The Connected Cow: How IoT is Moving the Agriculture Space Forward

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By Harriet Sumnall | 2Q 2019 | IN-5489

The agriculture space is one of the enterprise verticals that is undergoing rapid digitalization and benefiting from the Internet of Things (IoT), especially since Big Data, analytics, and even Artificial Intelligence (AI) can yield significant operational improvements when tracking livestock and optimizing farms. Connected cows are a prime example of this, where cellular networks have improved farm operations significantly. Although 4G (mainly NB-IoT) is currently being deployed in the agriculture space, 5G is expected to introduce many more capabilities to help digitize it.

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Grazing the Surface

NEWS


The agriculture space is one of the enterprise verticals that is undergoing rapid digitalization and benefiting from the Internet of Things (IoT), especially since Big Data, analytics, and even Artificial Intelligence (AI) can yield significant operational improvements when tracking livestock and optimizing farms. Connected cows are a prime example of this, where cellular networks have improved farm operations significantly. Although 4G (mainly NB-IoT) is currently being deployed in the agriculture space, 5G is expected to introduce many more capabilities to help digitize it.

5G will provide higher mobile broadband speeds in the short term, but its transformative potential is far greater than higher speeds alone. 5G will allow network slicing, or network appropriation, for any number of use cases. For example, a 5G network can partition part of its resources for connecting livestock at a low cost with low data traffic while maintaining higher quality connections for smartphone users and more critical enterprise vertical applications.

The connected cow application introduced an easier farming method to livestock farmers. It enables farmers to tackle the problems that they face day in, day out, including location and security of their livestock, health of their livestock, and when livestock enters their estrus period. The introduction of 5G to these devices allows cows to be in control of when they are to be milked. Once the cow feels it is ready for them to be milked, the new collars then connect the cow to an automated milking system. This therefore, reduced time wasted by farmers milking cows that were not ready to supply their optimum amount of produce.

Self-Milking Cows, Clever Udders

IMPACT


Cisco is running a project in the United Kingdom that is a part of its 5G Rural First project, which is automating the milking processes for farms. The use of 5G is being used in pilot studies globally, in Switzerland and Germany for example, and is expected to be released for global coverage in 2023. The Rural First project is testing 5G’s ability to transmit data from the sensors at a much quicker rate compared to the existing cellular systems rates offered by the farmers’ backend systems. If this pilot is successful, it will open the ability for 5G connectivity to be used in rural areas for IoT solutions.

The 5G collars that are being tested on 50 cows from a dairy farm in Shepton Mallet, England, and are not only testing the use of 5G connectivity within the solution but are also offering developments to the solutions that are already at market. Many collars and tracking systems are on the market for tracking livestock by several vendors such as Cowlar, Moocall, and Cattle Watch, however, there is no collar available to connect cows to automate one of the farming processes such as the milking of the cow. The deployment of the technology is allowing cows to be milked at their own leisure. Wirelessly, the collar connects the milking system, does an ID check, and starts the milking process with next to no human interaction.

Rural areas around the globe often are found to be difficult to connect due to missing infrastructures and due to lack of coverage. Farms are commonly found in areas that lack coverage, therefore, it is difficult to offer a good connection for the solutions that are currently available in the market. The use of 5G, if proven successful, will expand the current cellular infrastructures to more rural areas, enabling farmers to use cost efficient methods to connect their IoT solutions that will inevitably create a more efficient and smooth-running farm.

No Longer a Connected Cow, but a Connected Farm

RECOMMENDATIONS


The agricultural space is a market within the IoT space that is constantly growing and offers ample room for growth and implementation of the 5G network. Currently, the connected cow is the only well-known successful solution for tracking livestock within the agriculture market, however, Cisco believes that every animal on the farm can be connected.

The ability to connect every animal on the farm will increase the opportunities within the market, as similar solutions will be developed to suit specific animals. The livestock sector of the market is looking to move upward, especially with the success of the use of 5G within this space. ABI Research forecasts that by 2023 there will be 35 million connected cows, not including the number of cows that will be connected via 5G.

The success of this trial will determine the success of the livestock market within the IoT space. Though Cisco claims it is able to connect every animal on the farm, it will not be logical or beneficial to track every farm animal, like chickens for example, because there are usually so many farms and they tend to have shorter life spans. Sheep and larger livestock on the other hand may be more beneficial as they have many outputs so to speak.

However, it remains to be seen what the value proposition of 5G compared to 4G and previous generations will be. deployments of cellular systems in rural areas can hardly be justified by existing use cases, and as a new generation, 5G will likely be more expensive than previous systems. Moreover, the use of higher frequency spectrum for 5G will translate to considerably higher costs, rendering the deployment for 5G, or mobile service providers may reform 2G, 3G, or 4G spectrum for 5G, but none of these activities have yet been confirmed in any market (with the exception of T-Mobile IS, which aims to deploy 5G nationwide at 600 MHz, making rural connectivity a possibility). Connected cows are indeed a possible success case, but at the time being there is nothing that would stop NB-IoT, LTE-M, or other LPWA technologies improving the efficiency of this vertical market. ABI Research expects 4G to be deployed increasingly in this market and when its use matures, 5G will provide additional value through network slicing or edge computing.

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