SOUTH Africa’s fastest-growing coal miner, Canyon Coal, has launched the continent’s first 5G-enabled mine in a historic deal involving mobile operator MTN, global ICT giant Huawei and Minetec Smart Mining.

The partnership, described as a major step toward digital transformation of the coal industry, was unveiled at a ceremony at opencast Phalanndwa Colliery in Delmas, Mpumalanga, about 70km outside Johannesburg, in December 2022.

The mine, situated just a stone’s throw from Kusile, one of several Eskom power stations in Mpumalanga, will be used as a pioneering 5G project for the mining group, which owns several other coal mines across the province and in KwaZulu-Natal.

Huawei and MTN have combined to provide an advanced 5G solution to enable guaranteed connectivity within the mine and plant area, in the initial stage.

Phalanndwa Colliery is leading in combining digital applications with 5G, achieving the first trial use of 5G applications of mining solutions in South Africa, thus leading the digital transformation of the sector.

Through this deal, MTN, Africa’s leading telecoms company, provides network connection for the mine, while Huawei built the 5G infrastructure, the first of its kind in the continent.

Through this infrastructure, mine will use digitalisation to link its operations to a smart centre where accidents, collisions and fatalities can be avoided in an industry where too many people are either killed or injured as a result of negligence and human error, and where equipment is damaged and property stolen by staff and instruders. 

How it works is that every vehicle in the mine has a simcard that is connected to the network and the control room receives reports, warnings and alerts in real time and are able to intervene before an accident occurs, or damage to equipment happens.

The control room monitors vehicles and personnel using them.

This also helps stop one of the biggest problems in the mining industry- the theft of diesel.

The system also allows management to know when fuel supply level is low so they can order new stock to fill up the tanks.

This 5G technology has been in use in countries such as China for years now, but only coming to Africa for the first time, positioning South Africa’s mining sector, the bedrock of the country’s economy, as a leader in digitilisation of the industry.

Smart mining improves efficiency, enables use of artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), automation and other technologies to boost production and profitability. 

The mining industry is one of the biggest contributors to the country’s economy and employs thousands of skilled and nonskilled employees, benefitting communities where the mines operate.

In Mpumalanga, a province whose economy is based on mining, this is even more imperative. 

“Phalanndwa Colliery offers the perfect combination of the right technology with the right scenario, where ultra-high bandwidth and ultra-low latency of 5G allows real-time communication among the mine workers,” says Fortune Wang, CEO of Huawei’s SA Carrier Business.

 “The deployment of more application scenarios, promises incredible changes will be happening in the Phalanndwa Colliery. These include PDS (proximity detection system), vehicle detection, tracking system and wireless video surveillance,” he added.

Fortune Wang_CEO, Huawei SA Carrier Business

Fortune Wang, CEO of Huawei SA Carrier Business

The systems will reduce accidents and protect workers from injuries and death caused by trucks.

They will be able to monitor the movement trajectory and status of trucks in real time to shorten downtime.

As the country looks to remain competitive in the global mineral and resources space, this advancement will become increasingly important.

South Africa is the world’s biggest platinum producer.

The mining industry accounts for eight percent of South African GDP.

Wanda Matandela_MTN CCO

Wanda Matandela, CCO of MTN

Wanda Matandela, CCO of MTN, commended the miner for taking the lead in digital transformation within the sector, and congratulated Canyon Coal on their foresight.

“As MTN moves from being a tel-co to a tech-co, we have a significant role to play in the roll out of groundbreaking technology.

“We are an ecosystem partner and infrastructure provider. 

“The mining company and MTN have established an in-depth strategic partnership and will cooperate closely to build a solid foundation for digital transformation to take the mining industry forward,” said Matandela.

Kgotso Mongalo GM of Phalanndwa

Kgotso Mongalo, GM of Phalanndwa Colliery

Kgotso Mongalo, GM of Phalanndwa, said: “Practising responsible mining and looking after the safety of the mine and our miners are our primary goals at all times, and this switch to 5G and real time monitoring of both staff and equipment will allow for greater levels of both efficiency and safety.”

Davut Isik_COO,Minetec

Davut Isik, COO of Minetec

Minetec, which provides proactive, dynamic, new generation solutions within the mining sector is making the 5G technology capacity a reality on the Phalanndwa Mine.

Where connectivity was previously a problem, the 5G technology allows for real time notifications of any technical problems within the operation, monitoring vehicle movements, engine health and fuel levels, for example.

Said Minetec’s COO, Davut Isik: “It is not only operators who need to be able to see what is happening.

“Management needs to track activity and respond accordingly. With the introduction of 5G connectivity to the mine, business disruption can be avoided and can become more sustainable and profitable.”

Added Wang: “Huawei is honored to work with MTN SA, Minar Mining Company and Minetec Smart Mining to initiate this 5G smart coal in South Africa, which will definitely be a milestone in accelerating the local coal mining industry’s digital transformation.”

“With the further introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and Internet of Things (IoT), these cutting-edge technologies are key enablers for different vertical industries, including mining.

“We have seen successes in China, where these technology ecosystems are already maturing,” he concluded.