By Martynas Tovarovas, Wi-Fi NOW Staff Writer
The introduction of underground Wi-Fi has improved productivity and working conditions for hundreds of miners at Anglo American’s coal mining operations in Mpumalanga, South Africa.
Working underground in South African coal mines has just become a lot safer as Anglo American introduces its second underground wireless network. With the new Wi-Fi service and smartphones miners can now communicate instantly via voice calls or text messaging to and from the surface as well as from one underground section to another.
In addition to resolving basic communication challenges, the Wi-Fi network also tracks key equipment through communication tags and allows for people to be located in the event of an emergency.
“Up to 750 people work in an area of around 20 square kilometres, so it’s important that we know where each of them are if an underground emergency occurs. Should an evacuation occur, we are able to determine from the control room whether anyone has been left behind underground, exactly who they are, and their last known location,” says Edgar Simfukwe, Technician Superintendent at Anglo American.
Coal mines traditionally use fixed underground telephones, which frequently require a long walk or drive to reach. This means employees often need to return to the surface to contact a colleague, report a problem, or access critical information.
By using Wi-Fi services, employees can also send photographs or video clips to aid troubleshooting. They’re also able to arrange for dispatches of spare parts, get work authorisations, and flag faults in time before they become critical issues.
“We’re working in an environment where safety and productivity are paramount. The introduction of underground Wi-Fi is a game-changer. It allows our miners to communicate more easily, thereby making mines more productive. The main benefit is that breakdowns can be reported and resolved faster – in some cases, by contacting equipment manufacturers on the spot,” says Edgar Simfukwe.
Installing Wi-Fi underground is significantly more difficult than above ground. There is no tower infrastructure underground, and signals are weakened and distorted by uneven surfaces, earthen walls, and other tunnel obstacles of varying sizes. But the benefits will rapidly repay the initial investment, Anglo American says.