Last year, Telstra established a new communications services department – Telstra Mining Services – which it called a strategic investment in the sector.
Leading the business is Jeannette McGill, who entered the company from her previous role as the head of technology and innovation at Anglo American Platinum. Hailing from South Africa, McGill started in mining production as a section and exploration geologist – becoming the second woman in the country’s Free State Province to receive an underground blasting certificate.
With 20 years of mining experience, McGill was well positioned to take up the role with Telstra, particularly after her experience with Anglo American.
“My previous role and responsibility was looking after the technology and innovation program for Anglo American platinum and my production and mining finance background has afforded me the space to be able to take and lead the mining focus business for Telstra,” McGill told Australian Mining.
Telstra Mining Services launched on July 1, created as a standalone domain to service the mining sector.
McGill said its development was an exciting journey for Telstra.
“We’re [Telstra] the only telco globally that have got such a significant place in the mining sector, and the trajectory that we have seen in the past few months has been exceptionally positive,” she said.
“We’ve had some exciting projects where we’ve been able to partner with clients around Australia [and] we’ve also been able to work offshore and support international clients.”
The new mining business involved the acquisition of Brisbane-based CBO Telecommunications, taking on its network design and consulting services.
McGill said the new acquisition gave Telstra access to infrastructure that could be deployed in the mine pit.
“Telstra’s move to servicing the mining sector is not brand new – Telstra has always been able to provide connectivity up to the mine gate for producers,” McGill said.
“But through the acquisition of CBO we’re now able to deliver infrastructure services into the pit environment. These can be fixed infrastructures for long term instalments – like towers – as well as more dynamic installations, that are suited to the dynamic nature of the mining pit.”
The business can also provide trailers and skips.
“It’s also about being able to provide the Telstra LANES product which offers access to a dedicated radio frequency spectrum for enterprise customers in the mining space,” McGill said.
As bandwidth demands grow Telstra LANES gives operators the ability to consistently maintain connectivity across the whole site, and between machines, vehicles and sensors.
Innovation, automation and communication
When it comes to communication technologies helping boost automation on site, McGill said it was up to the companies to choose the level of autonomy they prefer.
“When you look at mechanisation and autonomy they’re sort of a gradual state of play and one doesn’t always have to resolve and decide to full autonomy on the site,” she said.
“We work with a range of customers that have decided at which particular point on the path to automation they are willing to work with; some of the technologies work quite well with traditional wired communication or radio techniques [and] that’s the service and solution set the Telstra Mining Services offers.
“We’re not going to force every customer to the same end point. We are able to provide sustainable solutions that will ensure producers can produce their product efficiently, as well as safely, and be able to provide the correct communication platform to enable their business to succeed.”
McGill said the business conducted a strategic dialogue with customers to identify the best solution for their site.
“The technology will always match the problem, so the real question is ‘What problem is it that producers are needing to solve and how can communications support that problem solving?’,” McGill said.
“One of the problems in the global mining sector has been around efficiency, production and the actual figures that are coming out so one of the solutions to that is the scale that is created through autonomy.
“There’s been a lot of work that has been done on a range of fleet to be able to derive full or partial autonomy, as well as full or partial mechanisation – but full autonomy requires high bandwidth networks.”
McGill said the business is able to substitute land based communications techniques like wireless 3G and 4G and, in future, 5G technologies.
“I do see a transition to more wireless techniques and being able to take the 4G LTE and longer term the 5G technologies into more production intensive environments, however that’s not to say the wired or the radio techniques will lose relevance,” she said.
McGill added that it was about providing a holistic set of solutions to allow mining companies to mine efficiently and increase production.
Women standing tall
During her time in the mining industry McGill has received several accolades, including recognition as one of the Top 100 global women in mining for 2016.
With the greater push toward gender diversity in the mining industry, McGill highlighted her support for women entering the sector.
She emphasised that it was about providing equal opportunities for everybody.
“I always say that the mining sector isn’t necessarily suited to everybody. I know that there’s even a lot of guys who don’t want to deal with the peculiarities of the mining environment.
“But it boils down to choice. Before, women were never given the choice to work in the mining sector and so that’s really what I try and support.”
This follows in parallel with BHP’s goal of having half its workforce women by 2025. The company’s current workforce is currently comprised of only 17 per cent women.
“It’s about being able to provide everybody the choice of being able to take part in the exciting sector that is mining, a sector that has really supported my career and I have been able to give back to it over the past 20 years, and I do support related employer initiatives,” McGill said.
“We organisations do want to look at the composition of the workforce from a gender diversity perspective but for me, the fundamental driver is about everybody being able to have access to the fundamental choice and that choice would be to be able to be engaged in the global mining sector.”
A look ahead
Telstra Mining Services is on track for more growth over the coming years as communications technologies continue to evolve.
“I’ve seen that the communication around the need for technology and the need for minesite communication technology has really matured,” McGill said.
“People are understanding that with the drive toward mechanisation and with the drive for automation this is going to make the requirement for minesite communication very different.
“So the gravitas that Telstra Mining Services has been able to have in the marketplace for a very short space of time has been one of which we have been able to advance the company’s conversation and provide leadership and guidance around the key strategic opportunities that exist for them.”
With the ongoing need communications technologies on site, it seems the only way for Telstra Mining Services to go is up.