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SPECIAL REPORT: CONNECTIVITY

CONNECTIVITY THE KEY TO AG PRODUCTIVITY

Digital agriculture is booming but enabling connectivity is a vital piece of the agtech puzzle.

-Words DARREN BAGULEY

Digital agriculture, enabled by connectivity, is set to play a crucial role in the New South Wales agriculture sector achieving its goal to increase production to $30 billion as part of Australian ag’s push to boost output to $100 billion by 2030. Connectivity is the threshold that enables agtech to operate, and giving farmers better access to data to make informed decisions and improve productivity by automating tasks will be key to achieving this goal

While realising the agricultural sector goal will be a great achievement nbn’s Executive Manager of Agriculture & Health Robert Hardie notes that there is a significant opportunity for the agtech industry

“We obviously see that increasing the proliferation of digital ag and extending the reach of connectivity across the Australian landscape will be essential to transform the digital capabilities of the agriculture sector However, it goes further than that Research released in 2020 by nbn suggested there was a $15 6 billion opportunity from the adoption of internet enabled digital agriculture ”

$750 MILLION UPGRADE TO TELECOMMUNICATIONS

As part of that transformation, nbn is partnering with the Commonwealth Government to invest $750 million to upgrade broadband connectivity across regional Australia The company is upgrading its Fixed Wireless network, with enhanced capability and reach that will enable up to 120,000 premises (that are currently serviced by nbn Sky Muster) to access nbn fixed wireless for the first time.

nbn aims to introduce two new wholesale higher speed plans on the Fixed Wireless network next year – Fixed Wireless Home Fast, which will deliver a wholesale peak information rate of 100-130Mbps downlink speed and an uplink speed of 8-20Mbps* and Fixed Wireless Superfast, which will deliver a wholesale peak information rate of 200-325Mbps downlink speed and an uplink speed of 8-20Mbps.*

Satellite will be a vital part of the connectivity picture for extremely remote farms, says Robert Hardie, Executive Manager of Agriculture & Health at nbn.

Satellite will be a vital part of the connectivity picture for extremely remote farms, says Robert Hardie, Executive Manager of Agriculture & Health at nbn.

“Home Fast will be available across the whole fixed wireless coverage area and Superfast will be available to approximately 85 per cent of the expanded Fixed Wireless coverage area These enhancements will enable faster and more consistent speeds overall across the Fixed Wireless network, including in the evening. This will allow more people to be online at the same time to work, study, and stream with less buffering,” says Robert.

“In addition, extending the Fixed Wireless footprint will free up the capacity for satellite customers as some people transition from satellite to Fixed Wireless For those that remain on nbn satellite, nbn is currently trialling a new Sky Muster Plus plan for up to 15,000 eligible users that is intended to deliver 100 per cent unmetered data usage with faster burst download speeds up to 100 Mbps. The trial aims to provide people with more flexibility in how they use their internet without needing to manage a data allowance and nbn hopes to launch the product later in 2023 ”** Satellite will continue to be a vital part of the connectivity picture for extremely remote farms

BARRIERS TO AGTECH ADOPTION REMAIN

Awareness of the types of connectivity, whether it is satellite, fixed wireless or mobile broadband, remains the number one barrier to adoption of agtech for farmers, and a lack of knowledge about available solutions and how to utilise them is another challenge Uncertainty about which solutions will solve their problems, and the risk of making a costly decision that may not meet their needs are also significant barriers, notes Robert.

“Proprietary solutions that are designed to solve specific problems abound, but farmers who have started the journey down the agtech road quickly realise they want a solution that can tell the whole story in one place This lack of information and understanding can lead to farmers being locked into expensive or unnecessary solutions that do not meet their requirements It is essential to know what connectivity solutions are available to deploy devices and systems on farms effectively.”

EXTENDING CONNECTIVITY BEYOND THE HOMESTEAD

“An emerging problem is the need to extend the nbn network connection from the house into the paddock to connect sheds, stockyards, machines and beyond Workforce shortages are an ongoing challenge that can be addressed through automation, which also requires connectivity,” says Robert.

“If a farmer has mobile signal across most parts of their farm, that’s great, but what if there is a black spot in an area that really needs to be connected? There’s a conversation to have about exactly how much connectivity is needed – what does the farmer want to be able to do in this location?”

nbn and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) recognised that many farmers are uncertain when it comes to answering those questions. In response the two organisations developed Australia’s first on-farm connectivity guide. Launched in November 2022, the guide contains almost 100 phrases commonly used in the on-farm connectivity space to help explain to farmers what various terms mean.

In addition, the Regional Tech Hub, funded by the federal government and currently delivered by the NFF, provides a vital resource for farmers in regional Australia. It offers free connectivity audits, fact sheets, and other resources to help farmers understand their connectivity options and resolve issues

Improving connectivity is crucial for Australian farmers to improve productivity, profitability and quality of life through automation and accessing better data to make informed decisions. Farmers face barriers such as poor connectivity, lack of technological literacy and uncertainty about the available solutions. Nevertheless, help is available for farmers seeking to navigate the maze of technology and upgrades to existing networks are expected to provide improved connectivity to help meet Australia’s future data needs.