Comsol, working with Ericsson and multiple other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), has completed a first-of-its-kind proof of concept (PoC) for a leading international mining group, in which it demonstrated that a Ericsson Private 5G network delivered by Comsol  exceeds the hype around 5G.

The initial deployment exceeded expectations around latency, quality of service and  innovative smart mining applications, even in the challenging conditions.

Comsol engineers worked on site testing multiple 5G applications connected to a private network over a 2km2 test area.

Gary Woolley, Executive: Private Networks at Comsol, says: “We wanted to mimic worst-case scenarios, so we tested the network over non line of sight, near non line of sight, and pure line of sight conditions.”

The POC trialled a variety of 5G devices against business-critical use cases, including video calls between three mining vehicles, a remote connected worker, and a supervisor at the central command station at the same time – in conditions where a traditional mobile phone call would be challenging.

Woolley says: “We were spot on with our RF propagation planning, which proved that high-quality voice and video communication was supported even in worst-case scenarios.”

“The non-line of sight connection at around 1km exceeded our expectations, where we had a connected worker using augmented reality, voice and video with a consistent, high-quality connection despite the presence of a lot of trees and minerals in the environment.”

“The voice and data quality was exceptional, showing that multiple use cases can coexist in a dynamic environment. We were getting close to 80Mbps of uplink capacity, which is important for industrial productivity, data analysis and health and safety use cases,” he says.

Todd Ashton, Vice President and Head of Ericsson South and East Africa at Ericsson Middle East and Africa, says: “The collaboration with Comsol has yielded the excellent outcomes, solidifying the belief that a private cellular network holds the greatest potential for revolutionizing mining operations.”

“Ericsson’s 5G-ready private cellular network delivers the required level of connectivity to empower smart mining. These networks have the power to address the persistent challenges faced by the mining industry, fostering safety, reducing environmental impact, and boosting overall productivity while unlocking intelligence for OEMs across South Africa.”

“This proof of concept demonstrates that technology, when harnessed expertly, can reshape industries, and pave the way for a more efficient and connected future.  These results would not have been possible without our very capable partner Comsol.  They have a strong track record across a number of industry verticals and we are looking forward to more success together with Comsol.”

Future-proofing and simplifying mine networking

“Within mines there are a lot of applications pushing a constant stream of data, which is tracked and analysed to optimise operations, and drive efficiency, productivity, and revenues. With better networks, mines can add more applications, devices and use cases to the network,” Woolley explains.

Traditionally, multiple applications and use cases run on different networks. “Some of these run over unlicensed spectrum, which is prone to interference,” Woolley says. “This mine wanted a single pane of glass enabling multiple use cases, and importantly, they wanted to control performance and eliminate interference.”

“For the deployment, we used an Ericsson Private 5G including best in class radios, while also testing multiple industrial routers, fixed, vehicle and handheld devices. We assessed the network performance and capacity. The initial testing proved very low and reliable latencies and improved capacities, showing that a licensed private 5G network delivers what the hype says it can.”

He notes that Operational Technology (OT) networks in particular, where autonomous drills, sensors and vehicles rely on a constant connection, with a requirement for lower latencies, need the right technology characteristics and performance to support health and safety and compliance. “In an open pit mine, for example, if the autonomous drills lose the connection they stop functioning, and the mine could lose millions,” he says.

Despite impressive results in initial deployments such as these, Woolley adds that a big driver of private 5G network growth is the growing standards-based device ecosystem. “The device ecosystem is evolving and growing, so we will be able to do more and more over these networks in future,” he says.

Industrial expertise for specialised networks

Implementing 5G networks for industrial environments requires highly specialised skills, he explains. “It’s very different from rolling out consumer 5G in an urban area. Our engineers and presales teams plan and deploy networks taking into account the terrain, environment, requirements, use cases, future needs and even the commercial case for each type of network.”

“Working in these complex environments has these inherent challenges. That’s why working with an aggregated solution with single pane of glass visibility such as Ericsson Private 5G made this deployment achievable in such a short time.”

“Our experts have come to understand what impact the environment has on the network – for example, in a bottling plant, large volumes of glass and liquid impact the network’s performance. In mines, minerals such as coal, platinum and gold all influence the signal in different ways, while underground tunnels cause a lot of reflection.”

“RF is one of the most critical elements in deploying a private cellular network. That why experienced RF engineers appreciate planning tools that accurately mimic the impacts of materials in the field. Working with Ericsson, our team of engineers has developed a deep understanding of the different characteristics of the different materials, so they can design the network accordingly,” he says.

The manageability and visibility that Ericsson Private 5G has enabled Comsol engineers to effectively configure and manage the network with ease–including provisioning and onboarding new devices and enabling new use cases.

5G vs private 5G

Woolley notes that a private 5G network delivers high-performance, secure, dedicated licensed spectrum, which allows for SLA based services guaranteeing connectivity and performance. “We have full control of the spectrum and network, and QoS allows us to prioritise certain types of connections. In this application, we put the core onsite, keeping all critical data secure on the facility, which is also key.”

“For Comsol, the SLA goes far beyond what OEMs offer – it covers how we keep the network running,” says Woolley. “Our support might include posting our team on site or upskilling the mine’s own team, to ensure that they can rely on their network. If the connection to an autonomous drill breaks down, for example, you can’t wait eight hours to get it up and running again.”

Comsol is taking the lead in the local private 5G networks space, pioneering the technology in mines and industrial sites. Comsol owns 60MHz of 3.7GHz, and the largest tranche of 28GHz spectrum in South Africa. The company is South Africa’s leading mmWave 28GHz MEF 2.0 compliant wireless national wholesale open access network, delivering Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) connectivity to businesses. 

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