Backhaul holding back our farms

AgriFutures EvokeAg panel explores connectivity on farm

Agribusiness
CONNECTIVITY PANEL: Bungulla Farms grain grower Brad Jones, NBN Co chief development officer for regional and remote Australia Gavin Williams, Telstra mobile network engineering lead Ashley Hunter and AgriFutures director Richard Clark participated in a panel exploring connectivity on farm at the AgriFutures EvokeAg conference.

CONNECTIVITY PANEL: Bungulla Farms grain grower Brad Jones, NBN Co chief development officer for regional and remote Australia Gavin Williams, Telstra mobile network engineering lead Ashley Hunter and AgriFutures director Richard Clark participated in a panel exploring connectivity on farm at the AgriFutures EvokeAg conference.

Aa

AgriFutures EvokeAg panel explores connectivity on farm

Aa

While SkyMuster has ensured rural and remote households now have access to the internet, the question of covering the paddock remains.

This issue was a key topic at the recent AgriFutures EvokeAg conference, with a dedicated speaker panel facilitated by AgriFutures director Richard Clark attracting a sell-out crowd.

Speaking on the panel Western Australian farmer Brad Jones, from Bungulla Farms, said as standard connectivity was not yet available on his farm he had chosen to install his own mesh WiFi system, an investment which was yielding 20 per cent internal return on investment year-on-year.

"We farm about two hours due east of Perth, and are 100 per cent cropping," he said.

Whether it be market failure or policy failure, the monopoly we work with in regional areas means there is limited backhaul capacity available - Brad Jones

"The machinery we use is all John Deere, so we use JD Link, which is a lot of data transfer.

"We have 19 remote sensors on the farm, and from that we build spatial data sets, so if we have a rainfall event there is a spatial rainfall map.

"We also have electromagnetic and radiometric surveys of the farm, so we have a subterranean view of what our soil types are. Then we have moisture probes sunk in based on that.

Read more from EvokeAg: Put your money where your mouth is

"It is an enormous mountain of data that gets slung around."

Mr Jones said the limitation to the system was that it relied on using network infrastructure for the backhaul of the data to the wider telecommunications network.

"We have created a mesh, so we have two data capturing points, using the Telstra backhaul we send it around the farm to all the sensors.

"Whether it be market failure or policy failure, the monopoly we work with in regional areas means there is limited backhaul capacity available.

"So in the future I think there should be more investment in the fibre optic, where that goes, and does the government invest in it? I don't know.

"The more backhaul we can get, the better."

Telstra mobile network engineering lead Ashley Hunter said his colleagues were passionate about solving the telecommunications problems in regional areas, but said the company needed to consider how it solved a demand problem in a way that was economically practical and affordable.

"We are quite proud of the investment we make in regional Australia, it has been good to see other investment come along with the NBN, the black spot program and other co-contributions from enterprises and communities," he said.

"We have really started to branch out in that space and say well if there is a need that is unsatisfied or unmet, we now got solutions, a whole menu of options we can take to regional areas."

Mr Hunter said technologies reliant on connectivity, or the 'Internet of Things' was likely to exponentially grow into the future.

"It is also a bit of a hidden asset we have in Australia, the 3G network covers about 2.5 million square kilometres of the 4 million used for agriculture," he said.

"That 2.5 million square kilometres is massively surpassed by our IoT coverage to date, which is close to 4 million square kilometres, that coverage is coming from our 4G towers, so as we roll out the last 700,000 square kilometres of 4G, we will have a huge network.

"What we need to adapt to is how we communicate that capability, how we price and bundle it better."

Mr Jones said as a farmer the primary issue with utilising 4G technology was the pricing.

"For us to have 19 remote data points it would mean we would need 19 sim cards and the cost involved with that," he said.

"Whereas with our mesh system, which runs on 900 mega hertz, we don't need to do that.

"To move ourselves forward, and be globally competitive, we have got to start using data and start using automation, and we need that to be cost effective and reliable."

Mr Jones said connectivity bandwidths for IoT were only one piece of the puzzle, faster broadband internet was also needed for a variety of uses, including education through online learning.

"Without a reliable broadband source we are reasonably limited in being able to do that," he said.

NBN Co chief development officer for regional and remote Australia Gavin Williams said while products such as SkyMuster and SkyMuster Plus provided exceptional coverage to rural and remote homes, his team was committed to exploring how they could add value to agricultural businesses.

"The introduction of NBN based technologies has been a game-changer for the homestead, what we haven't addressed, and there hasn't been a mandate to date, is to look at broadacre coverage," he said.

Market interference

Mr Jones said he did not feel it was the role of groups like AgriFutures to educate producers on connectivity or communications product choice.

"We want more capacity, we want more back haul capacity from NBN and Telstra, but the 'last mile' service providers are probably going to be the ones to educate," he said.

"Market forces are going to educate the grower in what the positives of the technology can be.

"Our own efficiency gains have given us an internal return on investment of 20 per cent, year on year."

Read more from AgriFutures EvokeAg:

The story Backhaul holding back our farms first appeared on Farm Online.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by