Why 4G LTE is Growing in Popularity for Australian Miners

The pace of digitisation in Australian mining is accelerating at considerable rates.

Mine automation, sensor network integration and field personnel enablement are all driving explosive growth in data volumes and types, and the growth is not only at Tier 1 level.

The traditional approach of disparate connectivity across mine sites is now a major chokepoint for the aspirations of resources operators who are looking to technology as the driver to increase operational productivity and decrease costs.

Why are we at this point?

The approach of many operations has been to focus on the outcome and then work backwards. This has come from selecting a vendor for a purpose, but there hasn’t been the ability to compel a vendor to interoperate with a core connectivity technology. Possibly as there wasn’t a technology that could support all the outcomes needed. We now see Tetra, DMR, P25, a plethora of Wi-Fi, LoRaWAN, WiMax and various versions of mesh Networks and bespoke connectivity all patchworked across an operation.

With the diversity of connectivity operating across sites, we are at a tipping point where they are now the chokepoint for operators to achieve true digital transformation.

Big call – what’s the justification?

All too often, the various forms of connectivity have been implemented as an extension of connectivity that was used previously, so it’s just rolled over into a new and updated variant.

Take for example Tetra which harks back to 1995 and has evolved into the form we know today. It does a great job for its core requirement – voice, but data is challenged.

And we have Wi-Fi networks employed to take the load for data, which is limited by distance, throughput and interference. And then there’s the challenge of maintaining all of these disparate connectivity networks for 24/7 uptime.

And now we are forcing these ‘legacy’ connectivity tools to support platforms and services that are latency sensitive, demand sizeable bandwidth and run them 24/7.

It’s time to change the thinking

Like a network of B-roads that are heavily choked, potholed and congested, a new unified, pervasive wireless connectivity ‘freeway’ needs to be created for all users across mining operations.

The solution to unify and satisfy the needs of digitally driven operations is Private 4G LTE.

Why 4G LTE?

As a mature technology, 4G LTE is a superior wireless connectivity as it delivers speed, coverage, low latency and reliability. 4G LTE is inherently secure in the way that it has been designed giving users a high level of confidence in maintaining data integrity.  Additionally, 4G LTE offers 3GPP quantified Quality of Service for different traffic classes from end to end.

Because of the superior coverage delivered by 4G LTE and with careful planning and choice of locations the disruption to daily operations due to drill and blast activities can be minimised ensuring continuous operations on a 24/7 basis.

With careful planning and design, the superior coverage and throughput of 4G LTE can offer a high performance with no impact on operations, such as drill and blast, which ensures operations can enjoy the potential of carrier grade (5 x 9s) levels of uptime.

Adopting 4G LTE now also ensures a roadmap to align with 5G technology when it matures beyond carriers in the next few years.

For these reasons and more, 4G LTE is the right choice to act as the foundation for high-performance connectivity for digitally focused operations.

Overcoming the barriers

The barriers to utilising 4G LTE in Australia have made 4G LTE challenging to implement in past years. Spectrum was a restrictive factor as the major Mobile Carriers invested hundreds of millions of dollars in purchasing spectrum from the Australian government to deliver their public 4G networks.

In recent times we have been successful in negotiating with carriers to lease spectrum, particularly in regional areas and underground, where their spectrum goes unused.

Additionally, there are now proven methods to work around the spectrum squatters who have held back wide scale deployment due to the speculative activities which restrict legitimate users from gaining access.

Aqura is also maturing the acquisition model for 4G LTE. Previously only the domain of cost-intensive capital projects, we now offer LTE-as-a-Service through clever configuration of the core technology to benefit a number of users, in the same way that cloud providers spread the available capacity of their infrastructure.

This dramatically reduces the cost of entry for operators who want to implement 4G LTE across their operations, without major capital cost, and can scale their requirement as their needs evolve.

Making the move

Moving to 4G LTE is far easier today that ever before. There is already an ecosystem of applications that integrate over 4G LTE (we have over 21 in place) and the business case is compelling.

These applications span communications (MCPTT over LTE), remote operations systems, real-time analytics, predictive management/maintenance, mine planning/production and Industrial IoT (including NBIOT).

With the availability of so many applications and systems that can now leverage 4G LTE, and with commercial models making it more cost-effective, it’s a good time to bridge the connectivity gap.

Learn more about the applications of LTE here.

Alan Seery has a long history assisting organisations to develop clever solutions to complex business challenges. With experience in large enterprise and as a service provider, Alan is responsible for technology strategy and delivery within Aqura.

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