Private LTE has another solid use case to use as it tries to convince industrial customers that it is a viable platform on which to transform business operations. The latest example comes from Nokia and Telefonica Peru, who partnered to provide Minera Las Bambas with a network aimed at boosting productivity and improve worker safety.
With Telefonica, Nokia is at least keeping the MNOs sweet. The next evolution of these industrial-type customers could cut the MNOs out entirely, by making use of unlicensed spectrum for LTE or 5G networks. Many of these deployments are located sufficiently far away from civilization to alleviate concerns about interference and noise, and the likes of Nokia could aggressively target such customers if their core business growth slows down.
Further to this, the MNOs don’t really have much to offer these sorts of customers. Mines, factories, or manufacturing facilities are usually underserved by the public wireless networks, and even if they were not, most of these customers would be reluctant to run these sorts of mission-critical applications on a public network. So, spectrum availability seems to be the deciding factor in these evaluations, and if there’s enough unlicensed spectrum available, private networks will have legs.
“This private LTE network will allow the Las Bambas mine to increase productivity and automation and, in doing so, embrace the Fourth Industrial revolution. Nokia has a wealth of experience providing such mission-critical, industry-revolutionizing networks, and we’re proud to partner with Telefónica Peru in bringing these capabilities to Peru for the first time,” said Osvaldo Di Campli, Head of Latin America for Nokia.
The mine itself is the ninth largest copper mine in the world, located in Apurimac, Peru, at an elevation of 4,600 meters. The plan is to use the new network to migrate old services, currently using TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) and to enable new digitalization and automation projects. New worker safety systems will use LTE, and Nokia says that as it evolves towards 5G, the network will provide push-to-talk radio functions, as well as push-to-video.
The project has a five-year support window, and Nokia and Telefonica Peru will be providing technical support and training for Minera Las Bambas. Nokia is deploying its LTE Radio Access Network system, but the announcement is quite vague on what Telefonica Peru is bringing to the table, besides the spectrum.
This isn’t Nokia’s first foray into mining. It has partnerships with Komatsu and Sandvik to provide certified automation systems for the industry, with Komatsu using private LTE to configure autonomous hauling machines, and Sandvik using Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud (NDAC) to develop new automated systems for use in its underground and open pit mines.
Nor is this Nokia’s first such expansion in Latin America. It recently announced a partnership with ConectarAGRO, an industry group in Brazil that is looking to bring IoT technologies to the agriculture market. The group consists of local MNO TIM, likely Nokia’s main partner here, as well as major agribusiness vendors; AGCO, Bayer, CNH Industrial, Jacto, Solinftec, and Trimble.
Currently, Nokia claims to have deployed private LTE networks for over 80 large enterprise customers globally, demonstrating its enthusiasm for such projects. Some of the largest customers in this sector will be equivalent to national MNO deals, and so Nokia has a clear motivation to tap them for lucrative infrastructure and support contracts.
Of course, Nokia has rivals in the sector. Arch-nemesis Ericsson has similar ambitions, and of course Huawei can never be discounted despite the ongoing US-China tensions. Ericsson and Telstra also announced a mining deal, with South32 in Perth, Australia, to deploy ‘one of the largest underground mining LTE networks in the world.’ Separately, Telstra has a private LTE deal in Papua New Guinea, with the Newcrest gold mine, and Ericsson has a private LTE deal with Ambra Solutions, a systems integrator in Canada that is targeting mining.
The existing systems integrators and equipment suppliers will also see their toes being stepped on, as Nokia expands, and as long as the spectrum being used remains unlicensed, that community doesn’t have to go near the MNOs or their chief infrastructure providers at all. Private LTE, of course, requires the appropriate usage licenses, which many in that community will view with hostility.
The Nokia for Industries wing says that it has deployed over 1,000 mission-critical networks across transport, energy, large enterprise, manufacturing, web-scale and public sector segments. To this end, the private LTE networks account for just 8% of these deployments.
“We’re working closely with Minera Las Bambas to provide an end-to-end connectivity solution for their operation that allows them to focus on their core business, while we care for the connectivity,” said Dennis Fernández, B2B VP at Telefónica Peru.
“This is an important milestone for Minera Las Bambas as it will enable a series of new automation technology solutions increasing productivity in our mining operation as well as supporting more advanced automation to improve worker safety,” said Miguel Canz, Regional Technology Manager at Minera Las Bambas.