Worker welfare and safety a top focus for Vocus

Project Horizon will be the single largest infrastructure project seen in Australia’s north west.

The specialist fibre and network solutions provider is expanding on its current infrastructure, which is creating increased demand for its services.

Vocus has revealed plans to upgrade and extend its existing network, including a 2000-kilometre network of new and existing fibre between Port Hedland and Perth via Newman, Meekatharra and Geraldton.

According to Vocus national lead for resources, mining and utilities Simon Head, the investment, named Project Horizon, will be the single largest infrastructure project seen in Australia’s north west since the completion of the company’s North-West Cable System.

“Project Horizon will complete the western ring in our national network and will connect Perth to Darwin via major resources operations hubs both terrestrially and offshore,” he says.

“The Horizon system will be designed with transmission capacity starting at 38 terabits per second per fibre pair, giving us a clear upgrade path to support much higher capacity as demand requires it.

“More and more we are seeing a heavy demand for our services as more bandwidth is required primarily to cope with the proliferation of data, which is now being generated by these organisations.

“It is the data which organisations are now able to leverage to make better decisions, and that is where they are seeing a lot more reward for their business.”

Vocus account director for natural resources Benedict Boylson says the company is also pursuing plans to connect its North West Cable System to its Australia Singapore Cable.

“We have got some significant investment in subsea fibre as well,” Boylson says.

This would create the first international connection from Darwin to Singapore, establishing a new international cable entry point to Australia.

“It would also provide another ring in our national fibre network, providing additional redundancy for both domestic and international carriage, including two low-latency paths to mining, oil and gas sites,” Boylson says.

Head says Vocus operates almost 30,000 kilometres of high-capacity terrestrial fibre between all mainland capitals and regional centres in Australia.

“This established, secure network can provide upwards of 50 times the capacity provisioned today and we are already upgrading our key inter-capital direct routes,” he says.

“As technology improves, we expect to be able to expand beyond this. Our network is connected to 150 data centres, making Vocus among the most connected fibre operators in Australia.”

Boylson says worker welfare in terms of connectivity with family while on site is a major focus for the company.

“Providing fly-in, fly-out workers with a home away from home in terms of being able to stream video, FaceTime with family has become a strong focus for mining operations,” Boylson says.

“We are a big player in connectivity in terms of welfare which is really satisfying from my point of view. It is about getting the families of workers involved with aspects of mining and in many cases, it is the workers only opportunity to be able to connect with those at home.

“It is important they have the same level of connectivity as they have at home, which keeps people connected.

“It is a highly competitive workforce so people are making decisions about where they work based on their roster, which would be number one priority; food is probably number two and number three would be around connectivity and entertainment.

“If you don’t have good connectivity then workers will move to other sites.”

Head says the current drive for mining companies to move to remote operations had driven high demand for Vocus’ services.

“Fibre connectivity has allowed the implementation of automation of on-site tasks to relocate workers from project sites to the office or remote operations centres,” he says.

“The industry is also looking to meet ESG (environment, social and governance) obligations and implementing ways to make positive changes that are safer, more efficient and more sustainable.

“Increased use of automation and AI to reduce mining footprints and the impact on the environment have increased the need for integrated solutions. 

“Companies are also looking to cater for the skill-set requirements and the mental health and wellbeing of workers in a changing, technology-focussed environment on and off the site.”

Boylson says the company’s infrastructure has the potential to benefit remote communities in the north west.

“When you build a fibre asset, you can use technology to provide connectivity off that fibre backhaul to regional and remote communities easily and affordably,” he says.

“Our infrastructure is also servicing backhaul for the space industry through new ground station technology in the exciting LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite arena.

“We are currently seeing the benefits of satellite connectivity to remote locations where fibre still doesn’t reach. As the demands for bandwidth continue to increase, satellite technology is evolving to bring higher speeds with a real reduction in latency.”  

 

This article appeared in the July edition of Australian Mining.

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