Aqura going underground to enable Industry 4.0
Perth, Western Australia 23 August 2021
The challenge of leveraging next-generation wireless broadband technology in underground operations is one that hasn’t quite been cracked in Australia.
Aqura Technologies has taken on the challenge and has been awarded a grant from the Australian Government under the 5G Innovation Initiative to augment the organisation’s own development work to address the challenge of delivering underground 5G LTE.
The grant is an important step to overcome the technical and commercial barriers associated with operating next-generation broadband wireless networks in sub-surface environments.
Aqura Chief Executive Officer, Travis Young, stated the project was founded on extensive customer and industry feedback as critical to enable mining operators to unlock the benefits that surface operators had been enjoying for a number of years. “With over 50% of mining in Australia being conducted underground and increasing, the industry is still playing catch-up with technology that is being widely utilised to great benefit in surface operations,” said Young.
“Our track record and development work, coupled with the 5G Innovation Grant will enable our team to work to deliver technical architectures and a validated commercial model which will enable and accelerate adoption.”
Investing in future capability
The 5G Innovation Initiative grant will complement investment already made by Aqura to deliver technical architectures, commercial model development and installation of a live Private 5G LTE network in an operating mine. The project leverages a lot of learnings from a 2017 project where Aqura successfully delivered Private 4G LTE in an underground mine in the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia.
The focus of the program is to fast-track the enablement of applications and processes that are being adopted in surface operations so underground operators can realise the benefits that enhanced environmental, safety and productivity outcomes that advanced wireless communications can deliver.
Aqura’s Chief Operations Officer, Alan Seery shared that underground operators were wanting a kick-start to advance their technology capabilities.
“Many underground mines use processes and technologies that are decades old and operators want to leverage the latest technology, but the technical challenges and the commercial model to acquire can be prohibitive,” said Seery.
“We’ve learnt a lot through our previous work in underground, and we believe our new LTEaaS platform optimised to deliver next-generation private industrial operations networks will support a new commercial approach that will better suit the business models utilised by mining operators.
And with new advances in radio access, we’re excited to have the opportunity to work with some very motivated partners to develop and make available new architectures which will bridge the underground connectivity gap.”
A project to bring the future forward Aqura has been looking to address the gap for underground operations and the opportunity to participate in the 5G Innovation Initiative has accelerated that work.
“We know the constraints and there has been a wait-and-see approach from many mining operators and vendors in the space,” said Seery.
“The use cases for Private 5G may be a little way off but with this project, we can fast-track development which will not only have immediate benefits for underground mining, but there are also great benefits for other underground infrastructure such as tunnels and operations in confined spaces which need to leverage wireless broadband for automation, communications and safety systems.”
A pedigree of innovation
Aqura has a solid track record in the delivery of advanced industrial networks. Many of Aqura’s core team were behind the first Private 4G LTE network in Australian resources, delivered Private 4G LTE underground and supported delivery of one of the first aboveground Private 5G LTE networks in North Queensland earlier this year.
The project has kicked off with Aqura working with a large gold operator to commence scoping. Various partners have indicated support to validate applications, devices and processes around autonomy, condition monitoring, safety systems, data access, PTT communications and IoT sensors.
“We’re really pleased to have been involved in advancing Private LTE in only a few short years. I’m even more excited to be able to take on the challenges associated with underground. It’s a tough environment to work in, but we’re pretty sure we can change the game,” said Seery.
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Marketing Manager, Aqura Technologies