Sunday, August 14, 2022

More funds for rural connectivity

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI’s) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund is co-investing $149,500 to help WISPA Network Limited (WNL) tackle the commercial roll-out of a rural-focused Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN).

MPI director of investment programmes Steve Penno says patchy network connection remains a significant barrier to many farmers looking to adopt agricultural technology solutions.

“Improving connectivity in remote rural areas of New Zealand would help lift productivity and equip farmers and growers with tools to improve sustainability.

“The ultimate aim is to develop a sustainable commercial business model that offers a low-cost solution for our rural farmers.”

WNL general manager Tim Cutfield says the main Telcos have focused their LoRaWAN activities closer to urban areas where there are larger populations, and WNL’s focus is bringing connectivity to rural areas.

“LoRaWAN technology is significantly cheaper than an equivalent cellular network. Delivering it via an existing network of around 3,000 sites, which currently provide rural internet services, will lower establishment and running costs,” Cutfield says.

“We’re ensuring the network is an open to all Internet of Things (IoT) solution providers for a reasonable price.

“Farmers’ connectivity needs differ from case to case – they don’t need 5G coverage on the back block of the farm just to monitor an inaccessible water tank, for instance.”

IoT describes physical objects with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet or other communications networks.

LoRaWAN is used extensively internationally so there are numerous low-cost sensors available off the shelf which can be adapted for the needs of New Zealand farmers.

“We’re already working with a range of partners, including helping Predator Free 2050 monitor 7,500 traps in remote regions, putting sensors on grain silos so dairy farmers know when their grain supplies are low, and digitally monitoring water systems,” Cutfield says.

“Farmers are able to use sensors to ensure they meet environmental targets such as reducing their use of water or nitrogen inputs.”

Penno says having a more efficient rural network will be of huge benefit to farmers as they develop their Integrated Farm Plans, Farm Environment Plans and Fresh Water Management Plans.

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