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South 32 building the world’s largest underground LTE network for digital mining.

Mining digitalization has taken the industry by storm and unpacked a frenzy of technology integration in operations at a pace like never been seen before, a feat that has seen many big companies reaping great rewards. From Autohaul-the world’s longest robotic autonomous trains by Rio Tinto to Autonomous Haulage Systems by Fortescue Metals, companies are leaving no stone unturned and giving their all in adopting the latest technologies for the benefit of their mining operations. Not to be outdone, South32 has patnered Australian telecoms giant Telstra in development of what may be the largest underground private 4G LTE network at their North West Queensland Cannington Mine. Announcing the partnership, Telstra indicated that it had an intention of using its vast array of technology at its fingertips today to help businesses be more productive and efficient. 

Currently in its pre-deployment stage at the South32 Cannington underground silver, lead and zinc mine, the network will drive improved safety, automation and mechanization and will connect staff to vehicles and sensors around the mine at all times. The high throughput and low latency offered by the system means that staff will be able to control critical equipment without interruption, and South32’s digitalization strategy will be achievable throughout the mine.

Cannington Underground Mine


Telstra Mining Services Head Dr Jeannette McGill was recently quoted saying, “Underground environments posed a range of unique challenges for network deployments, though there were also opportunities to provide really robust solutions.  South32 has agreed to take the journey with us where they have been looking for a solution that provides real low latencies, high throughputs, as well as being able to provide a range of new technologies that can better support their existing network.” By adopting 4G LTE underground, the Cannington mine will be able to achieve better operating transparency, condition monitoring and production improvements for staff, machines and other mining systems, driving safety, productivity and efficiency.

A maze of underground  connections will be built covering an initial network 6.5kms in length using a private, virtualized core and LTE radio technologies distributed over leaky feeder cable using LTE-capable bi-directional amplifiers. According to Telstra, their analysis had shown that this will be the most effective solution for underground miners and is capable of adapting to the unique geology and composition of the Cannington mine. It enables access to the latest advances in 4G LTE and NB-IoT, and is also upgradeable to 5G in the future.

The network being private means that it will be a completely standalone mobile network, independent from others  including Telstra’s own public network. South32 Cannington will have its own equipment, SIM cards and unique network codes for full autonomy and complete control.

Providing a modern connectivity platform will allow for more flexible operations as well as scalability and choice in applying various digital solutions. The combination of Ericsson mobile network equipment, Telstra radio spectrum, and leaky feeder solutions from specialist manufacturer METStech provides a unique capability that has made extending LTE underground a more commercially realistic and safer prospect.

At its full deployment, the network will become one of the largest underground mining LTE networks in the world using leaky feeder. Telstra expects  South32’s Cannington mine to derive extensive benefits in safety, productivity and more.

The technology is expected to be showcased at the Ericsson stand at Telstra Vantage in Melbourne on 4 and 5 September 2019.


Mining Business Reporter

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