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Next Generation Satellite Services in the Mining Life Cycle

Innovation in the satellite industry has reached new heights with new services being brought to fruition through the launch of LEO (Low Earth Orbit), MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) and GEO (Geostationary or Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit) constellations. In addition, the advantages of software-defined satellites are becoming more apparent to the telecommunications industry. With data rates of up to 10Gbps per communication link and latency reduced to 50msec, satellite services are no longer burdened by the old myths about speed, cost and latency.  Smart Satellite Services, such as the Twoobii service operated by Q-KON, include advanced quality-of-service and IP networking architecture to implement seamless SD-WAN networks, voice services and layer-2 over satellite links.

Their extremely high reliability, ease of deployment and flexible billing options makes Smart Satellite Services a particularly effective communications tool for multiple applications throughout the full mining life cycle. For ease of reference, we have highlighted several instances that show the value that Smart Satellite Services can add throughout the mining life cycle.

Exploration

Exploration teams need tactical communications for broadband, voice and data services in order to remain in contact with head office while moving between different field locations. While mobile satellite services have been available for some time, the data bundle costs of these services previously limited their use to emergency communications.

This has all changed, with recent advances in phased array antenna technologies and their integration with the Twoobii GEO Smart Satellite Services making it possible to provide portable terminals that can offer data links at 20Mbps for corporate voice services, video and broadband connectivity with flexible billing options starting from R1,954 per month.

These next-generation services enable seamless integration with corporate networks – for example, an exploration team can use their office telephone numbers, set up Zoom, or Teams calls and perform all other business communication functions just as if they were in the office. These voice services are also billed using the same least cost routing models applicable to standard corporate services based on IP-telephony compatible with business networks.

Construction and Development

During site establishment, plant construction and operational start-up, communications are required rapidly, at different locations, for different contractors and mining operational groups. All these requirements can be met using various fixed satellite terminals that provide short-term high-capacity links.

Planned next generation services will deliver data rates of up to 100Mbps with communication latency of just 50msec (about the time it takes to say hello), making this the ideal tool to implement this diverse campus communication fabric which is integrated into a single IP architecture using layer-2 over satellite solution methodologies. A hybrid network configuration is possible through the integration of MEO and GEO services in a single seamless IP communication model.

Key to this discussion is the fact that all these communication links can be seamlessly interconnected with South African corporate networks, if required. The Twoobii Smart Satellite Services portfolio offers a network interconnect point in Teraco, Johannesburg to facilitate this degree of network compatibility.

Extraction

Generally, once mining construction is underway, there is typically enough time to implement Telco fibre or microwave links to mining sites, and these services then provide the primary communication links during the extraction or operational phase.

At this point, satellite services move from being a primary fixed service solution to operating more as back-up services in locations where very high reliability is required and for mining locations that can still not be cabled into the campus network. Also, satellite terminals can be used to provide communications on a permanent basis at community locations such as schools, clinics and community centres. Community HOTspots for public broadband services can be readily deployed using satellite terminals to address corporate community responsibilities.

Next generation services offer significant advantages in performance, latency and billing model flexibility for satellite services used in a back-up configuration.

New emerging MEO services such as the SES mPower service are designed for continuous use as primary services. By completely shifting performance and price paradigms, these new MEO services are introducing 1Gbps over satellite links at latencies of around 70msec and at cost points similar to long-haul fibre links. For remote mining sites which are located too far from telco grids to permit cost-effective fibre link implementation, the mPower service will be a viable and very attractive alternative.

Closure

Once production has ended and mining operations move to the closure phase, satellite services are the best option for providing ongoing monitoring services and data communications for plant closure operations, rehabilitation projects and ongoing community services. In this field, the most notable innovation in next generation satellite services is the development of compact phased-array antennas which enable small portable and mobile terminals to connect to GEO satellite networks.

Smart Satellite IoT Services such as the HiSky service provide an easily deployable packet data communications link for telemetry and SCADA (Supervisory control and data acquisition) applications (also very relevant in the mining operations phase for monitoring pipelines, remote plant, access control and utilities).

Summary

Recent innovations in next generation satellite services, including Twoobii Smart Satellite Services, are offering the mining industry completely new communication value propositions throughout the mining operational life cycle.

Project houses, consultants and mining operations would do well to seek a new and complete update on the capabilities of current and emerging next generation satellite services. While satellite is in a strong growth phase, niche service providers such as Q-KON are best positioned to provide inputs into the business and cost advantages of next generation satellite services for the mining industry.

Dawie de Wet CEO of Q-KON and Chief Engineer of Twoobii Smart Satellite Services

 

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