By Viswanathan Ramaswamy, Vice President, 5G & Digital Solutions Incubation, Tata Communications
The mining industry is one of the most important industries in modern civilisation. Employing hundreds of thousands of workers and providing mined materials required for constructing roads and hospitals, building automobiles and houses, making computers and satellites, and even generating electricity.
However, due to the tough working conditions in mines, the industry isn’t without its challenges. For instance, miners make up 1% of the global workforce, yet they account for 8% of fatal accidents, according to the International Labour Organisation. This is why implementing the right technology to ensure the safety of miners and the efficiency of the mining process is crucial.
Private 5G networks are a new development that can transform the mining industry, bringing faster, more reliable, and safer connectivity to remote mine sites. In this article, we’ll discuss the use of private 5G networks in the mining industry, its advantages, and how private 5G technology can improve mining operations.
What is a private 5G network?
Private 5G networks are essentially local area networks (LANs) that use 5G technology to provide high-speed wireless connectivity within a specific area. The key advantage of private 5G networks over traditional Wi-Fi or cellular networks is that they offer greater reliability, speed, and security.
Private 5G networks use a dedicated spectrum and can be customised to the specific needs of the mining operation, providing a level of flexibility and control that isn’t possible with public cellular networks.
Benefits of using private 5G networks in the mining industry
1. One of the key advantages of private 5G networks in the mining industry is the ability to connect a wide range of devices and sensors. In a mining operation, there are numerous devices and sensors that need to be connected to ensure safety and efficiency. These include everything from underground sensors to autonomous vehicles and drones. With a private 5G network, all these devices can be connected seamlessly, providing real-time data and insights that improve the efficiency and safety of the mining operation. With real-time data and insights, mining companies can optimise their operations, reducing waste and increasing productivity. For example, sensors can be used to monitor the quality of ore as it’s extracted, allowing miners to adjust their processes in real-time to ensure the highest quality output.
Also, when coupled with machine learning (ML) autonomous vehicles will be even more responsive to their surroundings and can be used to transport materials, reducing the need for human intervention. And as a result, improving the efficiency of mining operations. On top of this, having real-time data and insights means mining companies can identify potential safety hazards before they become a problem. For instance, sensors can be used to monitor the air quality in a mine, alerting workers to any potential danger. And autonomous vehicles can also be used to transport materials, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.
2. Another advantage of private 5G networks is the ability to provide high-quality video streaming. In a mining operation, there are often areas that are difficult to access or dangerous for workers. With high-quality video streaming, workers can remotely monitor these areas, improving safety and reducing the risk of accidents. For example, miners can use drones to inspect the roof of a mine, providing a detailed view of any potential hazards without putting anyone in danger. Also, having tech such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) embedded into the private 5G network will optimise the network performance and enhance its capabilities. Ensuring that the huge amounts of data generated by the network provides insights into network usage patterns, traffic congestion, and performance issues – all of which means resources can be allocated efficiently, resulting in faster speeds and a better user experience.
3. Another benefit of using private 5G networks in mining is the ability to provide workers with better communication tools. In a mining operation, workers are often spread out across a large area, making communication difficult. With private 5G networks, workers can use high-quality voice and video communication devices, improving collaboration between colleagues and reducing the risk of misunderstandings. This is especially important in emergency situations, where fast and effective communication can be the difference between life and death.
While there remain other challenges that leaders in the industry must tackle to make mining safer for workers and their partners, implementing next generation technology such as private 5G networks will optimise mining operations, enhance safety, reduce waste and increasing productivity. Not to mention the possibility of providing faster, more reliable, and safer connectivity to remote mine sites.
But mining companies are ill-equipped to facilitate this transformation on their own. They need to partner with managed service providers who are able to deploy private 5G networks, along with other connectivity options including managed WiFi, cellular IoT and LP-WAN services. Having the flexibility of a multi-technology approach accompanied by an agnostic outlook to hardware and network equipment, means any combination of equipment can be implemented, without a mining company being tied to a particular vendor