Private Networks for LTE Mining Communications

As technology advances so does the productivity and safety of mines with private LTE Mining Communications Networks and P25 Two Way Radio Terminals.

Gold Fields is a South Africa-based gold mining company with operations in several countries. This includes a number of operating mines in Australia. In order to improve its operations, the company recently installed a private LTE Mining Communications Network at its Granny Smith site. Located near Laverton in Western Australia there were a number of challengers. The technology comprises base stations from Nokia, mobile core network and associated voice solutions from Cisco. Handsets and modems were sourced from a variety of vendors including two way radios from Motorola, Kenwood, Hytera and Tait.

“Anything that can assist with safety and efficiency is of interest to Gold Fields,” said Rodney Nebe, the company’s senior network engineer, responsible for all IT and communications infrastructure across the region (Australia and Asia) and the project leader for the LTE implementation.

Mission Critical LTE Mining Communications

LTE mission critical solutions, can provide a true end-to-end solution including 4g mobile phones and P25 Two Way Radios. Back up the systems integration are leading technology vendors Cisco and Nokia.

Gold Fields wanted to discontinue the Granny Smith mine’s Wi-Fi network for production activities and move the functions to LTE. Those functions include control of SCADA devices and internet access for staff around the mine (which spans 20 x 5 km). And of course, the LTE system provides mobile voice communications as an expansion to the legacy DMR and PABX systems.

Screenshot of a mobile device showing download and upload speeds

Impressive internet speeds have been achieved across the Granny Smith mine site in remote Western Australia, thanks to its new private LTE network.

As a result staff now have better access to information wherever they are in the mine site, and improved communications efficiency — they can contact anyone at any location around the mine. Additionally coverage and capacity means that devices and systems that were previously unconnectable now are connectable.”

Monitoring Assets with LTE Mining Communications Data

An example of how the LTE network has improved safety and efficiency is the insight the company now has into multiple water bores that are some distance (10 to 30 km) from the main mine centre. Previously, these sites had no communications connectivity — staff had to drive to each of them each day to check their condition, status, fuel supply and so on. Now, each of the bores has LTE modem connectivity and can be monitored remotely.

As well as big savings in efficiency (ie, staff time), this development has also brought safety improvements since staff don’t have to travel as much… and road conditions can vary greatly in the outback depending on the weather.

As a result this appears to be the first private LTE network for the gold mining industry anywhere in the world. The LTE network is fully integrated into the legacy DMR network used in the mine, and the LTE handsets have PTT functionality that integrates with the DMR voice channels. This means that Gold Fields staff can now carry an LTE handset rather than a legacy DMR handset or two way radio.

Workers erecting radio gear at the base of a radio tower

The private LTE network was installed and operational within days.

Why a Private Network?

In order to implement the LTE network a bridge was required between the legacy LMR infrastructure into the Cisco PTT application on the LTE devices. This also meant integrating voice with the Cisco Call Manager PABX system. These where two challenges the company faced.

The solution was implemented approximately eight weeks after initial purchase order and the project was delivered on time and on budget.

Communications was available within two days, with drive tests completed by days 6 and 7. Coverage was found to be excellent. Accordingly from here on LTE system integration can be bench marked from these achievements.

“We have a much bigger footprint now.”

Map showing radio coverage at the Granny Smith site

Gold Field’s LTE network has given it improved coverage right across the Granny Smith mine site in Western Australia. The circle has a radius of 15 km.

When asked why Gold Fields chose to implement a private network rather than go with one of the major consumer telcos. Gold Fields found the consumer network options were actually much more expensive. Also, they did not have the required reliability and features, nor the required flexibility and control.

As a result the next step will be expansion of the LTE solution to its other mines within Australia and overseas. The company is also looking at expanding coverage into its below-ground mines. As well as having redundancy of the core network between two mine sites.

Buildings and tanks above ground at the Granny Smith gold mine

Gold Fields’ Granny Smith operation is located near Laverton in Western Australia.

“Granny Smith is predominantly an underground mine. The actual deployment [of this LTE network] was more for the processing plant; so for all the surface communications. LTE underground, is being developed and will be a huge leap ahead. With a LTE phone, one solution will be to clip it into your vehicle and you’ll have coverage everywhere you go above ground and underground.