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While it’s often a desire, there is rarely one technology that fits all. And wireless technology is no different in this context. Selection of the right wireless technology to meet the demands and scale of your environment, applications and data requirements really need to be considered before one starts looking at technology for your business.
This is a process that we typically break into 3 stages. The first stage, the discovery process, covers 3 main specific aspects about your business.
We will focus this discussion on the discovery stage. We will cover the next 2 stages, solution development and technology selection, in two following blogs.
Our discussion assumes we are already at the stage of customer commitment to implement, fix or replace a wireless network and we are engaged to provide strategic advice on the best options for the business in question.
The Discovery Process
1. What are your key operational business requirements?
Typically, every site will have a blend of systems that require integration into the broader site wired network via a wireless network technology. The systems in use can be categorized as fixed, nomadic or mobile.
Understanding the volume and types of applications in use as well as the future technology scope that may be part of a business strategic roadmap will guide the consultant with an idea of the network performance (throughput and latency or jitter) that may be required in each area to support each category of application (fixed, nomadic or mobile), and which type of technologies and tools may best meet the sites specific requirements for these.
A key point to understand about the different applications at a mine site is that no two behave the same and each has a different set of operating requirements, and therefore their network design requirements are considerably different.
This may seem a trivial comment, however this point has significant impact on the applications performance. It’s entirely possible to build a network with stacks of capacity and coverage, that meets a customer’s specs in a tender, implemented and tested against the tender spec, only to find your most critical applications performance is sub-optimal, resulting in the age old finger pointing game between application vendor and wireless contractor and customer with hands in the air losing critical production performance offered by the applications the network has been implemented to support.
It is essential that a business understands the importance of selecting a partner that has a demonstrable track record of successful implementations across a divers set of environments with a long list of applications supported in their projects and most importantly, a demonstrated know how to integrate your applications.
2. What technical requirements should your technology meet?
While the highest order of the selection criteria for any wireless network should be that the solution is completely transparent to the applications the network is being designed and implemented to support (the key functional requirement), there are a number of technical requirements that are typically defined through the discovery process and or by the customer.
Depending on the size of the business and the maturity of its IT/OT departments, the technical requirements can vary significantly from none to far too many to serve any practical benefit to an operation.
For an IT department, the number one requirement for any wireless technology deployment is typically always around security. After all, the IT department is the custodians of all of your data. It is essential to engage your IT department to have them provide some criteria around security so it can be addressed in the technology selection phase.
In some cases, technology choice is driven purely based on an IT department’s corporate standard. While standardization offers many benefits to a company on many different levels, which may include compliance with certain technical criteria (including security), the benefits are often based around purchasing power and IT familiarity to a particular vendor platform. It’s extremely important to remember ‘not one technology fits all’.
In some cases, the ‘company standard’ vendor’s wireless product offering may prove fit-for-purpose. However, in many cases, the benefits of another technology may provide far greater operational benefit to the operation than what the company standard can deliver.
It’s important not to be driven by a company standard by default, but by properly qualifying the fit for a given technology against the operational or functional requirements first as the impacts can be severe from a functionality, cost, reliability, support and maintenance perspective (total cost of ownership). It’s possible to make almost any wireless technology work in deployment and commissioning, however the operations will often suffer over the long term when the wrong technology is implemented.
Keep an open mind and evaluate against the right criteria.
3. What environmental parameters will affect your business?
The site Survey
For any solution to be successful in meeting the site’s requirements, the first and probably most important point is to gain a clear understanding of the site’s RF spectrum operating parameters.
While there is an amount of back office information gathering to be done in preparation for this phase, this part of the process is best and most accurately performed on the ground at the customer’s site. There is no replacement to a physical site survey. It is the single most important part towards a successful deployment as too much detail is often missed.
For a new site (greenfield), you have an opportunity to define a controlled and managed RF environment as part of your infrastructure design and sustainability strategy.
However, for an established site (brownfield), the challenges become more complex. It’s not uncommon to discover multiple wireless technologies in play, often un-managed or coordinated by a central site authority. It often happens that networks on site interfere with others causing reliability issues for systems that rely on these networks.
So, the first step in the discovery process is to learn what technologies are in use today, what they are used for, and if they can be replaced or migrated as part of a network upgrade. Or, are their particular technologies that must remain separate and intact as they are?
The second significant part to understanding the environmental parameters for a site is of course the topography of your site. A solid understanding of the site topography will significantly influence the way we design the physical layout of a wireless infrastructure. Hills for instance can be either a problem or a significant aid to the performance of your network depending on the designer’s knowledge of how to design for particular applications. Deep and windy pits are another example of design challenges, as you often cannot see a tower in certain places, so your design and technology selection needs to address these challenges.
Thirdly, an understanding of the operating environment will also guide us on infrastructure placement (fixed or nomadic). Many vendors design for coverage without considering what needs to happen in the key operational areas of the mine. This is where the combined understanding of the applications being used along with machine count or densities in a given operational area and the performance artifacts that may be created through shadowing between machines or high walls and so on.
There are many other aspects to the site survey that are captured by the wireless technician or engineer. For the truly talented, it’s a talent that can be compared to that of a horse whisperer. There is a knowing that can only be gained through practical, operational experience and knowledge about the function of the various mining operations at a site
When it comes to enabling your site’s applications though the implementation of a wireless network, it’s important to take a methodical approach that leads to selection of the right technologies for your business and more importantly, the right partner to support your through the process and beyond.
At 3D-P, our long lasting success in delivering best in class solutions for our clients can be attributed to three basic concepts:
1. Focus on delivering customer operational performance outcomes
2. Domain knowledge, experience and expertise
3. Vendor agnostic
If you are considering investing in wireless technology for any on-site application or you need help with your existing system, contact us.
Stay tuned for my next article in this series: Solution development and understanding the hidden costs before you spend your hard earned budget.