With the South African government trying to lay groundwork in preparing the country for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), another company has begun with introducing much-needed technology for its employees.

Said company is Anglo-American which announced earlier this week that it has introduced its second underground WiFi setup, which is said to improve working conditions for hundreds of its underground miners in Mpumalanga, Goedehoop Colliery coal mining operations. The WiFi will enable two-way communications between miners working underground and staff on the surface, the company says.

According to Anglo-American, Zibulo Colliery was the first South African mine to introduce this technology in 2016, with Goedehoop Colliery becoming the second operation to introduce the safe wireless communication infrastructure and smartphones at its 4 million tonne per annum Simunye Shaft.

“We’re working in an environment where safety and productivity are paramount. The introduction of underground WiFi is a game-changer. It allows our miners to communicate more easily, thereby making mines more productive. The main benefit is that breakdowns can be reported and resolved faster, in some cases, by contacting equipment manufactures on the spot,” said Anglo-American’s, Edgar Simfukwe.

Furthermore Anglo-American states that traditionally coal mines used fixed underground telephones which frequently required a long walk or drive to reach and required employees to often return to the surface to get a message to a college, report a problem or access critical information.

“Up to 750 people work in an area of 20 square kilometers, so it’s important that we know where each of them are if an underground emergency occurs. Should an evacuation occur, we are able to determine from the control room whether anyone has been left behind, exactly who they are and their last known location,” added Simfukwe.

The mining company adds that with the new WiFi and smartphones, miners can communicate instantly via voice calls or text messages to and from the surface, and from one underground section to another. Explaining that apart from resolving communication challenges, the WiFi network also tracks key equipment through communication tags.

“Installing WiFi underground is significantly more difficult than above ground. There are no cell phone towers underground, and signals are weakened and distorted by uneven surfaces, earthen walls and other obstacles in tunnels of different sizes. However the benefits rapidly repay the initial R10 million investment, concluded Simfukwe.