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The Opportunities and Challenges of 5G on Precision Ag


5G might be the next big opportunity coming to a field near you. What opportunities will it offer savvy farmers and what challenges can you anticipate to make the transition smooth? We have talked with experts to uncover the aspects of 5G you might want to consider.


5G is the next generation of connectivity. It encompasses the latest hardware and infrastructure that makes connectivity better, faster, and stronger. Initial 5G opportunities are starting to become available in urban areas, specifically in larger cities, but as cellular companies replace infrastructure along other high traffic areas – like interstates – connectivity will improve in rural areas as well.


According to John Fulton, Associate Professor, Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at The Ohio State University, 5G will primarily provide faster speeds of data transfer.


He understands the new 5G to be very efficient for video streaming, which makes sense given the average consumer usage of cellular data. However, as the system is built to push or pull more data faster, it will offer a significant advancement to agriculture.


Latency is the key impact 5G will bring to precision agriculture. That is the time it takes for one computer to talk to another and back. 5G will offer faster latency, resulting in a quicker conversation between equipment in the field and on the farm.


“I may be the farm owner but have others out operating machines. They can have their iPad monitoring planting, harvesting, spraying or other field operations in real-time, instead of currently where the lag time may be several minutes,” Fulton said. “Knowing things in real-time allows for quicker management decisions.”


This fifth-generation technology is needed to support the next generation of precision ag technology.


“Anything robotic in nature will have to be connected to the internet somehow, whether that is monitoring or communicating with other machines. There is a benefit here of 5G because you can connect to more devices than ever before,” Fulton said.


Scott Burroughs of Bottom Line Solutions in Morton, IL, says the speed of data transfer over the 5G network will enhance certain products.


“As you’re taking data from the tractor or equipment and it’s getting transmitted into the cloud through a phone or tablet, you will experience faster data transfer.”


Drone usage has plateaued, but this could change that.


“I think this could mean a resurgence for drones. Right now it takes hours and hours or even days to capture and analyze data. It’s cumbersome,” Burroughs said. “I think with the enhancement of 5G along with the sensing technologies coming, this could make the drone a more useful tool and become more widely used.”


One of the challenges 5G brings is at some point, those with older equipment still operating on 3G will have a sunset period, then it will no longer be supported.


Burroughs sees a typical curve to new technology adoption, with early adopters seeing opportunities and jumping right in. The masses will not migrate until 5G becomes the normal system, and the tail end will resist change because they do not want to have to invest in new equipment.


“There will be a sunset date when all those 3G programs will cease to function. And so the technology says to the user, ‘You’ve got to go at least to the next step,’ which in this case is 4G, but that will already be outdated technology with 5G coming out,” said Burroughs.


Regardless, Burroughs says tech providers will still support the late adopters and will push them to be more forward-thinking, but they must be aware of technology that will no longer be supported.


What can you do now?


Both experts agree: start now and have regular conversations with your technology providers. Not all data collection systems and connectivity points are operated by the same providers, so you have to be the hub of all your own information. Talk regularly about your systems ahead of time to be sure your technology is ready to use when you need it.


“It is going to be uncharted waters here for a bit. Given what we think 5G will bring, it’s a superhighway that has great connectivity and really enhances data transfer. With that imagination takes over and makes me think, what can we do with this? This will really help agriculture out,” Burroughs said.

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Growing trust in agricultural technology, Precision Ag Reviews is a non-biased, independent resource to help farmers make decisions about precision ag equipment.

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