The acronyms IoT and LPWA may be unfamiliar to many farmers but it won't be long before both technologies are integral to smart agriculture, two top Vodafone experts told the Federated Farmers National Conference.
Scott Pollard, manager of The Internet of Things (IoT) and Steve Rieger, its wholesale director, said IoT and Lower-Power Wide-Access (LPWA) networks would become central to gains in production, efficiency and compliance.
IoT involves connecting devices to the internet, enabling them to 'talk' to each other and to people, such as moisture sensors on farms, power meters and even household appliances.
IoT technology is already available in New Zealand, as in remotely managed irrigation and weather stations that make it easier for farmers to monitor water trough levels, dry matter pasture, soil moisture, milk vat temperature and feed levels. Other examples include cellular enabled surveillance for security and tracking of vehicles, etc.
For these sorts of things, and other tasks, expect to hear more about the fast evolving LPWA network technology, Scott said.
"These are enabled for small packets of data travelling great distances. They're well-suited to agribusiness and farming. They cross our networks but they do some things that we haven't been able to do before."
One of the benefits is a vastly extended battery life.
"The problem now is that you install these monitors and then you have to go back in two weeks or a month and change the battery. But when you're talking about a 10-year battery life, then they're things that can be remotely deployed - extending the footprint of our network and also getting to some hard to reach places."
The hallmarks of LPWA are 10+ years battery life, deep penetration, mass deployment, low bandwidth and cost-effective device cost.
"We can deploy hundreds of thousands, or millions of these things across our networks."
Scott said as of last year, there is an agreed global standard for the sensors in these devices and manufacturers are scaling up production, "and that brings the cost down".
Recent research commissioned by the NZ IoT Alliance suggests over $2 billion of potential economic benefits could flow from application of IoT across key sectors of the New Zealand economy.
Scott said if you think of the ag innovations that are already here, "IoT enables it to happen on a far faster scale". Farmers have been used to make observation-based decisions but agriculture processes and production will increasingly move to more data-driven decisions.
"This is the equivalent of having millions of pairs of eyes looking at similar levels of data and forming decisions around how you can do things differently."
Vodafone sees opportunities for using such technology to "prove and represent ourselves" to overseas markets.
Rising middle classes in China, India and other parts of the world want dairy, meat and the like but to secure those markets Kiwi producers and exporters need to be able to prove they are good stewards of the environment, "green, organic, or whatever else it us that makes us authentic, sustainable and worth the premium prices".
"On top of that we have challenges around managing the natural resources of the planet. With figures such as 70 per cent of fresh water utilisation going into food production, and demand likely to double by 2050, we need to do things better. These technologies will help."
Feds Vice-President Andrew Hoggard said he was into technology like this but found it frustrating that various devices and sensors would only talk to the same brands.
"Will Agrigate [dairy on-line tool] be able to talk to this stuff?"
Scott said businesses try to hold on to what makes them different but there is movement towards compatibility standards.
"It's an absolutely valid observation you make, and there are a bunch of competing network technologies that makes it even more difficult, but even the providers of these devices are starting to want change over time."
Vodafone's network will be based on the Narrowband-IoT standard, supported by more than 40 of the world's largest mobile operators plus many more suppliers and innovators that serve most of the global IoT market.
* More at www.vodafone.co.nz/broadband/rural/