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Surface mine with network illustration

Optimizing and scaling networks in mining: A how-to guide

How can miners build a telecommunications network that will work today and tomorrow? Nigel Slater, ​​Director of Business Development at Epiroc (3D-P), shares practical strategies that will help miners design a network that will support long-term plans for digitalization and automation.

Key takeaways:
- A network should match the mine site and technical competencies of a mining company.
- Miners need a network that fits their plans for three to five years into the future.
- The lifespan of mining networks depends on both physical wear and an expanding need for data.
- With a balanced approach, miners can build a network that supports both current and future needs.

How should miners plan for their network capacity needs?

When you're designing your network, there are two critical questions to ask in terms of your needs. One is what your network capacity needs today and in the future? Next, you need to consider if you really want the flashiest, most modern technology like 5G — and the commensurate number of technical challenges that come with it.


In terms of capacity, you need to know what you want to do with your network. That's the first part of your needs analysis. You need to consider at least the next five years of your mine plan, including how your pits and dumps are going to grow and change. You also need to know what your automation roadmap looks like for the next two to three years' time. 


Tele-remote operation and autonomy is where you start to see a heavy data crunch. If that is your aspiration, you will need a really capable network, which cellular (at least in part) can deliver. So, you can choose to build for that capacity, even if you don't need it now. Then, when you have a new pit, or you buy a new application, the transition is a lot simpler.

What site-specific factors should miners consider when designing their cellular network?

The first thing to remember is that cellular networks are designed for consumers—thousands of them in wide open spaces—primarily downloading information from the network. There’s a corollary there with open pit mining, where you have open spaces, large coverage areas, and lots of connected machines. The difference is a lot of the data is uplink from the mining machine to the network.


Underground, you’re covering a small area, and the data is also a majority uplink. The data is coming from the camera on the machine to the network, which is not typically how we use cellular networks as consumers. At the working face the working face you're forced to either have your network equipment further away to protect it from damage, which conversely can affect connectivity to your remote control drill. Or, you have to come up with an alternative way of doing it such as wireless meshing your network devices or installing quick and easy to replace network components that are cost effective.

What is the typical lifespan for a mine network?

Predicting the lifespan of your specific network is an interesting task. Essentially, there are two components to it. One is simply the physical aspect of the mining environment and the wear and tear the network infrastructure will face.


The second element is the introduction of new products to the market. Over a five-to-seven-year timeframe, technology will improve, and new products will come in to replace older ones. So, as the network gets older, and the technology starts to get old, most companies will say, “Hey, we want to do a refresh because there's this new tech and we can do some great things with it.” 

How can you future proof your network for scaling?

By considering all the points mentioned above, the critical infrastructure of your network can be pre-designed to support future growth. It's a lot easier to mount things on a 40-meter tower when you're doing the initial network project than it is to come back in three years when you need added capacity.


While your first impulse might be to get the latest and greatest network technology, one needs to keep in mind that with new tech comes new challenges, especially in terms of maintenance and operation. You should also understand that the real-world mining use cases that can fully exploit 5G and the technology it enables and are still in an emergent state. 


Whether or not you need LTE, 5G, or a hybrid solution to meet those needs depends on a lot of factors. With a pragmatic and balanced examination of site-specific requirements, the data needs you have today, and your plans for the next few years, you can build a relatively future-proof network that will deliver the most bang for your buck. 

Nigel Slater, ​​Director of Business Development at Epiroc in 3D-P

Nigel Slater, ​​Director of Business Development at Epiroc in 3D-P

Nigel Slater

Nigel Slater, Director of Business Development at Epiroc (3D-P), is a senior leader and strategic manager of relationships, both customer and internal, with a view to increasing market share through partnerships. Based in Brisbane, Australia, Mr. Slater offers extensive experience in many fields of technology, and in both private and public sector organizations. 


3D-P empowers miners to unlock and access their critical data in near real-time for smarter decisions. 3D-P is a privately held company founded in 1996 by a team of mining and positioning technology experts. The company was created to bring innovative thinking and new technologies to the mining industry. 3D-P have since evolved to bring this approach to several outdoor industrial environments around the world. In 2021, 3DP was acquired by Epiroc to strengthen their agnostic technology offering and to support customers on their digitalization journeys. Learn more at

Connectivity Digitalization Mining Article