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Australia uses LoRaWAN to boost Victoria’s AgTech sector

Farmers in Australia’s south-eastern state of Victoria are getting a helping hand from a vast IoT network.

Deployed by Australian IoT operator National Narrowband Network Company (NNNCo), and funded by the Victorian government’s On-Farm IoT Trial, it uses the non-cellular LoRaWAN standard to connect a broad array of sensors. Various agriculture technology (AgTech) use cases have been trialed so far. These include keeping tabs on soil moisture and the weather, which helps farmers determine the best time and volume of water to use on their crops. Other uses include monitoring levels in water storage tanks and silos, and being alerted when gates are opened.

“IoT has a major role to play in Australian agriculture, particularly as the sector works towards its goals of becoming a $100 billion industry and carbon neutral by 2030,” said Rob Zagarella, CEO and co-founder of NNNCo, in a statement on Thursday.

“LoRaWAN is ideal for the agriculture sector because it was developed for industries that needed a cost-effective, long-range signal with a battery life of many years for IoT sensors, and the ability to meet 100 percent of all coverage needs to every sensor and device deployed in the field,” he said.

The network covers an area of 32,000 square kilometres. As areas go, that’s slightly larger than Belgium, but still only a fraction of Victoria, which weighs in at more than 225,000 square kilometres.

“We’ve installed around 150 gateways on farms and provided our data exchange platform product called N2N-DL to ensure data generated from the trial can be turned into meaningful information for farmers to make more informed decisions,” Zagarella explained. “The N2N-DL IoT platform harmonizes access to a vast range of sensors and devices, with integration to 18 AgTech solutions providers. NNNCo is working closely with the entire agricultural ecosystem to ensure that solutions can be deployed on any farm wherever there is an NNNCo LoRaWAN network.”

In case it wasn’t already obvious, a country as large and sparsely-populated as Australia poses a major challenge when it comes to cost effectively rolling out coverage. Co-funding between network providers and local, regional or national government can help take away some of the pain.

Earlier this week, Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) and the government announced that together they will spend $750 million to upgrade and extend fixed-wireless access (FWA) networks in rural and semi-rural areas. As well as improved performance within its existing footprint, an additional 120,000 premises that until now have had to rely on satellite broadband will get FWA coverage.

According to Julie Simons, acting executive director of agriculture policy at Agriculture Victoria, patchy rural coverage has been one of the biggest barriers to AgTech uptake.

“The LoRaWAN network being delivered through the trial is helping to overcome these challenges by supporting farmers to test the benefits of IoT technology such as soil moisture probes, weather monitoring, humidity and temperature monitoring, water tank level monitoring, and asset tracking on their farms,” she said.

Simons said the new network, and the trials that have been conducted so far, will also help farmers make informed technology choices and overcome any latent reticence about IoT.

“The IoT trial is not only an opportunity for horticulture, dairy, sheep and cropping farmers to establish the technology best suited to their circumstances, it will also allow us to share lessons from the trial with other farmers to help them better understand how investments in IoT technologies can assist their decision making and improve their operations,” she said.

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