By Stephen Farrugia, Chief Technology Officer, BAI Communications Australia
In rural and remote areas, reliable connectivity is essential. For too long, however, farmers and locals have often missed out on traditional telecommunication services which can’t reach them because of a range of economic and logistical reasons.
These farming communities are experiencing the same digitalization of life that urban populations are going through and, increasingly, they rely on telecommunications for their day-to-day lives and businesses. There are also enormous opportunities to improve efficiencies and profitability through new agtech, farmtech, IoT and smart machinery innovations, but it all comes back to reliable connectivity.
To achieve this, the reach of existing networks needs to be extended so that people outside of major urban areas can have better internet and mobile connectivity throughout their properties. Whether it’s for everyday communications or smart farm innovation, reliable connectivity at home and out in the paddock is essential.
The promise of smart farm tools
A range of innovative software and hardware tools are helping farms to become more efficient, sustainable and profitable. However, most of these devices require connectivity to operate. To realize full adoption of these technologies across the agricultural industry, coverage issues need to be solved.
For example, the new wave of smart sensor-enabled farm equipment promises intelligence on what needs to be fixed and when. Tractors, farm equipment and machinery produced by large manufacturers like John Deere, New Holland and others are already supporting remote access for technicians and early alert diagnostics. Instead of the farmer sitting in the paddock trying to figure out what’s happening with a malfunctioning machine, manufacturers can pre-empt maintenance and provide guidance directly to the farmer’s device. In the long term, this will significantly improve the uptime of tractors and other machinery.
In managing livestock such as cattle and sheep, farmers can utilize electronic identification through connected livestock tags that can collect important information on stock that is available for analysis.
It is also vital for farmers and those who live and work in rural areas to utilize technology to address sustainability challenges. Rural citizens are often on the front line of drought, bushfires, floods and animal plagues. Using connected technologies can help manage the use of precious resources such as water, help monitor local conditions remotely, and underpin reliable communication in emergency situations. With all these innovations, connectivity is key, and the technology needs to be optimized for the bush. Equipment often needs to be managed and deployed remotely, without in-person oversight or management from qualified technicians or engineers.
Connectivity brings the smart farm to life
Connectivity on farms promises improved efficiency and productivity, not to mention safety. In remote locations, something as fundamental as making a phone call is a critical service, whether it’s finding help or just getting information in a timely manner.
Connected devices and equipment with sensors can record reams of data, but the information needs intelligent processing and presentation, to be used in the most effective way. Without the ability to run smart applications, it’s not possible to generate the data-driven, actionable insights that farmers need to improve their processes.
Smart applications have evolved enormously over the past few years. Bringing a deeper level of intelligence through analysis, along with recommendations and predictions. They have also been able to process a range of contextual data, including location and device-specific information, to generate richer, more specific insights.
On the farm, smart applications can be customized to harness data for actionable insights, whether its predictive maintenance of farm equipment, notification and escalation of faulty equipment, or situational monitoring for resource consumption analysis and location conditions.
The concept of the smart paddock is a promising innovation which, in rural Australia, requires holistic connectivity. Having multipurpose and interoperable networks is the critical underpinning of the rural economic powerhouse of the country.
This requires not just connected devices, but the connectivity layer on which everything runs. Here it’s vital to have a highly available communications network, whether that’s a mobile radio, fixed or Wi-Fi network. To overcome the dual challenges of distance and investment, shared infrastructure providers like BAI Communications can play an important role in network deployment. Taking a neutral host approach to connecting multiple different networks and individual MNOs; ensuring that the dream of smart farming can be achieved with fair access for all.
Get more of the smart farming story in our podcast with Dan Winson, the founder & CEO of Zetifi.