In my opinion – by Gary Woolley, CCO of wireless connectivity specialist Comsol

Wireless is the quickest and most cost-effective way to implement a communications network and nowhere is this more evident than in the mining industry. Comsol has proven the case for wireless in mining over and over again with a client list that reads like the Who’s Who of mining, including Anglo, De Beers, Barplats, Exxaro, Sibanye Gold, Samancor Chrome and African Rainbow Minerals.

Mining companies generally need to connect several sites over a wide geography and many of these are isolated in remote areas which are not well served by telecoms infrastructure. Solutions such as fibre are expensive, cumbersome and not readily available, while satellite costs a great deal more than wireless and can’t offer anywhere near the necessary capacity. On mines, operations such as blasting and security are mission critical and any connectivity solution needs to allow for constant monitoring and uninterrupted schedules if thousands of Rands are not to be lost. Maintaining connectivity even during a power failure is not to be taken lightly in this industry and so robust, reliable solutions are indispensable.

Over the 17 years it has been operating, Comsol has grown to an installed base of many thousands of wireless connections across sub-Saharan Africa. The experience Comsol has gained has made the company the ideal partner for high complexity environments like the mining industry, which is one of its strongest vertical markets.

It is not unusual for Comsol to connect multiple sites over three or four provinces directly into a head office financial system, and to provide the connectivity which enables centralised data, voice, security, monitoring and backup systems, and even SAP/CRM databases, all at the same time. Nor is it unusual for clients to see a very quick return on investment, or to achieve massive cost savings quickly. One of Comsol’s mining clients achieved an ROI in capital and equipment within nine months along with increased and stabilised uptime. Some realise savings as high as 90% on recurring monthly costs. Generally, the only after-cost with wireless technology is maintenance of the system, and even that cost is low.

So many companies have no idea of the full extent of wireless communication capability. If they happen to choose the wrong connectivity supplier, they can so easily end up with poor solutions that take advantage of their ignorance. Comsol often comes across prospects which have been sold solutions that are nowhere near capable enough of meeting their needs. Projects must be professionally scoped and radio frequency must be very carefully planned to find the best level of connectivity for every case. It takes bespoke solutions and a scientifically structured approach to achieve the most efficient route and minimise potential points of failure.

Nor is the company easily fazed. They often find themselves on greenfields operations creating completely new voice and data networks. Where good fibre exists they will create hybrid wireless/fibre networks, depending on which configuration will create the best solution for the client. And because they own national licenced spectrum in PtP and PtMP bands, they’re able to offer aggressive SLAs on high levels of uptime.

When Comsol installed one of South Africa’s most prominent gold mines, they were able to provide much higher bandwidths that the mine would have received from Telkom. In fact, Telkom became their backup network provider to Comsol’s primary provision.