Experience has shown time and time again that – despite the best of intentions – our customers’ wireless networks are often neglected after deployment. The combination of multiple teams relying on it for access to their critical data (dispatch, maintenance, high precision GPS, operator safety, etc.) and a lack of accountability as to whom is responsible for its performance and maintenance often results in a network with performance and reliability that degrades over time.
Compounding that, as applications are added in response to the needs of the mine’s teams, and as utilization of the network increases in response, performance degradation begins to happen at an exponential rate. Wireless networks become slow and unresponsive, time to resolve issues increases, and the value that the network adds begins to drop steeply as the cost (and pain) of maintaining it grows.
If this describes your experiences with your wireless network, the good news is that you’re not alone -and a proper understanding of your pain points will ensure you can now engage the support you need.
Let’s review some of the typical pain points we see in the field.
No one (or everyone) is accountable for the performance of the network
As mentioned above, a challenge faced by many mines results from the lack of a dedicated team, accountable for the performance of the in-pit wireless network. In many cases, IT might be tangentially involved but not often responsible for its ongoing performance and maintenance.
Multiple stakeholders complicate networks, and whether this is due to budgetary or logistical reasons, the impact on your operation can be high. As mines increasingly rely on the data generated from their mobile and in-pit fleet to make critical production decisions, a break in the access to this data may lead to delayed, sub-optimal production and major lapses in operational uptime.
A first step towards remediation of this situation is giving the multiple stakeholders easy visibility into the functioning of the network, through the implementation of a customized monitoring dashboard, set up to track and display key performance indicators and relevant diagnostic information for each of your mine network’s identified critical components. Examples of commonly monitored infrastructure include access points, Point-to-Points, Point-to-Multipoints, the charge level on solar trailers, and more.
By keeping more people informed at an earlier stage, you can better ensure proactive action is taken in time, and any uncertainty to the cause and effect that may cause later “finger-pointing” is eliminated.
Inability to track how network changes may affect a mine network’s performance
Modern mines are constantly evolving due to expansion, blasts, deeper pits, and the progressions that work brings. Your wireless network should be able to adapt and scale with those changes. The latest wireless technologies offer some level of scalability, but physical modifications to your network and its infrastructure are still required at times. These can be as simple as the necessity to move a trailer because it is located too close to a blasting area, or as complex as providing coverage in an area of the pit that was previous unnecessary.
Frequent changes, no matter how well-intentioned or necessary, often contribute to declining wireless network performance. You might have deployed an optimal network 6 months ago, but 6 months is plenty of time for a network to evolve, and for network performance to drop to sub-optimal levels in the name of progress.
What if your network teams could produce visualizations showing the performance of your network, at any time you need? To be able to demonstrate the effect changes to your network topology make, and to be able to gauge performance implications of physical or configuration changes on the fly, and make decisions based on objective, relevant, fast data?
The near-real time intelligence would allow for teams of stakeholders to decide if the new location of a piece of infrastructure is appropriate – or that it might affect performance of your operations, and further adjustment is required. On the other side, those visualizations could provide your team with the reassurance that a necessary network upgrade is delivering the benefits promised.
At 3D-P, we produce those visualizations with NPAT – the Network Performance Analysis Toolkit, which we offer as part of our consultative services and managed services products, as NPAT-as-a-Service.
Those visualizations allowed us to help an end-of-life mine located in South East Asia to improve the performance of their wireless network, without any capital expenditure or hardware upgrade – by simply redesigning and re-deploying their existing infrastructure, and using NPAT visualizations to demonstrate the return on that investment to stakeholders.
The result: they reduced their network congestion by 45% in a matter of a few months.
Our electrical technician oversees all installations
I added this one as a challenge. While electrical technicians might understand quite a bit about deploying and working with network equipment, it is common that they don’t have the experience or training needed to deploy equipment appropriately for the RF environment.
Reliable connectivity doesn’t only result from the technology selected, but rather from the sum of the parts – the quality of the design and deployment of the wireless infrastructure, and the intelligent oversight and management that allows for prudent decisions to be made. As an example, selection and location of your antennas – especially on your mobile vehicles – is critical, and poor selection will result in a high noise floor, congestion, and potential failure of the antennas themselves if they are positioned in a poor location.
Hiring full time RF communications technicians and managing them is expensive and cannot be justified by many organizations. A cost-effective remedy for many is pairing remote managed services with regular (annual or semi-annual) site audits.
This consists of daily monitoring of critical nodes, remote troubleshooting and support, and regular site visits where technicians perform a physical check of the installation, with potential recommendations and training for site personnel on best practices and network maintenance.
Maintaining the connectivity of your digital mine is critical, and it doesn’t necessarily require a large team to support.
3D-P has helped over 100 mines worldwide improve their connectivity, contact us today if you want to learn more about how we can help you.