The internet of cattle
By 2021, there will be more than 16 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices, effectively enabling connectivity where it was not possible before, including connected animals in remote farms worldwide.
The livestock industry is a big thing in many countries and Australia is no exception, with an industry worth more than USD 10 billion a year. A vast continent with an area as big as Europe, Australia is home to just 25 million people and approximately 25 million cows and 70 million sheep. Australia is also the country where some of the most advanced telecommunications networks in the world can be found, with several world firsts in technology happening there first.
In a Networked Society where everything that can benefit from being connected, will be connected, farm animals will be no exception. Already today, farmers are benefiting from a connected world in many ways. For several years now, cows have been milked by robots in fully automated processes that have made this task very efficient in big milk farms. Mobility has added further value by, for example, sending data to farmers via text messages. Data can include information such as which cows have been milked and how much milk each cow has produced.
With the arrival of smartphones and tablets, a whole ecosystem of apps has also come into place to assist farmers. To name one example, iHerd was developed by a farmer from Queensland (North-East Australia) to allow farmers track livestock in real time as it moves around the farm. The app can also keep count of the size of the cattle, and can map the farm, aggregating even more value to the business. But what about really big farms or those places where mobile connectivity might be scarce? What is it going to happen when animals drift away from coverage?
Thanks to current standardization work, this issue will soon be addressed by 4G/LTE, on the road to 5G. The Narrow-Band IoT (NB-IoT) standard is in its final preparation stages and is planned to be activated in Telstra’s network in Australia by the end of the year. Through NB-IoT, the necessary improvements to connect 28 billion devices by 2021 are being incorporated into 4G/LTE. One of those improvements is amplified “breadth of coverage”: mobile networks’ reach will increase up to seven times, which means those cows and sheep can now move away as much as they want, and they will always be connected. On properties so large that farmers often muster their stock with helicopters, you can imagine the scale of savings this can bring.”
NB-IoT will also bring battery savings and lower the costs for IoT modems, effectively enabling the possibility of installing many devices, in a cost-effective way and in a “fit and forget” fashion whereby batteries might not need to be replaced again for 10 years. Also, in a similar approach, NB-IoT will extend the “depth of coverage” by reaching down to basements where cellular signal couldn’t reach before, effectively connecting alarms, sensors, meters, and many more IoT devices – it is not only about the cattle.
During May, Telstra and Ericsson together showcased the benefits of the new standard to several stakeholders in Melbourne. Importantly enough, Telstra is not the only mobile operator working hard to bring these new benefits to end-users. Several other major operators globally, including Vodafone and Swisscom, have also recently voiced their support on NB-IoT as the technology that will connect all those billions of devices. The Internet of Things is here – even on the farm.