What Can LTE and 5G Do for Agriculture in Southeast Asia?

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2Q 2017 | IN-4575

As telcos in Southeast Asia start to explore beyond consumer-facing services, Internet of Things (IoT) vertical applications is one area that will provide new business opportunities. Contrary to the more successful IoT applications in the Southeast Asian industrial manufacturing sector, IoT in the agriculture sector is still in a nascent stage. ABI Research believes there is a lot more to be done, given the importance of the agriculture sector to the region’s gross domestic product (GDP). This Insight looks at various industrial initiatives and startups to shed light on current and future agriculture IoT solutions.

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Agriculture Needs to Be Smarter


LTE and LTE-Advanced networks have always been deployed to deliver consumer services, with each technical advancement ushering in better speeds and coverage. However, as mobile network vendors and operators start to deploy LTE-Advanced Pro and invest in 5G, new application areas are being explored, especially in IoT verticals. Many claim that new business segments need to be addressed before nationwide 5G deployments can be justifiable. While the IoT application is well received due to seamless integration with edge computing and local area network in industrial manufacturing, IoT in agriculture remains an unknown entity, even more so in the context of Southeast Asia.

The reasons are obvious. Farms and plantations, such as rubber and palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia, are often located in off-grid, rural areas with limited or no network connectivity. This not only means that there is no way to deploy an IoT solution, but it also means that there is no basic mobile Internet or, in some extreme cases, voice connectivity. The lack of economies of scale is also a barrier-to-entry. Telefónica is promoting specialized fleet management solutions that allow tracking of vehicles used in planting and harvesting, but the application is used in large-scale farming in the U.S. and Latin America. In Southeast Asia, smallholder farming is still very dominant; from paddy field, to cocoa and corn, smallholder farming is fragmenting the market and making it a serious challenge to address smaller pockets of new business opportunities.

The Drive Toward Sustainable and Efficient Farming


ABI Research believes that wireless networks can help resolve some of the pain points in the agriculture industry for both large- and small-scale farming in Southeast Asia. In the region, agriculture is one of the largest growing industries, creating many employment opportunities and careers. According to World Bank, the agriculture sector contributes between 8.9% (Malaysia) to 30.5% (Cambodia) of the countries’ gross domestic product (GDP).

In addition, there is external pressure for more sustainable and efficient farming. A strong EU resolution calling for the establishment of a single Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) scheme now only allows the import of oil from palm trees grown in an environmentally sustainable manner after 2020. Environmental sustainability is a difficult challenge for most existing palm oil companies that are largely based in Malaysia and Indonesia. They have traditionally relied on manual labor and low-tech plantation methods to monitor and harvest their output.

More Data Rates and Bandwidth Lead to More Complicated Applications


IoT startups in Southeast Asia recently noticed this opportunity and are attempting to fill in the gap. In Vietnam, MimosaTEK provides an automated irrigation and fertigation solution. The mobile application will inform farmers on the information tracked by the hardware sensors, such as soil moisture, sunlight, climate condition, and humidity, for both greenhouse and open farming. The automation controller will then trigger the appropriate irrigation procedures. Users can opt for either the sensory component or the controller.

ABI Research would argue that, eventually, the increasing number of sensors and computer-controlled systems in agricultural applications will increase the need for high data bandwidth and rates in the future. Apart from basic monitoring and tracking, the deployment of private LTE or 5G networks in this plantation enables more complex solutions, such as automated trucks for transportation within the plantation and drones for fertigation and irrigation.

All these potential applications are highlighted in the 5G Autonomous Mobile Machine Communication for Off-Road Applications (AMMCOA) project under the Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hert-Institut. Led by Core Network Dynamics and Infineon, the objective of AMMCOA is to develop a mobile, infrastructureless, wireless 5G networking solution, which satisfies the requirements of tactile communication (e.g., low latency), with a strong focus on a high-rate mmWave interface with an integrated ranging and localization functionality. The solutions aim to optimize machine utilization and resources consumption through the monitoring of the fleet, as well as continuous exchange between the machines and process synchronization.

Figure 1: 5G-AMMCOA research

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft


At the same time, many public initiatives have been recently announced in the region to improve mobile connectivity blackspot. In Thailand, the National Innovation Agency (NIA) announced its plan to setup 13 innovation districts and works with Business France Thailand to leverage IoT in food agriculture production. Meanwhile, the government of Sarawak, Malaysia, the largest state in terms of geographical area and second largest in palm oil output, announced its plan to increase cell-site from 1,200 to over 5,000—mostly in rural areas—in the effort to improve mobile coverage and low data rates. The urgency shown by these governments will provide the catalyst for the adoption of wireless technology in the agriculture sector.


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