Like most things, through continual use over time, microwave links can also suffer the effects of general wear and tear, even more so if contained within a mine setting. If your microwave links are more than six years old, then they might be in need of a health check to keep them operating optimally for years to come.
MICROWAVE LINKS: AN OVERVIEW
Microwave links have been playing an essential role in the modern mining industry for many decades. As the backbone of the mine site’s local area network, the commonly used link types are:
- Point to Point; or
- Point to Multipoint
Microwave links are widely known to offer a more flexible and cost-efficient option for data communication between buildings and sub-sites within mine site operations compared to fibre optic cable and fixed line connection.
Distance of the microwave link is a key factor for performance, with the maximum microwave link distance being determined by several factors including:
- transmit power
- receive sensitivity
- signal frequency/wavelength
- interference from other radio waves in the surrounding environment
- link propagation conditions
COMMON ISSUES AFTER YEARS OF USE
After several years in operation, issues can arise for microwave links operated within a mining environment, such as:
- Link can become unstable
- Reduced data transmission throughput
- Unplanned link outage
Generally, these types of problems can be addressed without significant disruption. However, periodic preventative maintenance will keep the microwave links fit for the task at hand and prevent them from becoming problematic and costly to fix.
LIKELY CAUSES FOR UNPLANNED OUTAGES
There are many reasons causing the equipment to malfunction or failing to perform to capacity, including:
- The equipment’s firmware not being upgraded to fix or resolve bugs which may cause unexpected issues.
- The mining infrastructure has changed eg new waste dumps, increased plant for additional production which can result in obstruction to the link causing degradation in performance.
- Egress of moisture causing corrosion to connectors etc which may result in unexpected link failures.
- Depending on the frequency of the microwave link, climatic conditions, such as an extreme weather event, can also be a factor that affects the receive signal strength and link performance.
- Faulty or ageing lighting protection and earthing can increase the risk of damage and shorten the service life.
- During the life of the mine, the bandwidth throughput usage demand may increase, and it push the limits of the link capacity, causing longer latency and random packet drop over the link, affecting the service.
- The introduction a new RF source in the area of operation may cause interference with the existing microwave links which could lead to degradation or even prevent the system from functioning at all.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR MICROWAVE LINKS IN GOOD HEALTH
Keeping your microwave links in optimal health need not be a costly exercise. Today, there are several solutions and simple audits that can report and evaluate the equipment’s condition and its performance.
Titan ICT recommends that ageing equipment be checked periodically depending on the operational environment, and these checks can include:
- Review and upgrade the equipment’s firmware so it is running on the latest version.
- Audit the switch port configuration at both ends of the link to ensure compatibility with the microwave link setting.
- Undertake a site survey to confirm there is a clear Line-of-Sight for the link.
- Check the connectors (especially outdoor) from the network device port through to the antenna to ensure the waterproof tapes are intact.
- Check the earthing connections to ensure compliance with the relevant earthing standard.
- RF survey to investigate for any new RF interference source(s) nearby.
- Network monitoring to confirm the receiver level, transmitter power, bandwidth usage etc which will provide an early indication of preventative maintenance.
By including audits of your microwave links as part of your maintenance program will highlight any potential issues before they become problematic therefore avoiding unplanned outages and keeping your end-user experience in tip-top shape.