LTE for mining: delivering ultra broadband in the middle of nowhere

LCD TVs, electric cars, indeed any modern-day electronic product contains similar elements and there is now huge demand on mines from around the world to deliver these ores in high quantities.

This demand means that the global mining industry is booming. New sites are coming online while existing locations are expanding through deeper excavations.

Many of these mines in Africa, South America, Asia and Australia are located in remote areas. As a result, reliable and effective communications networks are essential for safe and efficient mining operations and processes.

In-pit Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS), Autonomous Drilling Systems (ADS), driverless freight train control, anti-collision systems, in-pit proximity detection, in-pit CCTV, high-precision GPS, and an array of telemetry systems and sensors are now integral components of successful mine sites around the world. They are also connected to command and control centres, which in some cases are around 1000km away from the mine. 

Many legacy networks based on Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G, proprietary VHF, or PMR can no longer meet these systems’ demand for uninterrupted radio coverage, quality of service (QoS) management, and security requirements in the changing topography of an open-pit mine. They are also unable to deliver the bandwidth required for comprehensive CCTV networks.

This was the case at Rio Tinto’s West Angelas mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Here Wi-Fi trailers set up around the mine were no longer up to the job of supporting the mine’s mission-critical applications, and were potentially putting its performance in jeopardy. This led to a rethink of the in-pit, pit-to-port, an in-terminal port radio communications infrastructure, with Rio Tinto tasking Alcatel-Lucent to deliver a private single and converged ultra-broadband 4G LTE network for its pit fields, railways, and ports.

LTE delivers numerous benefits to the mining industry. These include the bandwidth required for video services, even in areas with a disturbed radio environment, dependable QoS management, as well as intrinsic resiliency and cyber-protection, and a low latency of 10ms, which is essential for mission-critical applications requiring fast response times.

Since coming online in August 2013, the performance of Rio Tinto’s LTE network has led some observers to comment that they have a better mobile signal in the middle of the mine, hundreds of miles from the nearest city, than in their office.

An LTE network is also contributing to reduced operating costs by using an IP protocol to support all applications on a single converged radio network, and improvements in operational efficiency. And with the solution scalable to accommodate new technologies and services, LTE technology is well placed to meet the M2M demands of the mining industry.

To find out more about Alcatel-Lucent’s solutions for the oil & gas and mining industries, click here.

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