The impacts of 5G networks on Agribusiness

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5G telecommunication networks, also known as the next generation of the mobile internet, are starting operations in dozens of countries — 34 to date —, which generates great expectations regarding the use of this technology in many economic areas. In the agricultural sector, it is no different, we look forward to the arrival of 5G, since many technological services that are already being deployed in crops can benefit from the speed and latency of 5G networks.

As connectivity is one of the main bottlenecks in the diffusion of new technologies in agribusinesses, it is important to try to understand the expected impacts of the introduction of 5G networks, focusing mainly on the benefits that this technology can bring to agriculture.

Perhaps, the benefits of 5G are still a long way to being actually available to Brazilian farmers, but the expectation regarding its impacts on farms is great. The technological revolution in Agribusiness is already underway and 5G can bring new tools for the digitization of agricultural environments.

What is 5G technology?

5G technology is the next generation of mobile internet networks. These networks can greatly improve the speed of data transmission and reception at a rate up to 20x higher than the speed of 4G.

5G networks will also allow machine-to-machine communication with latency rates below 10ms. The high data speed rate and low latency, however, have a cost: 5G networks require a much larger number of cell towers than those required in previous network generations. On the other hand, they are much more stable and secure than current networks.

By using high-frequency waves, 5G networks present a greater data traffic difficulty in long distances and between objects (trees, mountains etc.), requiring transmission towers to be closer to each other. However, each antenna allows the connection of a much larger amount of devices. In the case of the Internet of Things — networks of connected objects that perform tasks or collect data through sensors —, allowing the connection of many devices is a great advantage, since it is possible to connect a larger number of devices to the network simultaneously.

Regarding the order of magnitude of the data transmission rate, 3G networks (among their evolutions) allowed transmission rates from 0.12 to 6 Mbps. 4G allows data exchange between 5 Mbps and 12 Mbps, while it is estimated that 5G can reach 100 Mbps[9]. An interesting example to illustrate what the impact of 5G networks in our lives: 3G allowed us to send texts, 4G allowed us to use Uber and Netflix, while 5G will allow us to have autonomous and connected vehicles. An autonomous vehicle needs a lot of information to know which way to go, to know how to interpret traffic lights and other various interactions and the response time needs to be immediate. This is only possible with the speed and low latency of 5G networks.

5G impacts in Agribusiness

Due to the fact that the speed of data transmission, both input to and output from the network, will be much higher with the 5G, many applications that require real-time information exchange will be able to be used in agribusinesses with intelligence and almost immediate responses.

Thus, with 5G, robots and automated mechanisms that transmit data and receive immediate commands can be developed and deployed in agricultural work. Imagine a robot that passes through the crop lines, capturing and sending images and status of the plants, and that is able to immediately identify which crop treatments to run. With the speed of data transmission and low latency of 5G, the use of these autonomous robots in farms can become a reality, with all the processing and decision-making being carried out by the machine itself.

For IoT (Internet of Things), the use of a large number of wireless sensors (connected through a 5G network) allows monitoring of many field conditions and detection in advance of the need for irrigation, spraying defensive or fertilizer.

5G technology would also be very useful in monitoring animals, operating agricultural drones and machines. The range of possibilities for the use of digital technology in agribusinesses is much greater with the implementation of 5G networks, allowing rural properties to have a control and monitor mission-critical processes in real time.

In England, for example, cows wear 5G collars that send data to Apps about everything they do, from feeding to what sleeping cycle they are currently in. With this, farmers can have all the information instantly and can follow their treatment with veterinarians and nutritionists. This allows the cattle to be monitored, so that the detection of diseases or changes is carried out in advance.

In terms of autonomous machines, we can have tractors that sow the field without the need for human action or even machines that detect which invasive plants exist in the crop and make the decision of which herbicides to apply in each case.

Thus, the decision-making process and execution of agribusinesses tend to be greatly facilitated with the increase of connectivity possible with 5G networks, helping decrease the risk and improve the productivity and profitability of the field.

5G implementation in Brazil

5G certainly can and will revolutionize Agribusiness’ technology, but some market information leads us believe that it will still take a few years until its effective arrival in Brazilian Agribusiness.

The auction process for 5G networks in Brazil is expected to happen in 2020, according to Anatel. However, with the current scenario, the pandemic of the New Coronavirus and other uncertainties surrounding both the Brazilian and world market, there is already great pressure for the auction of 5G networks in Brazil to be postponed until 2021 or even later.

Considering the possible delays in the auction of the 5G network band, the high cost of deploying the network structure and the fact that, at first, operators will focus on areas of high population density, it is expected that it will take some time until the benefit of connection speed and low latency in data transmission reaches Brazilian agribusinesses.

The technological revolution of Agribusiness is already beginning and it will not be able to wait for 5G to arrive. There are other technologies that seek to assist with agribusinesses connectivity until the implementation of 5G, such as LPWAN networks (Low Power Wide Area Network). These networks enable connectivity in the crops, using sensors and simpler equipment, which do not require as much energy (less use of batteries) and communicate with lower transmission rates.

Conclusion

5G network technologies have great potential to impact Agribusiness and bring the long-awaited technological connection to crops. The benefits that this technology will bring, in terms of digital transformation of Agribusiness — improving and facilitating processes, allowing the monitoring and interaction with crops in real time —, create great expectations in the agricultural sector, by the amount of innovations that can arrive.

Venturus anxiously awaits the arrival of 5G, but, while that does not happen, we are prepared to support the technologies that are available to take the technology to the field.

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