Performance of LTE in Mining in 2019 – What to expect?

LTE can provide a number of network benefits for both open pit and underground mining. But while there are a number of benefits to implementing this technology, there are few challenges that mining companies must consider.

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LTE provides undeniable benefits to the unique network challenges encountered both in open pit and underground mining. With its promises of predictability, connectivity, capacity and speed, and a significant reduction in the price of LTE infrastructure over the last couple of years, there is no question why more mines are exploring this technology.

Implementation of an LTE network has however been challenging for a number of mines, which some have had to deploy a second network to compensate for the challenges of the technology.

1. Availability of Spectrum

LTE works in licensed spectrums, ensuring its high level of predictability. The challenge has come from obtaining the spectrum to run an LTE network.

In remote regions of Australia, it is possible to acquire private LTE spectrum licenses to operate. However, in North America, all spectrum set aside for LTE has been owned by the LTE service providers, often resulting in difficulties accessing spectrum, poor coverage and high usage costs.

The recent introduction of the CBRS spectrum (band 48) in the USA, expected to become available in Canada by the end of 2019, makes LTE more of a reality to North American miners.

2. Coverage at the Working Face

Of key significance to any open pit operation using wireless networks to support the mobile mining applications, terrain is a major obstacle. Drop cuts, confined areas and heavy trafficked areas, particularly around shovels and draglines, can significantly attenuate, even block, RF signals.

One solution to overcome this challenge is in standing up additional cells around these areas to overcome blind spot issues. However, management of in-pit infrastructure presents its own challenges in frequent trailer moves, etc. that are not often acceptable, particularly when moving a cellular base station that requires precision in placement, reporting to governing agencies and aligning of backhaul.

3. L3 Connection

Another major challenge of LTE in the mining environment is the requirement of many mining applications to communicate over a Layer 2 (L2) connection, while LTE is a Layer 3 (L3) technology.

There are several solutions to this challenge, which typically include creating some types of tunnel that encapsulates the applications traffic and delivers it via the L3 network to the server’s network, in a manner that both the server and the application did not need to participate in. Setting up these tunnels requires some level of computing capability on both sides of the link.

In addition, an edge computing device of some sort is required behind the LTE modem on-board the mobile equipment in order to create and manage the connection state of this tunnel. And, additional trouble may occur as the tunnel typically requires some period of time to be re-established when the LTE connection is re-established.

4. Asymmetrical Throughput

Asymmetrical throughput is a design feature of LTE intended for the consumer market where users typically pull more data from the network than push some. Unfortunately for mining users, this is the opposite data profile for mining applications, which typically push much more data than they pull.

In a private network, it is possible to configure the base station radio to prioritize upstream data. However, the potential upload capability will never be as high as the potential download capability.

Solving this challenge is typically handled through the use of additional technologies in conjunction with the LTE solution.

Selecting the Appropriate Emerging Technology for your Mine

With the rate of change of new and emerging wireless technologies becoming shorter and shorter, miners’ greatest challenge resides in understanding the differences between technologies and their applicability to their specific requirements.

In mining, there is no one-size-fits-all and selection of the appropriate technology should be based on a combination of current and future applications run on the mobile equipment at site, technology roadmap and backward compatibility.

What if a hybrid LTE client was the solution to solving the above challenges?

This article was originally published on 3D-P and has been re-published here with permission.

3D-P will be exhibiting at the upcoming International Mining and Resources Conference + EXPO(IMARC), 29-31 October in Melbourne.

Maxime Guillamot

Director Global Marketing, 3D-P