Network connectivity throughout mines can improve efficiencies, reduce costs and downtime. As mining applications evolve, the reliability of the networks that support them are becoming more critical than ever.
What if we could combine the benefits of a Wi-Fi or Mesh networks with the engineering and licensed characteristics of LTE?
Agility of Wi-Fi through unlicensed spectrum.
Traditionally, unlicensed spectrum using technologies such as proprietary mesh networks, or standards based 802.11, has been used to create networks that can be easily manipulated. Unlicensed devices can be conveniently redeployed to cover radio dead zones that frequently occur in mining, such as around dumps, stock piles, or pits. This redeployment is done without consideration of regulatory concerns as there is no licensed spectrum involved.
Unlicensed spectrum is convenient and can be quickly reconfigured. The downside is that it’s open to everyone to use and therefore others can create unwanted radio interference. Wireless ISPs, neighbors, contractors and employees all can quickly setup their own unlicensed networks that compete for, and interfere on, the same radio frequencies. This can affect network reliability and can be hard to track down.
3D-P has developed extensive expertise in maximizing the utility of unlicensed spectrum. Site surveys to gain an understanding of the RF environment, followed up by best-in-class, robust network designs and optional on-going monitoring and support ensures that unlicensed spectrum is leveraged to its maximum potential.
LTE – The engineered, licensed alternative for critical communication.
With licensed LTE spectrum, there are several factors to consider:
- LTE benefits from very good mobile power control (60 dB+) which makes channel reuse more practicable than with many unlicensed technologies.
- The spectrum is licensed, so spectrum planning is better defined.
- LTE-scheduled traffic allows efficient mechanisms for Quality of Service (QoS) controls.
- Support for low data rate transmission allows high loss links which supports long distance transmission (compared to Wi-Fi).
- Licensed spectrum bandwidth is a precious commodity, and there’s much less of it available compared to unlicensed spectrum. If spectrum is available at all for a private network, small spectrum bandwidths can be a limiting factor for link capacity.
- The link budgets are asymmetric. The low output power of the mobiles means that the aggregate capacity in the downlink (from the Base Station) to the mobile is higher than the reverse link. This can be problematic for large deployments of high bandwidth devices such as site cameras which push a lot of data in the uplink direction. Additionally, mining applications are nearly all ‘push’ related, ie. the data is generated on the machine and pushed to the office network.
In addition to the points listed above, LTE is more expensive to make agile. LTE networks require more expensive hardware and engineering to deploy, and as such in mining environments, that have many radio dead-spots to cover, it can be more costly and problematic to deploy LTE coverage everywhere.
Hybrid LTE/Wi-Fi (Mesh) Network, the best of both worlds.
A hybrid network attempts to take the best of both offerings and merge them together. The areas that might be hard to cover in a mine using LTE, such as working faces, around dumps, or the bottom of a pit, are also often free from unwanted, unlicensed, interferers. Where radio visibility is unrestricted (such as wide open areas above the pits) there is a higher risk of interference, LTE can provide an engineered, fixed solution with licensed spectrum for critical communications. For applications requiring high capacity, and agility, unlicensed spectrum provides a high degree of flexibility at an attractive price.
LTE operators have rolled out Wi-Fi networks to complement their existing networks. This provides high capacity local coverage in a cost effective manner. In mining, the reverse is being considered, where LTE will be layered on top of existing Wi-Fi coverage.
One of the challenges for mining applications is that there are a wide variety of different applications that run on these networks. Applications, such as Autonomous Haulage, often have well defined packet loss and latency requirements that must be met for the systems to operate correctly. These types of constraints tend to drive the LTE implementation towards a private-LTE network where there is full control over the networking design. As well, many mine applications require a flat Layer 2 network which can lead to architecture constraints that need to be considered when merging two networking technologies such as Wi-Fi and LTE together.
3D-P is uniquely situated to develop these hybrid solutions, using proven dual mode LTE/Wi-Fi enabled Intelligent Endpoint technology to merge these two networking technologies seamlessly, and provide secure and reliable connectivity without sacrificing the agility that mining environments demand. This flexible platform allows customization of specific end-user requirements to maximize the benefits of both licensed and unlicensed architectures.
If you want to book a consultation with one of our LTE specialists and discuss your mine’s wireless plan, contact us.