We've all heard a lot about 5G. In this article, Zetifi CEO & Founder Dan Winson separates fact from fiction and hype from hope to provide a straightforward explanation of 5G technology and its potential for digital agriculture and regional Australians.
If you asked me a year ago what impact 5G will have on Australian agriculture I’d probably have responded ‘very little’.
Ever since the 2G CDMA network was decommissioned, the telecommunications industry seems to have been trading off range for speed, leaving large numbers of primary producers with little or no coverage.
With the 3G shutdown just around the corner, I’d have told you that farmers should expect more of the same; faster speeds in populated areas and less coverage in the bush. But, it is beginning to look like I was wrong.
5G, at least some parts of the standard, has the potential to bring massive benefits to producers, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of testing the limits of this technology.
To understand what’s going on we need to unpack a few technical details.
5G is a collection of technologies and standards - we can’t have a sensible conversation about ‘5G’ without clarifying which part of the ‘5G’ standard we are talking about.
Most of the media coverage and hype is around the game-changing speeds, reliability and latency that will be offered by millimetre wave (mmWave) and mid-band 5G, but unfortunately these speeds are at the expense of decreased range. What is more interesting for farmers and for other businesses in the bush, is low-band 5G.
Low-band 5G is expected to offer increased speeds without the range tradeoffs of mid-band and mmWave.
If you hated science in high school you might want to skip this paragraph but to understand what 5G can and can’t offer people in remote areas it is helpful to understand the basic physics around radio frequency transmission… stay with me, it’s easier than it sounds. Essentially, lower frequency waves are bigger, travel further, and penetrate through obstacles like trees more easily at a given power level, however all other things being equal lower frequency waves can’t carry as much information as higher frequency waves. While a low-cost handheld UHF CB radio that works at a frequency of 477MHz can carry a scratchy voice signal for a few kilometres, to get the same range out of our 2412MHz Wi-Fi repeaters we need to use high-gain antennas, high-power signal amplifiers and sensitive receivers - it’s worth it though because unlike UHF radios, our Wi-Fi devices allow broadband internet access, video streaming and clear voice calls over Wi-Fi calling.
So while a lightning-fast mmWave cell running at 26,000 MHz installed on top of an average farmhouse would have a hard time reaching the mailbox, it is just the thing if you want to connect tens of thousands of people jammed into the MCG. It’s horses for courses and the 5G low-band networks that are starting to come online on the frequencies already used for 3G and 4G in rural areas should offer similar coverage with increased speeds and lower latency. These connections will open up a range of exciting opportunities for autonomous machinery, precision agriculture and agtech in general.
While Zetifi’s main job in 2021 remains providing producers with faster internet and better connectivity across the farm using Wi-Fi, we are betting big that 5G will drive the adoption of agtech in the years to come and we’re excited to be in at the ground floor.
On 22 August 2021, Zetifi was announced as a recipient of $932,850 in funding from the Australian Government as part of the 5G Innovation Initiative. This funding will support rigorous testing of Zetifi's innovative, ruggedised long-range 5G gateways in agricultural applications across various regional, rural and remote locations, and showcase the productivity benefits that high bandwidth, low latency connectivity can deliver to primary producers and the wider agriculture sector.