices and processes around autonomy, condition monitoring, safety systems, data access, PTT communications and IoT sensors.
“We’re really pleased to have been involved in advancing Private LTE in only a few short years. I’m even more excited to be able to take on the challenges associated with underground. It’s a tough environment to work in, but we’re pretty sure we can change the game,” said Seery.