Long Term Evolution Networks – What Are They, And Are They Important To Mining?

According to Techopedia "Long Term Evolution (LTE) refers to a standard for smooth and efficient transition toward more advanced leading-edge technologies to increase the capacity and speed of wireless data networks. LTE is often used to refer to wireless broadband or mobile network technologies."

A possibly more 'user-friendly' and definitely more informative definition can be found here, and I quote "LTE (Long Term Evolution) is a standard (to be aimed for!) for 4G wireless broadband technology that offers increased network capacity and speed to mobile device users. ... It also provides reduced latency, scalable bandwidth capacity and backward-compatibility with existing GSM and UMTS technology."

The first 2 public LTE services started up in Stockholm and Oslo, owned by Ericsson / Nokia Siemens, and Huawei respectively. They were branded 4G, although LTE is not, strictly speaking, 4G. Whilst LTE utilises a different radio interface to previous networks (3G and older), and provides core network improvements, it is nevertheless 'just' a pathway per se by which electronic communication networks can advance to 4G. However, many companies use the term interchangeably, and offer 4G LTE, which is kind of a bridge between 3G and 4G. 5G, with even superior speeds and functionality, is also on its way!

Within commercial enterprises, the increasing implementation of software driven processes and systems designed to improve efficiency and productivity has massively increased the amount of data being accumulated and transferred across networks. Mining is one such industry. The increasing use of technologies like automation, machine communication, and analytics, is happening fast along with the inevitable increases in data accumulation and dissemination.
Many public networks though are simply unable to cope adequately with this volume of data flowing through the system, or the speed at which it needs to be transferred. Then there are added security issues to factor in. Public networks for example can be easy prey for clever hackers, which is scary news indeed for networks storing sensitive information.

Thus in these cases it makes a whole lot of business sense for commercial operations that collect copious amounts of data that needs to be disseminated rapidly and/or securely across various end points, to install their own private LTE networks. Private LTE networks can be configured to suit data capacity and speed requirements. They typically have enhanced security features, although they're still not 100% hacker proof. They're also more mobile than public networks.

The Rise Of The Private LTE Network 

It's estimated that the popularity of private LTE networks will soar over the next 5 years to reach in excess of US$19 billion in net worth. Market research suggests their implementation will become increasingly diverse, moving from current somewhat 'segmented' use in a relatively select group of industries, to more broad scale applications. The drawbacks mentioned previously that are inherent in public LTE networks along with their well-publicised unreliability will increasingly force sectors like the public service and mission-critical applications to implement their own LTE networks rather than relying on public systems. 

Private LTE Networks In Mining

Mining is anticipated to be one of the industries that will strongly influence the private LTE network scene. With automation on the increase, there is growing global demand for fast, reliable, secure networks with improved coverage to support these technologies. Self-driven pit equipment, autonomous ore trains, remotely operated drilling equipment, remote controlled surveillance equipment, and various other types of smart technology implemented to improve productivity and safety, collect enormous amounts of data. Private LTE networks offer a secure, reliable way of transferring this data fast and efficiently to where it needs to go, and making it accessible to multiple end users regardless of their location. 

Epiroc and Ericsson went into partnership in 2018 to develop wireless connectivity solutions utilising LTE technology for mining companies. Australian telecommunications provider Telstra has also partnered with Ericsson to develop a private underground LTE network for South32's Cannington lead, silver, and zinc operation in North West Queensland. The mine's operators have full control over the autonomous network, which has its own unique network codes, SIM cards, and other equipment. The network allows machinery operators to communicate seamlessly with remotely controlled underground equipment, improving worker safety and reducing labour costs.

Rio Tinto and BHP both have massive internal networks in place that allow them to control huge chunks of their remote operations from central Ops Centres in major cities. Over the next few decades this will become the norm rather than the exception.

Private LTE Networks And Public Services

When California's power companies shut down power supply to fire prone areas of the state in late 2019 under that state's public safety power shutoff policy, it also forced the inadvertent shutdown of some 700 electricity powered telecommunications towers. As there is no legal requirement in California to provide back up power for services that use these telecommunication towers (VOIP, wireless, and wireline services), it left thousands of users without mobile phone services including, significantly, the ability to call emergency numbers, or receive mobile emergency alerts. With natural disasters like bushfires on the increase, it's not inconceivable that mass telecommunication shutdowns like this will happen with increasing frequency, leaving people stranded and unable to call for help.

Private public service LTE networks that have been designed to remain largely unaffected by natural disasters can provide solutions that keep the public connected with essential emergency services during these events. Such networks also allow for better, quicker interdepartmental communication and interoperability plus faster responses to emergencies because traffic on a private LTE network is not competing with large volumes of public traffic. They're also far more secure and ultimately more cost efficient as well.

Private LTE Networks And Smart Cities

Smart cities are rapidly becoming the desirable standard for urban developments around the world. As more countries take up the challenge to build / convert to smarter, more environmentally sustainable urban developments it will lead to a substantial growth in the number of connected devices required to run these places. And to increasing concerns about privacy and security of stored data as well. The most effective, efficient and secure way for service providers to connect all these devices and meet security/privacy regulations is via private LTE networks. 

Many Middle Eastern countries for example have very strict regulations around the collection and storage of electronic data, especially personal data. Private LTE networks with their localised 'in-house' structure and improved security functionality allow businesses and governments in the region to comply with privacy and regulatory standards whilst remaining cost effective and highly efficient. 

One telecommunications company supplying government services in the UAE has already partnered with Nokia to develop a private LTE network for a range of smart city and public-safety systems and services. The network is currently being utilised successfully to operate drones and co-ordinate civil defence ships. Plans are to increase the use of these networks, particularly in Dubai, to help manage traffic and public transport services, utilities (water, power, waste etc), and environmental programs as well as improve public protection and emergency/disaster responses.

In other parts of the world, notably India, the push to build smart cities will drive demand for systems that can run smart parking, smart metering, smart lighting, smart waste management, improved security systems and various other smart eco-friendly innovations. India incidentally intends to build 100 smart cities across the country over the coming decades and has established the Smart City Mission to oversee the project. 

Where one leads, others will surely follow. The world of the mid 2000's certainly looks set to be vastly different from the one we know now.
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Tuesday, 07 July 2020
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