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Communication the key for mining 4.0

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Communication the key for mining 4.0

With the implementation of Industry 4.0 and the expansion of private LTE and 5G networks, communication, or connectivity, has gone from merely being a support activity to becoming an essential element for mining operations and one in which companies are investing increasingly more.

From the operation of autonomous trucks to the use of applications to forecast collisions, systems to identify proximity and fatigue, and the geolocation of workers, many of the new technological developments in the industry would be impossible without wireless coverage that allows real-time transmission of information, meaning that ever more companies in the sector are interested in the software solutions offered by firms like iBwave.

BNamericas speaks with two executives at iBwave, Alcedir Goulart (pictured, left), sales manager for Latin America, and Milton Malva, sales engineer, about the services the firm provides to some of the world's top mining companies and in Mexico, where it already has a presence in several sectors through integrators who work and make designs for third parties on iBwave platforms.

BNamericas: How long ago did iBwave emerge and how has the business changed since then?

Goulart: iBwave is a Canadian company, based in Montreal, that has been in the market for 20 years. Initially, it started mainly in cellular operators and now it's well recognized throughout the world, not only in the cellular area, but also in verticals such as [energy] generation, oil and gas, transportation logistics and various other industries, and has become a world benchmark for communication designs for fixed and mobile or wireless networks.

We make continuous investments in development, simplifying tasks from planning to design, and then implementation and maintenance – the entire project cycle.

Malva: We started in the cellular market, so initially our clients were cellular operators and integrators. But in recent years, interest in other markets, including mining, has grown in the area of private networks. We have more than a thousand clients around the world and in this universe, I imagine that we have 10 to 15 mining companies among the top 20 that use the solutions and many of them are integrators, because one option to access iBwave solutions is through third parties. So, of the entire portfolio [of clients], between 15% and 20% work with the mining and oil and gas sector.

BNamericas: What are the solutions that iBwave offers and with which technologies?

Malva: Basically, the main mission is to present solutions for all types of projects, whether they are fixed or wireless networks. We're more focused on wireless networks, but they're solutions for the design, optimization, management, and operation and maintenance of telecommunications networks.

We offer all types of solutions and all technologies. When we talk about wireless networks we're talking about traditional cellular networks, 3G, 4G and 5G, but also Wi-Fi networks, IoT technology, LoRa [long-range] and public safety technologies, such as UHF and Tetra.

BNamericas: What are the reasons for companies to opt for private networks?

Goulart: We call the motivations the 4Cs: coverage, control, cost and compensation. Coverage in confined areas; rural or agribusiness; the industrial part of offices, roads, railroads, ports, airports; in energy, water, utility companies .... In control, security, sovereignty, more personalization with the use of private networks, going beyond Wi-Fi, mobility life-cycle and QoS [quality of service]. In cost, replacing private radios …. All mining companies operate some type of private radio … and sometimes it's replaced by private cellular systems. And in compensation, it will improve productivity, government financing, among other things.

Today there are more than 400-500 private networks around the world that are in industrial plants manufacturing chemical products, warehouses, airports, public services, areas that can be universities or an industrial plant or an airport, in mining or in oil and gas.

Malva: Depending on the type of operations that are going to be used … operation of autonomous trucks, for example, you need from Wi-Fi to 5G. The difference is the type of information that we have to send and receive from the truck, not just the autonomous remote truck, but 100% connectivity to transmit and receive the information. If there are camera systems, you need high data transmission rates because they're high quality and the connectivity requires not only coverage, but that data rate and low latency.

BNamericas: And why are mining companies particularly interested in private network solutions?

Malva: To obtain the benefits of Industry 4.0. Today the market has lots of applications for autonomous trucks, geolocation of people due to accidents that have occurred in the mining sector. Companies are looking for better control of where people are 100% of the time, and there are now projects with chips that can monitor where people are in real time and provide much more security and coverage, since their locations are usually difficult to access with traditional telecommunications.

What used to be a support for operations is now something that's key. That's why the number of companies that use [private networks] is greater, while more and more of them are interested in making telecommunications one of their priorities.

All applications need to transmit information in real time, to improve processes and controls and to take advantage of existing resources. That's why information has to be captured in real time.

Goulart: The mining sector is interested in private networks because there are savings of time and money in projects where, for example, we can make a prediction [of the coverage of a wireless network] without having to send someone to the mine. And that in itself is already a huge saving. 

Through the digitalization of the terrain, we download the geodata that the mining companies already have, or we can do it for them because we have business partners for that, and this gives us very great security in the predictions. 

Whether a miner wants to deploy a private 4G or 5G cellular system has to do with the software, the coverage, how many pieces of equipment they'll need, the list of materials they need, and iBwave software gives you that –  it produces a list of the materials with the costs and requirements.

BNamericas: What types of technologies does the mining sector demand most and what's the outlook for the future?

Malva: The most commonly used technology is Wi-Fi and 4G for autonomous trucks and geolocation, but monitoring and IoT can be done with Wi-Fi, LTE, 5G and dedicated networks like LoRa.

Goulart: There's a Global Data mine site technology adoption survey that shows that 61% of mining companies use LTE or 5G networks for communication systems in mines and 47% plan to invest in them in the next two years. Of the total companies that participated in the survey, 53% will make communications and technology a priority. Hence the importance of networks and connectivity, which is essential for the development of mining.

BNamericas: How much does the private network business represent for iBwave globally and how many mining companies does it have as clients in Mexico?

Goulart: Private networks are something that's just beginning. Of the 400-500 private networks that exist in the 4G and 5G world, we have something like 15% at present.

And in Mexico, we don't yet have a mining client, but we have offers and we're on the way to having our first contract. We're identifying opportunities with integrators, not so much directly, but there's an integrator from Zacatecas that also works in Chile and Peru. They're companies that normally use our software already.

Malva: In Mexico, we have a presence because many integrators already work and make designs with our software, in Mexico we're already a market benchmark. All typical cellular phone projects in the traditional ecosystem use iBwave and companies like AT&T are clients and their designs in indoor environments require the iBwave format.

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