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Digital Goes Deep: Agnico Eagle Launches World’s First Private Underground Cellular Network

August 01, 2018

Cellular technology is making our lives easier. From mobile smartphones and smartwatches to real-time video chats and self-driving cars, it is breaking new ground every day and showing huge potential for tomorrow.

But is it possible to harness the power of this technology underground at the deepest mine in all of the Americas? Through 3 kilometres of rock and thick walls, and around a web of ramps, corridors and working levels that are teeming with traffic and mining activities?

That was the challenge facing Agnico Eagle when we began developing a new mine area, known as Zone 5, near the surface of our massive LaRonde gold mine. After a successful pilot of the latest in LTE (long-term evolution)-4G technology – specifically adapted to withstand the hard conditions often encountered underground – Agnico Eagle has become the first company in the world to install LTE-4G in an underground operating mine.

And just like home or home office, miners are using this digital cellular technology to conduct real-time chats with their fellow employees, remotely operate machines and monitor workspaces, and to explore new opportunities to mine more gold.

Daniel Paré, Corporate Director, Northern Business Unit and former General Manager at LaRonde when the network was first tested says, “I think we are just scraping the surface of what this technology can do for us in the future but right now, it is paving the way for improved communication, better safety, more operational efficiency and the enhanced sustainability of our operations.” 

The benefits of installing a private LTE-4G network include:

  • Real-time communication throughout the mine allowing employees to exchange ideas, make decisions and react immediately wherever they are, instead of only once or twice a day during shift changes. With the use of tablets and mobile cameras, for example, a mining supervisor could discuss a problem and proposed solutions with the mine’s technical experts on surface.
  • A safer workplace thanks to the ability to better track and monitor people’s geolocation and contact them in emergency situations.
  • More efficient operations due to the improved ability to collect real-time data which is used to monitor and control different equipment from surface or automatically through programmed parameters — i.e. operating a scoop or drill from surface between shifts or in hard to reach areas.
  • More sustainable mining because with more efficient operations comes more economically viable opportunities to mine at deeper levels, extending mine life.

LaRonde will finish installing the LTE-4G technology at LaRonde by year-end 2018, which will require approximately 50 kilometres of wire to establish the private underground network (designed to prevent interference from other systems) at a cost of nearly $2 million – a figure that includes the purchase of the network and related software and hardware, along with 300 cellphones and licensing and installation fees. 

This innovative project has already won internal and external recognition. The LaRonde team – led by Alain Larose, Assistant Superintendent, Maintenance, Ghislain Couture, General Supervisor, Electrical and Sylvain Bernier, Electrical Technician – received an internal Agnico Eagle “Michel Letourneau” award, honouring teamwork and innovation in the workplace.  In May, the project also won the International Critical Communications Award (ICCA) for 2018 as the Outstanding Single Site Critical Communications Installation. The ICCA celebrates those who push the boundaries of technological innovation in mission critical communications.