In northeastern Ontario, the Detour Lake gold mine can is set to benefit from new technologies like remote drilling and autonomous trucks, all thanks to a 5G private network implemented last year in partnership with Rogers.
“It’s an enabling tool to allow us to have real-time tracking and deploy more IoT [Internet of Things] sensors and devices, and really take advantage of some of the accelerating technologies,” said Raymond Yip, vice-president of digital transformation at Agnico Eagle Mines Limited.
Mr. Yip was one of the expert panelists at The Globe and Mail’s “Expanding Wireless Private Networks” webcast on Sept. 14, 2023. Such networks are localized and customized solutions for broadband connectivity; as a stand-alone network, they have the capacity, security and flexibility to support a single enterprise in their digital transformation and use of technologies.
The panelists shared their views on what opportunities wireless private networks provide, and how different industries are leveraging 5G to improve day-to-day operations and capabilities.
At the remote location of Detour Lake, 5G is supporting faster connectivity for devices, a more secure network and a safer work environment.
“We’re not fully utilizing the 5G network today, but wanted to make sure we put in a network robust and scalable enough that it could support the growth of that operation,” said Mr. Yip. “If we look at the next generation of miners, they may not necessarily need to live in those rural areas. We could have people drive trucks and operate heavy equipment remotely from Toronto or Montreal.”
5G private networks have changed the way companies like Agnico Eagle operate and think about the future of the company and their employees.
Panellists talked about how various sectors have already been experimenting with 5G technology, and how Canada’s vast geography, along with the business requirements for wireless, are making private networks a sound investment for many.
In manufacturing, natural resource extraction and transportation, 5G private networks can solve deep-rooted challenges like safety and reliability, by allowing people to be the overseers not the doers.
That can be especially valuable for certain jobs, says Robin Kaushik, vice-president of cloud & enterprise at Ericsson Canada. He introduced a manufacturing concept called “3-D,” a way of identifying opportunities for improvement. “If a job is dirty, dull or dangerous, that becomes a unique proposition for a 5G or a private network to solve,” he said.
By using machines, sensors or other technology, many tasks can be done out of harm’s way, freeing personnel to attend to more productive, creative duties, said Mr. Kaushik. “Instead of doing the job, they can start monitoring the job.”
It can be difficult for companies to transform legacy systems without first assessing their current and future requirements, and discovering where and how a 5G private network may increase productivity and safety. The issues can range from cybersecurity to the use cases for mission-critical vs. non-critical functions, said Eric L’Heureux, founder and chief executive officer of Ambra Solutions Inc., which is bringing 5G solutions to companies in Canada.
The cost to enter the space will vary depending on the size and infrastructure needs of the business. A higher volume of devices on the network can lower the cost. And running a network isn’t as complicated as industry leaders may suspect. Once it’s in place, “it’s the devices that require management,” said Mr. L’Heureux.
He added that 5G isn’t going anywhere, so those making the investment now can rest assured that they have years of reliable infrastructure at work ahead. The return on investment for a company investing in a private 5G network is sector- and business-dependent, according to the panelists. Such investments could be viewed as part of a future-proofing plan, making those that adopt the technology more competitive.
“All of these industry 4.0 tools that we talked about for years, like AR [augmented reality], VR [virtual reality], machine learning and video monitoring are only better with this type of network,” said Stephanie Holko, director of project development at the non-profit Next Generation Manufacturing Canada. “Failing to invest in 5G could lead to a competitive disadvantage as your rivals adopt it.”