4 leading private networking service providers in the mining industry

Private cellular networks are increasingly being used to enable digital solutions in mining across a wide variety of business applications, including improving safety, enhancing processing and production, lowering costs, and optimising performance. This article identifies a few key private network service providers in the mining industry, example deployments, business drivers and use cases.

The digitalisation opportunity in mining

The mining industry is one of the key industries with key deployments of private LTE/5G. Considering the nature of the environment (remote, outdoor, rough terrain) and operations (mission critical, hazardous), digital solutions digital solutions in mining are being used across a wide variety of business applications, including improving safety, enhancing processing and production, lowering costs, and optimising mine plans. This article looks at four key private network service providers in the mining industry, assessing example deployments, business drivers, benefits of private cellular and key use cases.

Ambra Solutions

Ambra Solutions is a private networking specialist provider, turnkey engineering services systems integrator and specialised equipment manufacturer that has specialised in the mining industry, including underground & open-pit mines, but also addresses ports, transport hubs and utilities. Ambra manufactures rugged 4G/5G devices and an indoor tracking system, which helps to reduce the energy consumption of mining companies by using the Ventilation-on-Demand. The company also has partnerships with different ecosystem players, including with industrial OEMs Caterpillar, Komatsu, Sandvik, and Epiroc.

Ambra has a number of notable deployments in mining, at least 12 across Canada and other regions such as Finland, Chile and Mexico, including:

LaRonde, Agnico Eagle Mines, Canada (2018)

In 2018, Ambra Solutions worked together with Ericsson to deliver Canada’s deepest underground LTE network for LaRonde, Agnico Eagle’s flagship mining site located in the Abitibi region of Quebec. Located 3.2 kilometers underground, the private 4G LTE network in LaRonde utilises the band 5 at 850MHz and supporting voice mobility services across the site:

  • Benefits of private cellular: high bandwidth, low latency, cost-efficient, end-to-end security
  • Business drivers: Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices to monitor, operate, and collect data, increased safety of the workers, efficiency, improved sustainability
  • Use cases: mission-critical push-to-talk (MC-PTT), remote operations, dispatch systems, emergency notification systems, access control systems, ventilation fan monitoring and gas detection systems

Other Ambra deployments of private LTE/5G include:

  • Tacora Resources Scully iron ore mine,
  • Glencore Raglan nickel mine,
  • K+S Windsor salt mine,
  • Vale’s Garson nickel mine.

Telstra

Back in 2016, Telstra made a strategic investment to form Telstra Mining Services, with the aim and ambition to enable Telstra’s mining customers drive better business outcomes. This followed the acquisition of CBO Telecommunications, a mining wireless communications service provider, and the hiring of industry specialists and experts, including the former Head of Technology and Innovation at Anglo American Platinum and an Automation Technology R&D team member at Rio Tinto Innovation. Since then, Telstra has also acquired Aqura Technologies and Alliance Automation, the former a networking and connectivity provider with mining specialism and the latter a IoT industrial automation company to bolster its overall capabilities.

Telstra has a number of live deployments of private LTE with notable customers. This includes:

Lihir, Newcrest Mining, Papua New Guinea (June 2019)

In 2019, Telstra deployed a private LTE network for Newcrest Mining’s Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea. The solution involved deploying an LTE network core with dual-frequency base stations and its own dedicated SIM cards, providing independence from Papua New Guinea’s public networks.

  • Benefits of private cellular: Reliability (80% increase), coverage, speed, latency
  • Business drivers: The private LTE network is focused not only on driving productivity, real-time visibility and fleet efficiency but more importantly in helping Newcrest better address safety issues.
  • Use cases: Remote operations of production vehicles assets, connected assets (trucks, drills, excavators, bulldozers, shovels, barges)

The solution also includes functionality that enables Newcrest’s connected assets and vehicles to seamlessly switch between the private LTE network and its existing Wi-Fi network. This is also supported by a satellite-enabled solution, provided in partnership with SES, which also provides enhanced broadband connectivity for communications and other types of use cases.

Telstra Mining Services also has deployed a private LTE network for South32 at its Cannington mine in north west Queensland, Australia. The initial network is planned to be 6.5 kilometres long and to be expanded later. The focus will be to drive safety, productivity and efficiency across the mine.

Competitors in this region and vertical area include TPG Telecom, who are partnering with Nokia this year to develop Mobile Private Network (MPN) innovations for mining, and Challenge Networks, who has deployed private LTE for Rio Tinto mines at Paraburdoo, Nammuldi and Silvergrass in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Edzcom

Edzcom specialises in designing, building and operating private wireless network solutions for enterprise customers across Europe, with a focus on business-critical operations in mining, ports and airports, manufacturing, energy and utilities. It is now part of Cellnex Telecom and is one of the leading players across different industries in the private cellular networking domain.

Edzcom’s use cases in mining includes:

Boliden Kevitsa, Finland (2020)

In partnership with Nokia, Edzcom has deployed a private LTE network for the Boliden Kevitsa mine, a 14km² multi-metal open-pit mine operating in Sodankylä, Northern Finland. The mine’s main products are nickel and copper concentrates.

  • Benefits of private cellular: coverage, reliability (for mission critical applications), capacity, mobility, low latency, security
  • Business drivers: automation, increased safety, performance optimisation, reliable monitoring of automated processes
  • Use cases: remote controlled drilling, hauling automation, fleet management, preventive maintenance

In total, Edzcom (and Cellnex) have approximately 40 deployments of private LTE/5G in total across a number of different industries. Another customer engagement includes Sandvik for LTE-based private networking services.

Telefónica

Telefónicais another communications service provider that has been active in the mining industry with private LTE/5G, particularly in Latin America. In 2021, it announced that it will establish regional network operations centres to manage private 5G networks for its enterprise customers. These will be situated in its key markets, including Spain, Brazil, the UK and Germany. It also has a collaboration with Microsoft on Azure Edge Private zone, integrating its own private 5G solution with Microsoft’s edge capabilities.

Carajás Mine, Vale S.A., Brazil (2019)

Telefónica Brazil’s Vivo and Nokia signed a deal in November 2019 to provide a private LTE network, upgradeable to 5G in the future, to the open-pit Carajás Mine. The mine is located in the state of Para in northern Brazil and is one of the world’s largest iron ore mines.

  • Benefits of private cellular: improved performance and reliability
  • Business drivers: increased productivity (by 15%), reduce fuel and maintenance costs (by 10%), improved worker safety, communications
  • Use cases: autonomous drilling rigs, autonomous trucks, environmental monitoring, remote operations (assisted via video ingest and analytics), worker monitoring

Another Telefónica deployment of private LTE/5G includes Minera Las Bambas in Apurimac, Peru, the world’s ninth largest copper mine. Launched in September 2019, the project involves building and deploying a private LTE network on the site 4,600 meters above sea level. Telefónica is involved in the planning and design process and will also provide technical support for the next five years. As the network evolves further towards 5G, the Las Bambas mine will also benefit from push-to-talk and push-to-video.

Author: Xinyi Fang is a Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in telco cloud, private networks, and edge computing.

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