A UNIVERSITY research collaboration with Australian agtech start-up Zetifi is aiming to deliver farm-wide wi-fi using tractors, trucks and passenger vehicles as roaming access points within 18 months.
The ‘Farm-wide Wi-Fi Project’ involves Zetifi working alongside researchers at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Charles Sturt University.
The team is developing technology to solve connectivity problems in areas with little or no mobile coverage to provide fast and reliable connectivity that increases productivity, profitability, safety and quality of life.
It is the first project to be announced as part of the Global Digital Farm, Australia’s first ‘hands-free farm’ at Wagga Wagga, where the technology will be trialled and tested.
UTS researchers will design and develop next generation radio frequency and antenna technologies that will be fitted to mobile and stationary farming assets enabling long-range connectivity in rural areas.
Inadequate internet and mobile phone connectivity is a significant issue for Australian primary producers, with a lack of connectivity leaving many with insufficient access to telecommunications across their properties and communities. UTS said this lack of connectivity presents significant social, economic and safety problems and hinders farmers’ ability to capitalise on precision agriculture more broadly and agtech innovations including autonomous, terrestrial sensing and management systems.
An efficiently designed antenna integrated with an RF (radiofrequency) module can significantly increase coverage and reduce the overall costs of a communication system, UTS said.
Co-director of the radio frequency and communication technologies (RFCT) facility at UTS and sensing innovations lead at Food Agility CRC, Dr Negin Shariati, said RFCT researchers with Zetifi recently developed a new RF and antenna system to enhance connectivity in areas with poor coverage.
“At the heart of every communication system providing long-range connectivity is an antenna and RF system.
“RFCT researchers will design, fabricate and test efficient antennas that will be integrated with a custom RF system to enable long-range connectivity in smart farms,” he said.
Food Agility chief scientist, Professor David Lamb, said the new technology would enable infrastructure for Australian agriculture.
“Improving connectivity for Australian farmers remains the most critical factor in driving productivity and sustainability in agriculture.
“Farmers increasingly rely on high-level data analytics, automation and networks of devices that talk to each other over vast distances.
“This new technology will connect people and devices far beyond the farm gate and will be the backbone for the future of autonomous farming.”
Zetifi chief executive officer, Dan Winson, said farmers deserved the same connectivity for their businesses as those in urban areas.
“I’ve seen farmers perform the most amazing acts of contortion, hanging out tractor windows and climbing up ladders, trying to get a decent connection.
“This will be an Australian-designed solution, made for Australian conditions to deliver connectivity wherever it’s needed on the farm.
“It will complement NBN wireless broadband and satellite coverage, helping farmers to transfer critical data across our vast landscapes.”
The Farm-wide Wi-Fi project aims to deliver a market solution within 18 months.
Zetifi is an Australian wireless networking startup that has successfully developed and commercialised a range of novel connectivity solutions for rural and remote areas, including the ZetiRover, a 4G/Wi-Fi gateway for farm machinery.