NNNCo announces agricultural IoT network

NNNCo's new joint venture with Discover Ag, Connected Country, will deploy a LoRaWAN IoT network across regional areas of Australia to enable 'smart farms'.

Australia's National Narrowband Network Company (NNNCo) has announced that it will be forming a joint-venture company called Connected Country to construct and manage a nationwide long-range wide-area network (LoRaWAN) Internet of Things (IoT) network in partnership with Discover Ag.

Connected Country's Rural IoT Network is aimed at providing low-cost connectivity to farmers to enable them to deploy IoT devices and solutions.

"The LoRaWAN will provide the backbone infrastructure for secure, standards-based shared networks of low-cost wireless sensors that constantly report on essential farm metrics like soil moisture, rainfall, crop health, water levels, and livestock data," NNNCo said.

The bi-directional communication capabilities will allow farmers to not only receive such data, but also control water infrastructure, track assets, deploy feeding and watering functions, and signal during emergencies.

NNNCo said the network would be "immediately" deployed across 1 million acres in New South Wales ahead of more widespread availability within 18 months to provide coverage to rural towns and properties, farming crops, horticulture, and livestock.

Connected Country is working alongside long-time NNNCo partner Cisco for networking solutions, as well as partnering with the NSW Department of Primary Industries in order to speed up the network rollout, with Cisco ANZ VP Ken Boal saying the Rural IoT Network is "essential" to enabling digitisation for companies in regional areas.

According to NNNCo CEO Rob Zagarella, the Connected Country network is an extension of the NNN currently being rolled out across the country, and is aimed specifically at connecting farmers with a more affordable solution than traditional mobile networks.

"Connected Country is dedicated to providing carrier-grade networks to enable smarter, cheaper, and more ubiquitous sensors by leveraging local innovation in conjunction with a global ecosystem of providers. The goal is to drive productivity, efficiency and risk management solutions across rural and regional Australia," Zagarella said.

"The network will significantly drive down the cost of connection for data communication and the cost of sensors using this technology. This will make the difference between isolated usage and widespread deployment of the sensors, which will in turn provide more granular information and higher value to the industry."

NNNCo had announced in February that it would be rolling out a LoRaWAN industrial IoT network across the nation in partnership with IoT service platform provider Actility in a staged process.

"This will occur project by project across Australia, in partnership with Actility as NNNCo's network server provider," Zagarella said at the time.

"The big use cases in Australia are water, agriculture, energy monitoring and control, soil moisture, rainfall detection, cattle tracking, building management, and people movement."

The announcement followed their trials of LoRaWAN technology with Ergon Energy in Queensland, which delivered a network for the energy utility for six months from November via sensors being installed on the hot water circuits of houses in Townsville.

NNNCo had utilised Actility's IoT platform and network server in combination with its own implementation of end-to-end multicast technology for Ergon's tailored solution.

NNNCo earlier this year also launched three IoT and machine-to-machine devices for use on LoRaWAN networks with Murata: Demand response enabling devices; a controller for smart streetlights; and a device that accepts inputs from sensors and sends data over LoRa networks.

As part of the collaboration, Murata's LPWAN module design was integrated with NNNCo's Smart Device Software (SDS) software stack in order to deploy a solution for the latter's trial with Ergon and Actility.

The SDS software stack combines NNNCo's granular multicast technology with a LPWA-unique protocol that is able to work globally via the use of published APIs, which will allow manufacturers, operators, and solutions providers to deploy IoT solutions in a faster and more cost-effective way.

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