With the advent of wireless telecommunications technology throughout the mining and resources industry, a niche market has emerged for businesses with the skills and agility to respond to customer needs.
Fast paced and constantly changing, the sector has seen a significant rate of change and evolution during the past decade – and it is a space to which almost every other facet of the mining industry is linked.
More and more small businesses are partnering with big miners to uncover solutions and test new technology.
Australian Mining Review spoke with radio frequency technologist Doug Pukallus of Powertec about how this Queensland-based SME is breaking new ground in high-speed, high-performance wireless technologies.
Not so traditional
Powertec is a Queensland-based telecommunications company established in 1995.
The company comprises a team of 60 staff, and more than 40 national sub-contractors.
Also supported by a network of several hundred local distributors and dealers spanning Australia and New Zealand, Powertec specialises in the design and deployment of high performance wireless technologies.
“Unlike traditional IT players, Powertec is an RF-first entity which achieves its competitive advantage through comprehensive understanding of wireless technologies at the RF level,” Doug said.
“As a comparatively small entity, Powertec adopts a highly agile approach to its business, allowing us to proactively adapt to the rapid development of wireless technologies.”
Powertec has dedicated resources deployed to the exploration of emerging technologies – most notably, LTE-M, NB-IoT, 802.11ah/ay, Terragraph, and 5G NR.
“We are always looking at how these may deliver efficiencies and improve the business practices of our clients,” Doug said.
Historically a provider of commercial telecommunications systems, Powertec was first launched into the national spotlight following the launch of its mobile phone signal booster systems in 2014.
Called the Cel-Fi, Powertec’s boosters began a revolution in regional and in-building connectivity.
The company has since been involved in the project management of thousands of off-air repeater systems across the country, an often-essential component in the delivery of high-performance mobile communications inside modern energy efficient buildings.
“Strategic partnerships with mobile network operators and IoT providers coupled with its national network of field technicians allows Powertec to deliver truly turn-key telecommunications systems,” Doug said.
“Our company has a history spanning decades, so Powertec’s engineering success is built on a solid administrative foundation.
“We operate an industry-leading Enterprise Resource Planning suite, along with contractor management, CRM, and technical support ticketing systems. Powertec is ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and AS/NZS 4801 certified.”
General Mining Information
Powertec is most often engaged by the mining industry to resolve poor site mobile phone and wireless broadband services.
These engagements come courtesy of Powertec’s reputation as the primary distributor for Cel-Fi, Australia’s only legal 4G repeater.
Having worked intimately with the technology since its inception in 2014, Powertec has developed the unit into a number of integrated systems to suit the diverse range of client needs.
One of the key contributors to the success of Powertec’s wireless technology systems is the engineering sciences-based approach.
“Powertec employs leading GIS software to analyse the underlying challenges to site communications, assessing terrain, vegetation, building obstructions, and RF characteristics of base station antennas,” Doug said.
“Where one technology may be determined insufficient, Powertec employs a wide arsenal of wireless technologies to provide alternative connectivity solutions, assessing licenced microwave and millimetre-wave, multipoint wireless, industrial-grade WiFi, and a host of narrowband IoT systems.”
“We’re working hard to bring our portfolio of RF Components online to allow quick and easy web ordering,” Doug said.
“In addition to Powertec-branded components, we have partnered with industry leaders including Amphenol and CommScope, who hold a long legacy of trusted engineered components.”
High quality RF components seek to efficiently transfer signal from input to output ports which is indicated by low insertion loss and low VSWR across their stated operating frequency range.
Mechanically speaking, entry-grade components are manufactured from brass with a nickel or gold plating.
Those marked Low PIM are generally plated with a ternary alloy such as CuSnZn3 or Phosphor Bronze, which are more resistant to wear and corrosion and inhibit the generation of swarf.
Industrial, aerospace, and precision components on the other hand are typically manufactured from stainless steel with a passivated finish.
In the mobile-first era, one of the major challenges operating in remote regions is the availability of reliable mobile phone communications.
“Mine contractors often have a need to establish site offices and operate in areas for short periods,” Doug said.
“This often does not afford the ability to set up permanent communications systems and so a trailer-based system which could be towed on site and deployed within 30 minutes was designed.”
Powertec’s Cel-Fi trailer is fully remote manageable, once the mast and stabilisation outriggers have been deployed the system can be logged into remotely and antennas automatically aligned to the Telstra 4G base station, reducing the need for technicians to be on site.
Trailer-based systems are capable of providing reliable Telstra 4G coverage within a 200m to 400m arc (and beyond depending on input signal strength).
The systems can be expanded with an optional industrial WiFi access point or point-to-point wireless bridge to operate as a unified communications platform.
Cel-Fi trailers can also be used to provide in-pit mobile phone services.
Trailers can be deployed quickly on a highwall position and have the service antenna aiming down into the pit.
Not only can this provide handheld mobile coverage for several hundred metres; beyond this range secondary repeaters can be installed in plant and machinery to provide boosted mobile coverage inside and immediately surrounding each haul truck, excavator, dozer, or light vehicle.
Off-Air Repeater Systems
One of the most significant challenges facing both surface and underground mining operations is the provision of consistent mobile phone coverage throughout facilities of various sizes.
The Mobile Network Operator is often unable to accommodate the requirements of small to medium sized facilities where the installation of a dedicated base station is simply uneconomical.
In such cases Powertec is often engaged to build an Off-Air Repeater System which is a highly cost-effective solution for medium-sized facilities.
This type of system uses as series of donor antennas to obtain a solid input signal from the macro network, which is boosted through a series of repeaters, and output through a number of strategically positioned service antennas.
The technology is similar to a distributed antenna system (DAS), without the often, astronomical price tag.
“This type of system can be designed with considerable flexibility, catering for sites of just about any configuration and layout,” Doug said.
“Providing mobile coverage inside mine camp accommodation, often troublesome due to the large number of independent demountable structures, can be cost effectively achieved through a distributed network of antennas.
“Likewise, the coverage needs of large metal structures such as CHPP, MIA buildings, and processing plants can be met with appropriately designed off-air repeater systems.”
Whether a client is looking to develop complete turn-key systems, boost signal, develop a bespoke VoIP network or enhance wireless networks, Powertec has developed a reputation for its commitment to working closely with clients to find complete and cost-effective solutions.
By employing agile project delivery principles, in tandem with old fashioned customer-focused business principles, the organisation has developed a model of service that has seen it emerge as one of the leading wireless network solution providers in the mining and resources sector.
“Whether we are undertaking a job to establish connectivity for a project, site mobile phone networks, comms inside mining pits or setting up new site offices – we have a robust and reliable mechanisms which enable us to complete detailed monitoring,” Doug said.
“We work with customers to understand the needs and challenges, and then deliver a network which is of a high quality, with a very high level of connectivity.
“It has to be extremely reliable; we are talking about mission critical connectivity – in both underground and open cut environments.”
Powertec customers know what they can count on and know there is a broad range of solutions which can be adapted and deployed to meet specific needs.
“We have clients come to us with unusual and niche problems and we then look to the development of the solution,” Doug said.
Powertec Wireless Technology
P (07) 5577 0500