In Gällivare, Sweden, about 100 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, Europe’s largest open-pit mine rumbles with some of the biggest machines in the world. Standing at the edge of the Aitik copper mine, surveying the igneous strata 450 metres deep, the immense scale of Swedish multinational Boliden’s operation is breathtaking. Around the clock, rock dumpers weighing 570 tonnes fully loaded roll on four-metre-high wheels. In 2022, some 43,000 kilo tonnes of ore were processed here.

Look a little closer and the mine is even more impressive. Drill rigs 30 metres tall run autonomously, moving along predefined paths from one drill hole to the next. Cameras also enable remote operation by a controller safely seated indoors at a nearby terminal. The automation has increased operating hours by 40%, to 7,000 hours from 5,000 hours per year, and increased the frequency of blasts without needing to invest in more equipment or hire more staff, making Aitik the world’s most efficient open-pit copper mine.

The greatest feat of all, however, is what makes all of this automation possible: a secure dedicated 5G wireless network. Private Wireless Networks allow companies – particularly in the mining, oil and gas, railway and ports, and steel and manufacturing sectors, to adopt new forms of automation and connect Internet of Things technologies in secure and efficient ways.

According to Straits Research, the global private 5G network market size is expected to top $28 billion by 2030 up from $1.3 billion in 2021. Private Wireless Networks will allow more companies like Boliden to set up shop in remote locations and others to develop high-speed automated operations without having to use the same cell networks or Wi-Fi as everyone else.

“Private Wireless Networks allow machines to talk to each other, or machines and people to work symbiotically,” says Siham Himer, Account CTO, Major Accounts, Ericsson Canada,, a leader in Private Wireless Networks. “Unlike Wifi, 5G networks offer high throughput and low latency, and they’re deployed in very tricky locations, and areas that need consistent wireless broadband connectivity to drive productivity or to ensure worker safety 24/7.

A company’s own cell network

Private Wireless Networks offer greater stability, security and range compared to generic and less expensive Wi-Fi hotspots. Instead, Private wireless networks are based on the same cellular-based technology standards as consumer smartphones – LTE and increasingly 5G – but transmit data on a dedicated slice of wireless spectrum separate from public cell service.

In the United States, the market for private networks expanded rapidly in 2020 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned off Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. In Canada, however, CBRS is not available,  Wireless Private Networks (WPNs), are currently deployed through one of the Canadian mobile communications carriers that own spectrum.

To date, Private Wireless Networks have largely been based on the 4G LTE cellular standard, but with the 5G market expected to top $35.6 billion (U.S.) by 2029 according to Maximize Market Research, these networks could become the norm in industries that need secure and fast communications.

Increasingly, companies – including in healthcare and education – need ultra-low-latency networks. For instance, more factories are transitioning to so-called Industry 4.0 automation technologies, which use sensors at every step of the production process to monitor and control equipment in real time, notes Himer.

The tools needed for real-time data exchange between these sensors require highly stable latency that’s not possible with Wi-Fi.

“If a machine doesn’t get a digital signal acknowledgment in an extremely narrow time frame, it stops  processing,” explains Himer. “People’s safety or an entire production line is at stake.. 5G Private Wireless Networks offer that kind of dependable reliable network with very low jitter.”

Digital productivity

Digital transformation efforts are also driving adoption for Private Wireless Networks. “There is a push for more productivity,” says Himer, “and this leads to industrial digitization, not to eliminate workers but to reduce or ease the load on them, and identify risks that are not easily detected. 5G networks are changing the way companies are operating around the world.

Some industries, like mining, find it increasingly difficult to hire qualified workers as it is. Connected automation presents an opportunity to train potential workers in harsh conditions using virtual and augmented reality. “Not as many people in younger generations seek these jobs,” notes Himer. “5G enables mining effectively and efficiently ensuing the workers they have are safe ­– and properly trained. The same is true for other industries such as oil and gas, manufacturing, ports and so on.”

Ericsson has worked with several Canadian mining companies, in addition to those in other sectors, providing cellular technology for private broadband networks that connect to sensors in underground and open-pit mines. A 5G network needs to operate well above ground, and below ground to ensure that not only are poisonous gases more efficiently ventilated through automation, but outfitting workers with sensors also ensures they can be readily located at any moment.

As companies like Sweden’s Boliden push forward with new high-tech ways to gain efficiency, Canadian companies must keep up to remain competitive on the global stage. One thing is certain: 5Gnetworks are providing a valuable opportunity for companies to be ready.