An unspoken pioneer of resources communications

Challenge Networks is an expert in LTE mining applications.

The development and integration of private long-term evolution networks across Australia’s resources sector has been a major work-in-progress for the industry. Challenge Networks is best-in-class to change that.

While some smaller operations might survive and thrive on a humble Wi-Fi network, the larger of Australia’s 300-plus mining operations require a more flexible and capable piece of infrastructure. 

Telecommunications provider, Challenge Networks, is a leader in the space and continues to provide solutions that are advancing the technological capabilities of the industry.

At this month’s Austmine 2021 Conference & Exhibition in Perth, Challenge Networks will join forces with one of its strategic partners and vendors, Cisco, a multinational provider and manufacturer of high-technology products and services. 

Challenge Networks principal consultant Malcolm Jones says the partnership came about through the two companies’ connections with Nokia. 

“Cisco selected us because of our subject matter expertise in the private LTE (long-term evolution) space and to leverage us globally for new opportunities in the resources sector,” Jones says. 

“We’re one of the few collabs with Cisco, globally, that is developing 5G demonstrations for service providers and private operators to come and have a look at our labs.” 

Jones has worked for the company since 2019, but he was introduced to Challenge Networks at an Austmine event years earlier where he met the chief technology officer Simon Lardner. As Jones was working with a major iron ore miner at the time, he saw first-hand how Challenge Networks was a pioneer in the private LTE space.

“Rio Tinto was the first company in the world to set up a private network and Challenge was the first systems integrator in the world to bring a private network to the mining vertical,” Jones says.

“What struck me about (Lardner’s) company was that they were an innovator in the field of private LTE in that nobody had actually ever done it before,” Jones says. 

This year’s Austmine Conference will see Challenge and Cisco unveil their strategy to develop the world’s first private 5G network for the resources sector. 

Jones says while access to 5G spectrum and engagement with the regulator is a work-in-progress, Challenge will be there with Cisco, ready and waiting to find ways to provide Australia with the best private network capabilities available. 

“As in LTE, issues with (radio frequency) spectrum are some of the biggest hurdles to be overcome for the emergence of 5G, and the ACMA as the regulator here in Australia haven’t properly defined how that will be in the context of the private sector,” Jones says. 

Another drawcard for Challenge Networks is its innovation at Gold Fields’ Granny Smith gold mine.

“We are the world’s first underground LTE vendor and systems integrator to have a fully operational and live network with some 50-plus kilometres of underground LTE network,” Jones says.

If prospective clients can’t make it to Challenge’s Austmine booth this year, they can just as easily take the word of Gold Fields’ superintendent of IT networks Rodney Nebe.

Nebe details exactly what Challenge has done at Gold Fields’ Granny Smith, St. Ives and Gruyere gold mines and why it’s been so successful.

“We’ve expanded our LTE infrastructure across three mining operations, and we are the first in the world to have an LTE leaky feeder system in an underground environment,” Nebe says.

“It’s helped us to achieve our targets in safety and production, while increasing uptimes for network infrastructure.”

Jones explains the difference between Challenge and its competitors in LTE network integration. 

“It’s our domain expertise, we’re not reliant on the vendor to support us. We actually have implemented every vendor’s solution, so we understand what’s the best-in-class for every product type,” Jones says. 

“The challenge we often see in the marketplace is when systems integrators come in and offer similar vendor products, but don’t have the domain expertise on how to integrate those and don’t have an understanding of the mining applications.”

Jones says Challenge Networks has some tricks up its sleeves to ensure the rise of the company doesn’t stop in the resources sector.

“We’re currently engaged with a vendor on a range of NBN last-mile solutions where fixed infrastructure doesn’t exist in remote areas,” Jones says.

It’s an exciting prospect behind the scenes of a company that props up industries and asks for little recognition in return.  

This story also appears in the May issue of Australian Mining.

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