The Rogers Technology Centre of Excellence Supports NORCAT’s Objective to Reduce Miners’ Digital Anxieties

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By Michael Larner | 1Q 2023 | IN-6819

Many manufacturing firms have innovation centers taking responsibility for testing technology solutions prior to introduction on the production line. Miners don’t have such a facility and won’t risk trialing or deploying technologies that, in their minds, are unproven. Technology suppliers want the opportunity to provide proof points. NORCAT bridges the gap by enabling both parties to test solutions at its underground mine. NORCAT announced a partnership with Rogers Communications to install a 5G network at the organization’s underground Technology Centre of Excellence. The hazardous operating environments and large areas covered by open cast mines and underground are a good fit for the coverage, low latency, and high bandwidth afforded by a 5G network. The network implemented by Rogers Communications at NORCAT’s Technology Centre of Excellence can alleviate stakeholders’ concerns.

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NORCAT's Underground Centre Acts as a Broker of Innovation between Buyers and Builders of Technology


NORCAT is a nonprofit incorporated company based in Sudbury, Ontario. As an international leader in skilled labor training and development, one of NORCAT’s aspirational goals is to serve as the global “one-stop shop” for all that is the future of mining technology. To deliver on this mandate, NORCAT established the NORCAT Underground Centre, an underground mine designed to enable startups, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and multinational companies to develop, test, and demonstrate emerging technologies that look to improve safety, productivity, and efficiency in the global mining industry.

In October 2022, NORCAT and Rogers Communications announced a 5-year strategic partnership to accelerate technology adoption in the global mining industry. Through this collaboration, Rogers will establish the Rogers Technology Centre of Excellence at the NORCAT Underground Centre, harnessing the power of Rogers 5G through a dedicated wireless private network, delivering enhanced coverage, ultra-low latency, and critical connectivity to the area and enabling clients using the NORCAT Underground Centre to develop, test, and demonstrate scalable technologies.

As a broker of innovation between the “buyers” (mining companies) and “builders” (technology companies) of technology, NORCAT acts as an important intermediary in the procurement process, providing both parties with the confidence that the solutions can work in a real product-scale mining environment and reduce the time to value for mining firms’ investments.

The Wireless Network Can Support a Wide Range of Use Cases


It is anticipated that the Rogers Technology Centre of Excellence at the NORCAT Underground Centre will support tele-remote and autonomous operations, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), asset tracking, and drone mapping use cases, among others. Companies that have already used the NORCAT Underground Centre to develop, test, and demonstrate emerging technologies include the following:

  • Atlas Copco demonstrated its remote frequency identification system, enabling mining staff on the surface to track and locate colleagues, vehicles, equipment, and anything else moving underground.
  • Ontario-based startup RockMass enables engineers and geologists to collect and process geological measurements, displaying the data in Three-Dimensional (3D) form.
  • Provectus Robotics used the underground facility to install, test, and demonstrate its autonomous control systems.

Rogers will need to add a new 5G cell site, uplift an existing cell tower on its public network, and install a dedicated wireless private network to deliver 5G coverage to the NORCAT site. The company already provides a private 5G network on behalf of Kirkland Lake Gold, also in Ontario. The open pit mine covers some 80 square kilometers and the network supports telepresence, remote operations, and robotics use cases.

In addition to the “active laboratory” capabilities of the NORCAT Underground Centre, NORCAT also designs, develops, and deploys training and development programs to upskill workers in mining, among other skilled labor industries, using the Underground Centre for hands-on, practical learning. By enabling mining firms to “see and touch” the technology and improve skills in the industries, NORCAT can position itself as an innovation hub. Rogers Communications is also helping the local community in Sudbury and the surrounding area by providing 5G connectivity to the region via a new 5G site and the upgrade of an existing cellular tower.

Delivering Benefits to a Broad Range of Stakeholders


Mines are one of the most hazardous working environments and firms are not going to implement new technologies unless they are sure they perform as envisioned. Mining company executives focused on production, safety, and operations have to qualify emerging technologies well before considering whether to procure, adopt, and deploy the solution in their operations. Concurrently, technology suppliers are faced with a conundrum—how to prove their products work as they should in a real mine environment. The NORCAT Underground Centre aims to act as a catalyst to move this process forward.

The mining industry is proving to be good fit for private cellular networks; particularly due to the network’s reliability, wide geographic coverage, low latency, and ability to support high bandwidth applications. Work has already begun in the sector by companies like Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia, as was discussed in ABI Research’s Digital Transformation in the Mining Industry report (AN-5424).

While suppliers are developing ambitious solutions that require the fastest possible network connectivity and demonstrating them at the Centre of Excellence, they need to remember that not all mines are at such an advanced stage with regard to network connectivity.