Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Underground Wi-Fi

Cities may wait, but mines are getting full wireless broadband coverage.

For most of us, it’s remarkable enough to access the Internet from a plane 10,000 meters in the air. But when Swedish process-control engineer Ulf Olsson does that – as he did recently while flying over Arizona – he’s also monitoring an iron-ore drill 1,000 meters below the earth’s surface in northern Sweden, thanks to underground Wi-Fi.

While cities like Philadelphia wait for citywide Wi-Fi networks to come on line, the world’s iron, coal, and copper mines are getting fat wireless broadband pipes. By early next year, the mine in Kiruna, Sweden – 150 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle – will complete its installation of Wi-Fi-linked drills. A German mining company, Deutsche Steinkohle, is installing several hundred Wi-Fi hot spots in its coal mines. So is a copper mine in Chile called El Teniente, which claims to be the world’s largest.

Miners aren’t blogging from the tunnels – yet. In Kiruna, information from drills and trucks – such as their positions and the weight of their loads – is relayed via wireless base stations to a computer in a control room above ground. (Weight is an important datum; it tells the operator how good the ore is. The heavier the better.) With Wi-Fi networks, fewer miners have to face the risks of working underground – and those who do have a more durable link to the outside.

This story is part of our March/April 2006 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

LKAB, the company that operates the Kiruna mine, has experimented with wireless networks before, but Wi-Fi offers cheap standardized components and is the newest tool for boosting mine safety and productivity, says Christoph Mueller, president of Embigence, an automation company in Ladbergen, Germany. “Mine companies can’t build bigger machines. Now productivity growth has to come from optimization,” he says. With Wi-Fi, he says, mining companies gain cheap real-time information – and workers stay safe.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.