Powering up South Africa’s mines with 5G

MTN Business SM: Solutions Sales Marike Bester

23rd February 2023


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As digital technologies advance and use cases are steadily developed and proven, and the digital era opens up endless possibilities and opportunities, the journey to the integrated fifth-generation (5G) mine in South Africa is well under way.

With the application of various digital technologies, such as 5G connectivity, becoming pivotal to mining success, increasingly, more mining companies are investing in the digital ecosystems they need to remain competitive in the global mineral and resources space.

MTN Business, in collaboration with its various partners, including Huawei Technologies South Africa and Minetec Smart Mining, is working to help the mining industry in South Africa navigate the significant, important technological changes and the transformation of traditional processes.

In line with this, MTN Business started developing a blueprint for the deployment and architecture of the solutions that would contribute to solving the critical challenges mines have been experiencing, particularly those related to safety, health and security, says MTN Business SM: Solution Sales Marike Bester.

The deployment of private 5G networks have the potential to transform the mining industry, enabling improved safety and efficiency, the streamlining of processes and the reduction of costs with more and more digital solutions becoming available in the market.

“WiFi networks in the past were suitable to a certain extent, but it has its limitations. Now with the availability of private networks, and networks-as-a-service, it is really important for industry to collaborate to explore the value that can be derived from these enhanced use cases,” she says.

On the journey toward enabling the first 5G mine in South Africa and modernising the mining sector, in March 2022, a memorandum of understanding was signed by MTN Business, Huawei, Minetec and Miniandante Mining Company for the provision of 5G technology equipment and connectivity.

The partnership marks a significant step forward in the digital transformation of the local mining industry as it successfully demonstrates how 5G can improve several functions across mines, including safety through the provision of real-time information on operational conditions and individual worker health through separate wearable sensor monitoring.

Through this agreement, the vision for a proof-of-concept of an integrated 5G mine materialised in December, when MTN and its partners unveiled South Africa’s first connected coal mine: Canyon Coal’s Phalanndwa colliery in Mpumalanga.

“Phalanndwa colliery offers the perfect combination of the right technology with the right scenario, where ultra-high bandwidth and ultra-low latency of 5G allow real-time communication among the mineworkers,” says Huawei South Africa Carrier Business CEO Fortune Wang.

Enabling guaranteed connectivity within the mine and plant area, the Mpumalanga-based colliery was provided an advanced 5G solution in an initial two use cases, namely real-time vehicle collision avoidance monitoring in the pit and video surveillance and analytics at the mine’s entrance.

The elements of the vehicle monitoring systems transmit data to the central platform in real time, unlocking critical insights into operations that are actionable in real time.

The sensors provide data for real time collision avoidance and vehicle intervention or planning and scheduling, which enables the command centre to have full visibility of the movement trajectory and status of trucks in real time and respond accordingly immediately, reducing the occurrence of accidents and protecting workers from being harmed by trucks.

“Where connectivity was previously a problem, the 5G technology allows for real-time notifications of any technical problems within the operation, monitoring vehicle movements, engine health and fuel levels for example,” adds Minetec COO Davut Isik.

5G-enabled video cameras with analytical software, provided by Huawei, were also deployed at the entry points of the Phalanndwa colliery, flagging those not cleared and authorised to enter the operations and monitor the vehicles as they enter and exit the mine, tracking a number of elements.

With the establishment of a network that enables real-time data collection, there is the potential to start layering additional use cases that are required by the mines, including driver fatigue monitoring and fuel monitoring, and leverage the valuable data to improve efficiencies.

“The private network-as-a-service is really changing the way that our customers are also thinking about the solutions and opening up the possibilities for them. It allows for automation to take place in various processes which ultimately improves productivity on the mine itself,” says Bester.

“Practising responsible mining and looking after the safety of the mine and our miners are our primary goals at all times, and this switch to 5G and real-time monitoring of both staff and equipment will allow for greater levels of both efficiency and safety,” says Phalanndwa GM Kgotso Mongalo.

With the successful proof of concepts, MTN is examining the potential of deploying the systems in other mines across the country, with engagements under way with various mining houses.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter




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