THE mining industry is seeing an increasing trend to support remote automation processes and consequently to meet growing requirements for bigger bandwidth. For business success, today’s mining organisations must rely on best-of-breed network infrastructure to deliver the same performance levels as corporate head office, ensuring remote operations do not end up isolated.

An essential element in mine site connectivity for more than three decades, satellite communications have firmly secured their vital role within remote mining operations. However, communication still remains an afterthought for many large projects and remote operations.

Strong growth in Papua New Guinea’s mining and resource sector led to the country becoming the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world in 2011.

However, the country’s diverse and often rugged geography causes major difficulties in providing efficient and reliable communication networks for the mining industry. In terms of organisational efficiency, remote communications have a disproportionate effect for the amount of capital expenditure.

Combined with the inability to access important information when required, it has been suggested by a recent NewSat whitepaper, titled “Maximising mining operational efficiency”, that the downtime costs in mining can exceed A$50,000 per hour and this will only increase as the remote communication demands of tomorrow continue to develop.

Elements of communications networks critical to remote mine operations of today include over 99.9% network availability to ensure resilient ‘always on’ connectivity, and a 24/7/365 support for service whenever required.

Satellite diversity for coverage, to ensure operation workers do not feel so isolated, and secure communications, for both the privacy of information and business activity, are further essential aspects of any satellite communications solution for today’s mining sites.

Constant connectivity and ‘always on’ communications to access key, real-time information allows for faster decisions to be made, families to share moments and critical operations to function effectively.

These are all important for remote mining operations on varying levels. Ever advancing technologies and capacity availability is further driving innovative applications and flexible mobility requirements. As such, the mining market should look to enter into partnerships which will deliver solid, reliable satellite communications infrastructure networks.

For example, in Papua New Guinea, SpeedCast has been a partner with Anitua, a mining services company that supplies customers such as Newcrest Mining on Lihir Island, for over eight years.

During this time, SpeedCast has worked with Anitua to deploy many solutions including various forms of VSAT broadband services using different technologies, an innovative low latency communications solution combining wireless networks and middle earth orbit satellites to operate its ERP platform (Pronto) within its customers’ mining operations, VoIP and IPTV services.

Mining operations are complex and often found in the most remote and difficult to access locations. The user communications requirements fluctuate significantly depending on the stage of the project. In these environments, a solid and reliable communications partner who understands the business values is necessary to provide services to help advance, protect, secure and support the achievements of business objectives and corporate goals.

Ideally, a network service provider should understand the importance of delivering tailored satellite communications networks for the constantly changing environments of mining operations. They should work closely with suppliers to find best-of-breed solutions in the industry.

During the initial exploration and discovery stage of mining projects, immediate transfer of data and the sharing of information with head office is a necessity to ensure the right site is found for the needs of the operation. As such, flexible and mobile satellite communications infrastructure which enables real-time analysis and decision making regarding the site’s viability is essential at that stage.

With the combination of the latest satellite and wireless technologies, broadband “cells” can be created in the field. By truly delivering fast and reliable Internet access, secure video, data transmission and quality Voice over IP (VOIP), strong communications capabilities are provided to the exploration teams in remote locations.

Once production and the full scale mining operation is in place, it is essential to have high-speed satellite communications networks to support ongoing production, with reliable communications for operations, safety, redundancy and welfare.

Key user requirements for all mining operations once in full production include high CIRs and SLAs, proven reliability, voice, VLAN and VPN and video streaming abilities. The need to establish a replica head office environment at the remote site, to ensure key decisions are made and provide continuity for the workers, is also a key priority.

Even the most powerful, reliable tools need expert guidance to reach their full potential. In a world where the future of communications relies as much on data and analytics as it does on reliability, the true measure of success will be the people and the partnerships behind the technology, not the technology behind the people.

Today’s mine operator has the ability and flexibility to work with a communications partner to develop a solution that reflects its exact business and budgetary requirements in true partnership, therefore ensuring profits are maintained, essential information is transmitted when needed, and the safety and welfare of the workers is never compromised.

Ultimately, technology has redefined connectivity and shrunk the world. Old borders have been crossed, and historical limits surpassed. Today, there’s no such thing as “off-grid”; people and companies can be connected anytime, anywhere, even in the most remote mining sites.

Article courtesy of Scott Tipping, Country Manager, SpeedCast, Papua New Guinea

Scott joined SpeedCast in early 2015 as Country Manager of SpeedCast Papua New Guinea (PNG), following its acquisition of Oceanic Broadband Services. He has been instrumental in establishing SpeedCast as the obvious choice in reliable business to business communications in PNG.

He has extensive international experience in ICT, sales and solutions, and a strong business background in PNG and the Pacific. He previously worked in various management roles during his five years at Digicel in PNG before becoming Head of Corporate and ICT and then Commercial Director for Digicel Samoa. Before this, Scott worked for Telikom NZ and Gen-I on key accounts for nine years.