Telstra’s Mining Services has flagged the development of an underground private 4G LTE network for South32’s Cannington mine in North West Queensland.

According to Telstra, the network, still in the pre-deployment stage, will initially be 6.5kms in length with the potential to expand further with subsequent stages. At full installation, it would be one of the largest underground mining LTE networks in the world using leaky feeder – a comms system used in underground mining and other tunnel environments – it added.

vSouth32’s Cannington mine is an underground silver, lead and zinc operation located 87 km south of McKinlay in North West Queensland. It is one of the world’s largest and lowest-cost single-mine producers of silver and lead.

“The push towards increasing mechanisation and automation of mining operations in Australia has driven greater demand for improved connectivity through all areas of mines and their processing facilities,” said Telstra Enterprise Group Executive Michael Ebeid. “These technologies – whether connecting staff, vehicles or sensors – require connections that are high throughput and low latency, and can ensure that critical control and monitoring systems can operate without interruption.”

“The network will deliver real-time operational data for operating transparency, condition monitoring and production improvements, ‘ he said.

A comprehensive evaluation and integration program has been developed as part of the deployment. This program accounts for the unique geology and composition of the South32 Cannington mine using LTE technology in a production-scale setting.

“Telstra will deploy the underground network using a private, virtualised core and LTE radio technologies distributed over leaky feeder cable using LTE-capable bi-directional amplifiers. Our analysis indicates this to be the most effective solution for underground miners, and is upgradeable to5G,” said Jeannette McGill, Head of Telstra Mining Services.

“Being private means that it will be a completely standalone mobile network,  independent from others such as Telstra’s public network. South32 Cannington will have its own equipment, SIM cards and unique network codes,” McGill added.

“Our goal is to establish an effective network that will assist South32 Cannington in driving safety, productivity and efficiency initiatives.”

Telstra said the combination of Ericsson mobile network equipment, its own radio spectrum, and leaky feeder solutions from specialist manufacturer METStech delivered a
key capability that has made extending LTE underground a more commercially realistic and safer prospect.