LTE provides undeniable benefits to the unique network challenges encountered both in open pit and underground mining. With its promises of predictability, connectivity, capacity and speed, and a significant reduction in the price of LTE infrastructure over the last couple of years, there is no question why more mines are exploring this technology.
Implementation of an LTE network has however been challenging for a number of mines, which some of had to deploy a second network to compensate for the challenges of the technology.
While mining applications initially required only basic telemetry to transmit data, the rise of more complex applications, including fleet management, resulted in a requirement for better performing networks.
The recent introduction of remote control and autonomous applications just increased the difficulty of the challenge.
While we all dream of the day where we can buy just one thing to solve our communications challenges in the mining environment, we all know the design specification for the silver bullet is a long way off (as in “that’s never going to happen”).
So where does that leave us? Well it’s a matter of opinion of course. For this crusty old consultant, the answer is one size never fits all. For me, the answer has always been what do I have in my tool belt that can solve this particular customer problem that makes sense for the customer and their application.
We are essentially talking about finding a business solution and not a vendor driven technology choice. As always, the answer lies in understanding the problem fully as it relates to the business operation in question.
LTE offers good support for a multitude of applications over long distances, with some potentially significant advantages over Wi-Fi based solutions, particularly in the areas of interference and contention mitigation. However, there are still a number of challenges around meeting the demands of outdoor industrial real-time applications.
A hybrid LTE/Wi-Fi network may provide miners with the network their digital mine requires, especially as autonomy is more commonly deployed.