Smart buildings. Smart factories. Smart cities. Connected cars. Most discussions of the Internet of Things focus on infrastructure applications that we're most familiar with. But there's one essential part of the global economy that usually doesn't spring to mind when thoughts turn to IoT, and it affects everyone on the planet. It's the agricultural sector.
Just as IoT is expected to improve or enable the automated operation of billions of processes to increase efficiency and productivity in transportation, manufacturing, healthcare and the like, it will also underpin a worldwide agricultural transformation. The development of "smart agriculture" is already under way, and there are now 7.5 billion reasons why this is important.
The world's population just passed the 7.5 billion mark, and it's projected to hit 8 billion before 2025. That's a lot of hungry mouths to feed, and any major disruptions in the food supply chain will result in dire consequences.
Technology can't guarantee a steady and ample food supply, but it can go a long way to lowering some risks. IoT -- and specifically narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) -- will be an essential component in protecting and improving the world's food supply chain.
The most obvious IoT application for agriculture is in equipment operation and maintenance. In that regard, smart agriculture is not much different from automated factory or smart grid applications. But the bigger value in IoT for agriculture involves the use of remote sensors that can collect and transmit data on field conditions -- data that can then be used to determine when to plant crops, when to fertilize, when to water, and when to harvest.
Smart agriculture will depend on huge numbers of remote sensors to work. That makes the deployment of NB-IoT essential to the process. Because power requirements are low, NB-IoT installations can be powered by small battery cells that can operate for years without replacement. Recent tests of IoT-enabled farms show both increased efficiency in resource use and increased yields -- both of which will be critical in meeting the world's growing food supply demand.
Network operators can have a big role to play in all this. Telia has worked with technology partners Huawei Technologies, 7sense Technologies and U-blox to develop what it calls the world's first NB-IoT enabled device for smart agriculture, a product that lets farmers control the positioning and operation of irrigation systems from a smartphone, tablet or PC. Field trials -- pun intended -- have showed promising results. Huawei X Labs has issued a white paper covering the emerging smart agricultural sector.
Smart cars in smart cities with smart buildings are part of the promise of IoT. But the most important part may well be the smart farm.
This blog is sponsored by Huawei.
— Dennis Mendyk, Senior VP of Research, Heavy Reading