Jasco Carrier Networks has supplied a complete ICT solution, incorporating local WiFi networks, a mixture of microwave, DSL, and fibre access into MPLS for voice and data solutions with cloud computing services providing the related reliability, scalability and SLA to the MCC Group’s Contracts division, enabling enhanced voice and data communications at remote mine sites, as well as between these sites and MCC headquarters. The cost savings are significant, but it’s the reliability and flexibility of the Jasco Carrier Networks solution that is making all the difference in terms of meeting not just communication but enterprise reporting, governance and regulatory requirements.
MCC Contracts, the opencast contract mining division of the MCC Group of Companies, was conceived in the mid 1980’s through a need to achieve better utilisation of the Plant Hire fleet in the midst of an economic downturn.
Today it is positioned at the forefront of the surface contract mining industry and is regarded as the market leader in terms of capability and expertise. It currently operates in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia, mining in excess of 17.5 million tons of waste and ore a month on its various mining contracts.
Says Wynand Koekemoer, database administrator at MCC: “Our challenge was to put a modern information and communication network in place across our numerous remote sites. These are usually temporary (3-5 years) ‘container’ cities with ‘hard park’ areas for storage of mining and plant equipment.
They are harsh environments that are usually off the commercial telecoms grids. We thus primarily used cell phones with 3G connectivity to talk to one another on site, to call head office and to send data. It proved an expensive, unreliable and slow solution, especially with regards to data.
“At a few sites we did install a cabled network, but they too are costly, time consuming to install and maintain, and certainly not mobile. Numerous redundant points developed as we expanded the network to accommodate movement around the site and, of course, there is the ever-present danger of the network being damaged by heavy equipment.”
Other drivers for a more reliable communications system included the need to input data timeously to a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to be implemented by MCC for informed decision-making, as well as meet regulatory requirements with regard to human resource reporting and health and safety standards. In addition, the massive trucks and other plant equipment used on site have maintenance schedules that are vital to maintain.
In 2010, the company started looking for a data-to-site connectivity solution with VoIP capability. “VSat, ADSL and fibre were all costly, represented a business risk and were certainly not mobile,” notes Ben Steyn, Executive Head of Sales at Jasco Carrier Networks. “MCC Contracts wanted a rugged, transportable solution that it could easily set up and expand as needed, then reconfigure and re-use when it broke up one site and set up another. We responded to a request for solution proposals and our offering was selected.”
Says Koekemoer: “Jasco Carrier Networks’ solution design was better, as was the quality of the solution, and it could be centrally managed which is important to us as we do not always have ICT skills at remote sites to fix, manage and service technology. In addition, Jasco Carrier Networks’ has a partnership with Vodacom Business which offered a back-to-back SLA for established infrastructure into the cloud and to head office – this promised the kind of reliability we wanted. While service providers deployed high-sites that would have provided some of the connectivity we needed, fourth-parties were responsible for their maintenance. The Vodacom SLA is with Vodacom, not a fourth party.”
To connect all MCC’s mining sites for voice and data connectivity Jasco Carrier Networks proposed a wireless network connecting the site offices, workshops and portions of the pits using microwave transmission. All WiFi computers, phones and company issued cell phones connect via a SIP client to the network, which comprises Tropos and Aruba WiFi equipment for, respectively, external and internal WiFi networking. This allows for onsite connectivity. To conduct inter-branch calls, MCC would make use of the MPLS VPN. This VPN will also facilitate MCC’s need for any-to-any data connectivity to all the other mining sites.
Explains Steyn: “The MPLS VPN has the ability to carry both voice and data traffic, prioritising the voice traffic and breakout centrally though the Vodacom Business Softswitch to the various Voice Service Providers.
“The benefits of the Tropos equipment are its intelligent carrier class WiFi Access Points and ruggedised weather proof boxes that are designed for outdoor use. It also uses a technology called Predictive Wireless Routing Protocol, or PWRP, (metro-mesh), that can scale to thousands of nodes to provide wide range coverage with routing overheads never using more than 5% of available network bandwidth. And Tropos is also completely redundant (fully meshed) and stable. Aruba, on the other hand, offers high scalability with a programmable overlay that facilitates evolutionary change. It can be centrally managed and has automated RF management.”
The first implementation phase, which took approximately four months, saw six MCC Contract sites enabled, with VSat temporarily installed at two sites, awaiting microwave links. First ‘go-live’ was in March and April 2011. Says Steyn: “These implementations entailed setting up WiFi for voice and data at each site, with the voice breakout for headquarters and the sites via the Vodacom softswitch. The data requirement was for access to the ERP system at head office to facilitate HR and financial reporting, among others. We did a full site inspection for each installation and made use of our in-house radio planner and engineers to optimise the network design.”
There are three handset solutions: a ‘desk phone’ which allows for VoIP calls on the network (cost free), a ruggedised mobile WiFi phone which is also on the WiFi network, and the Nokia E 52 phone with its built-in SIP client. “The Nokia phones are issued to users with the SIP configuration allowing for VoIP calls to any other SIP enabled devices on the network as well as GSM calls. In all, at completion of phase two of the initiative when 10 sites will have been commissioned, almost 200 users will use these onsite WiFi networks,” notes Steyn.
Says Koekemoer: “Cell phone costs, while not yet fully assessed, have dropped between 30% and 70% for various users. We have come a long way from using bare basics for communications to having a full, well planned, functional system in place. We are very pleased with the performance of the Jasco Carrier Networks team. They are committed – they not just listened to us, but went into the field to fully understand our mode of operation, our problems and frustrations.”