The innovation expanded reach and security provided by LTE networks will drive greater advances in automation, enabling greater productivity and efficiency on sites. This digital transformation will propel African businesses into the digital future, creating even more opportunities for growth, skills development, and jobs. It will also greatly improve safety, which will be a critical feature of any strategy as mines go ever deeper, which increases risks to workers’ health, lives and equipment.
According to Anton Fester, Managing Director – Sedna Industrial IT Solutions, better tidings in 2023 are thanks to significant digital advances across sectors, including primary industries in South Africa.
“We may all be focusing on the negatives like rolling power cuts and inflation – and rightly so. These are devastating to businesses and the economy, but we must not ignore the green shoots developing. For instance, while 5G is all the rage, 6G and 7G or so-called xG will be next on the horizon,” says Fester.
In this exciting new world, substantially increased capacity and one-microsecond latency communication, with data transfers effectively taking place at a quantum level is coming.
“From my perspective being close to how we are innovating and harnessing data solutions within mines in Africa, these are very exciting times. One area of change will be critical communications ushered in by a growing use of LTE private wireless networks. I expect underground LTE to be a game-changer on mines and other industrial sites, taking them beyond the less reliable underground WiFi options. Also, expect to see a rise in spectrum strategies for industries and bespoke customer use,” says Fester.
Collaboration will be the key to success in this new normal. A recent Sedna partnership for instance saw Nokia’s LTE private wireless networks installed and supported to deliver safer, more efficient, and productive solutions in operational areas in South Africa. These networks were built around a solution design and identification of a suitable device ecosystem, thanks to local expertise. Nokia, who Sedna has partnered with, has already deployed more than 70 private wireless mining networks with over 40 mining companies worldwide.
“At Sedna, we have been at the cutting edge of these developments. We installed Africa’s first licensed spectrum LTE private wireless network in South Africa. We have also deployed Africa’s first underground leaky feeder licensed spectrum LTE private wireless network (a “leaky feeder” is a communications system used in underground mining and other tunnel environments based upon coax cables). This system provides seamless communication underground and from underground to the surface. It does not refer to leaks in the normal sense either, but just that the coax cables in the tunnels have gaps in their outer conductor, so radio signals can radiate or “leak” in or out. “It is a great example of smart digital technology in action to improve efficiencies and safety in mines,” says Fester.
Another solution lies in the stars. Satellite powerhouse Globalstar is harnessing Band 53 in Africa – the mid-band spectrum resource that Globalstar offers to partners and customers that otherwise would not have access to the benefits of licensed spectrum. In a powerful strategic partnership to connect and protect mining assets, improve data connectivity in remote areas and save lives, Sedna recently partnered with Globalstar.
“There is no doubt that spectrum is sorely needed for progress in Africa as everyone pushes for faster and more reliable speeds and the inherent benefits of 5G. More and more bandwidth will be needed as we move towards 6G and 7G and even further. Interestingly, the 5G variant of Globalstar’s Band 53 is known as n53. As all these advances take shape, there will be an increased need for strategic, smart spectrum deployment strategies. Companies should not wait before getting these deployments, or they will be truly left behind,” says Fester.
Worker safety is another key area where technology will be a game-changer as there are increasingly better solutions to enable a lone worker a few kilometres underground to be tracked, checked, and kept safe.
“These systems may even have algorithms to detect physical stress and fatigue by monitoring core body temperature and workers’ heart rates. With safety an ongoing priority, we are not far off from seeing solutions such as vibration detection to pre-empt any possible weaknesses in underground structures, detect abnormal seismic activity and prevent dreaded fall-of-ground incidents. These communication networks will run through mines like veins in a body, creating an entire view of what’s happening in and around mined areas,” says Fester.
Another key theme right now is adopting greener solutions – technology and data will have a key role to play.
“All businesses desiring to benefit from the exciting advances in the digital age will, of course, need to reduce their carbon footprint. There is little doubt that one of the major themes in 2023 will be how companies have moved from talking about ESG initiatives to actually implementing them.
Automation, better use of data and partnerships all combine to aid this drive to greener solutions,” concludes Fester.