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For many years now, there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding the benefits of 5G and how it could unlock a world of unprecedented opportunities. 5G boasts ultra-low latency, super-fast speeds and high throughput ensuring a variety of real-time services, applications and solutions which could be applicable to virtually any industry.

Before COVID-19 struck, telcos all over the world were competing to roll out 5G, while telecom regulators were doing their best to allocate the necessary spectrum for it and innovators were consistently creating new use cases to go with 5G. However, since the pandemic confined us all to our homes and led to probably one of the worst economic crisis of our time, many operators halted their 5G infrastructure investments so as to reevaluate their spending and inherently redirect it towards other areas that really needed attention.

Many have argued that there actually isn’t a better time than right now, during this pandemic, to deploy 5G. If deployed, 5G would have made a tremendous contribution contact tracing, connectivity would have been incredibly efficient and potential network outages would have not been a threat to countries that simply could not cope with the spike in internet traffic.

5G would have been an incredible asset to have during this crisis, especially in the agricultural sector.

Smart agriculture

The agriculture industry is currently a multibillion dollar industry and one of the most prominent in the world as it accounts for around 1% of the GDP in the UK, 6% of the US’s GDP and 12% in Australia, to name a few. As demand for food is set to increase exponentially over the next decade, it is time for this mainly legacy industry to begin to adopt technology, namely 5G, to ensure proper management and use of resources.

5G adds a layer of convenience to our lives and it will most certainly do so in manual labor-intensive industries such as agriculture. It is a key industry that could really benefit from 5G-powered devices.

ABI Research analyst, Leo Gergs, said, “5G has the potential to have a transformative effect on the global economy through a number of different verticals, and farming certainly is one of the most prominent ones to consider.”

Indeed, smart farming is expected to gain greater traction in the years to come. Using 5G-powered technologies would ensure improved crop yields and an increase in the quality and standard of the produce. However, because farming is somewhat of a legacy industry and is usually carried out in more remote or rural areas, it may take a while before we see this come into fruition. But it is important to mention that the benefits of ensuring these applications are tremendous.

“5G will change the nature of jobs in farming and agriculture substantially,” said Gergs.

Smart farming will allow farmers to become more familiar with the benefits of technology and increase their efficiency. The industry is yet to undergo its digital transformation journey.

World Wide Technology’s (WWT) EMEA chief technologist, Daniel Valle, said, “In an era where crops are being left to rot because of a shortage of pickers, technology will be key to the agricultural Industry’s survival.”

Adding that, “Part of this will see farmers adopting 5G - a technology which will support productivity, and a vital tool in preventing the passing of increasing costs of business to consumers.”

Indeed, agriculture is about to undergo a massive transformation. Using 5G-powered technology in farming would ensure greater profitability and a more efficient utilization of resources.

Drones

Drones have a variety of emerging use cases in the agriculture sector. Autonomous drones could be used to spray fertilizers, scan and identify unwanted weeds through the use of AI and apply pesticides wherever it is needed to reduce insect infestations.

Today, there are vast amounts of projects being deployed with regards to IoT-powered farming tools to ensure greater efficiency in farms. Applying machine learning techniques to drone camera footage could detect and identify areas within which weed growth is highly concentrated and inherently apply to necessary herbicides wherever necessary so as to not compromise crop health.

Spraying is one of the most costly inputs in this industry. In fact, it has been estimated that a farmer could potentially save up to 90% on their input if such technologies are implemented.

This type of sensing and AI-powered drone could also potentially identify which crops could be gathered sooner rather than later via the analysis of size and color. However, it is important to note that this will not eradicate the need for manual labor, but just add a layer of convenience and comfort to their daily jobs. With the advent of 5G powering such technologies, farmers could better organize and allocate their time and attention towards areas that really need it.

In addition to this, heavy-lift drones could be deployed to ensure a fully-electric functioning, heavy-lifting, autonomous drone which could essentially handle up to 200kgs of boxes, equipment and liquids and transport them wherever necessary on the farm.

Precision farming

Precision agriculture, also known as smart farming, is key when it comes to the farms of the future. It refers to applying precise treatments to specific crops or areas instead of wasting it on an entire field. This would ensure that farmers will be able to give each set of crops exactly what they need to grow properly and healthily.

Senior sensor physicist at Cambridge Consultants, Simon Jordan, says, “5G is critical to this, as it supports machine to machine (M2M services).”

Indeed, 5G would ensure that machines are controlled centrally and that data could be sent back to those in control in real-time. 5G is key in this area because if such systems functioned on other networks such as the likes of 3G and 4G, then the collected data would only be uploaded by the end of the day.

5G is absolutely essential for precision agriculture to work efficiently.

According to Paul Beastall, director of technology strategy at Cambridge Consultants, “5G on farm machinery and sensors will increase massively the amount of data available, meaning that AI can now get to work properly… Farms are typically run from a mixture of experience and specialized knowledge, and centralized AI is already spotting patterns that allow yields to be improved, for instance, by giving early warning of disease in greenhouses.”

Livestock monitoring and management

Being able to properly manage livestock and locate them at all times, especially in difficult terrain, is a very critical task for farmers. Not only that, but monitoring the cows’ health and fertility for instance are key.

To detect the exact location of a single cow or an entire herd is crucial especially during calving season. Vodafone launched ‘MooCall’, a sensor that alerts farmers about when a calf is about to be born, back in 2017. It has been reported that since its launch, over 250,000 calves were born safely via the use of this sensor. MooCall is IoT-powered and has made great strides with just 4G technology. It is no doubt that once 5G becomes more widely adopted in such areas, it will go hand-in-hand with technologies like these.

“With the growing prevalence of IoT and 5G, we expect to see increasing innovation in the agricultural sector. By using digital told, farmers can gain better control over processes such as raising livestock and growing crops, improving overall productivity, efficiency and financial performance… technologies such as IoT and 5G must be viewed as a priority for the farming sector,” said Director of Vodafone Business, Anne Sheehan.

According to Jordan, 5G will make way for better connectivity and, hence, geo-location services. This would definitely ensure that the cost of managing livestock will be reduced in the long run as long as such technologies are deployed. He added, “However, this will depend on 5G coverage being available and early deployments are focused on urban centers.”

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