Safe communications underground

July 2010 IT infrastructure, Mining (Industry)

Becker Electronics, specialists in technology for the global mining sector, has launched a new Wi-Fi system which ensures reliable, safe and efficient communication underground. This system does not limit usage to a single technology, but encompasses migration and integration of many technologies.

The new Becker WRAP (wireless router access point) provides a high speed backbone for wireless VoIP, seamless roaming of devices, advanced vehicular dispatch systems, process automation, as well as any device which can utilise a wireless, serial or fibre backbone.

WRAP has a versatile design, which means a combination of communications backbones can be used to optimise the system. For example, fibre can be used for high data throughput. In working sections of a coal mine, where there is frenetic activity, a wireless mesh topology is recommended.

“Becker Electronics has made a substantial investment in researching and testing underground Wi-Fi systems to overcome the problems with conventional Wi-Fi systems in underground conditions,” says Albert Bower, managing director of Becker Electronics, part of the Becker Group of Companies. “A critical feature of this advanced system is its intrinsically safe design, which enables safe use in hazardous and harsh mining conditions underground. What is important about Becker’s systems – each of which can be customised to exact requirements - is that each product can be installed as a single standalone system, or can be deployed using a phased approach to minimise a huge initial capital outlay.”

WRAP is the primary component in creating the Becker Wi-Fi IS backbone. The internal layer 3 router contains the logic to route all network traffic to the correct interface card or to the correct fibre point. The route of network traffic is based on the rules configured into the router itself. Firewall rules can also be configured to control bandwidth usage of protocols, as well as to provide security to the network.

If suitable cable is used - UHF cable or cable of an equivalent standard - the signal will be distributed evenly along the length of the cable, overcoming multipath distortion. This results in excellent data speeds and throughput in underground installations.

This system incorporates on board tag readers, which reduces the equipment necessary in a full tagging and tracking solution.

WRAP supports various configuration implementations - ranging from traditional distributed antenna backbones, interconnected via a redundant fibre-optic loop - to mixed configurations of distributed and leaky feeder backbones, using redundant a WDS (wireless distribution system) and redundant fibre-optic loops. The unit incorporates an additional fibre-optic port for teeing off the main backbone used for connecting to a switch. Each unit also includes an RS485 bus to communicate with any industrial serial device, such as multiple Becker UATRs (UHF active tag readers) for tagging and tracking implementations.

An important feature of Becker’s technology is each system is designed to facilitate future upgrades. These advancements are usually applied in the form of a software update. Hardware upgrades are implemented on an exchange programme basis. WRAP, which is locally designed and manufactured, is currently being used at the Illwara Coal Mine in Australia and has also passed stringent testing on various mines in the USA, Russia, Poland, Germany and in South Africa.

Systems from Becker Electronics include near and far field collision avoidance, leaky feeder systems, Wi-Fi, underground tracking of personnel and vehicles, fibre-optic and digital radio networks, belt rip detection for overland conveyors and SCADA and Ethernet networks.

For further information contact Mr Albert Bower, Becker Electronics, +27 (0)11 801 5900,,

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