In July 2017 Spark announced that it had commenced the development of a nationwide low power Internet of Things (‘IoT’) network. Fast forward 16 months and the traditional telco turned digital services provider has successfully deployed IoT networks that now cover more than 68% of the New Zealand population including coverage in some rural isolated areas of New Zealand.
Once a buzzword – IoT – is now becoming a staple tech solution on the farm. The capability for IoT networks to transfer small pockets of data with broad coverage at an affordable price point is a true benefit for farmers and rural communities.
Farmers can now have detailed information about pasture, animals, soil moisture, water levels, machinery and systems to make smarter decisions with pinpoint precision.
Spark started by testing the technology with partners from a range of industries, from agriculture through to marine, and is seeing strong demand for use cases as a result.
Partnering with Levno and rural New Zealand
In March 2018 Spark's low power IoT network launched in a partnership set to benefit the rural sector. The network was first launched in New Zealand’s top 20 urban centres, but has also been extended to customers in Manawatu, Canterbury and Waikato.
Levno – a fuel monitoring specialist started using the network from April. Their system consists of a battery-powered sensor attached to the fuel tank, which immediately reports any change in volume. This information gets sent in real-time, via the cloud, to the customer’s device. When levels get low, the fuel distributor is notified that a delivery is needed – a true showcase of how IoT can help improve farming productivity.
Spark’s Digital Services Lead, Michael Stribling says that last year, when Spark announced plans to build two IoT networks in New Zealand to enable the broadest range of IoT uses possible, the huge potential of these for businesses soon became evident.
“We know that for many farmers, this is the technology they need to take their productivity to the next level—whether it’s by keeping better track of their resources, moving off cellular technology to lower their infrastructure costs, or testing the new IoT product they've been developing.”
With sensors connected to a low-power network, Spark also expects batteries to last twice as long—up to ten years. The new network also has the flexibility to reach a wider area, enabling the company to extend its service into areas it is not currently able to reach using cellular technology.
IoT helps farmers manage resources
As the underlying infrastructure needed to enable IoT in New Zealand is established, farmers are seeing a greater range of connected technologies become available to them.
Farmer James Griffin was excited to be one of the first customers to deploy IoT technology on his farm.
Griffin manages the 200-hectare Griffin Family farm in Rangitikei. He has two diesel tanks and two petrol tanks which service three tractors, a truck and ten motorbikes. With some fuel tanks as far as 3.5km from the farm house, Griffin has experienced the difficulty of keeping tabs on the valuable resource. As soon as Levno brought out its monitoring service, he got on board.
The system provides him with three main benefits: stopping fuel theft, managing fuel allocation and stock reconciliation.
Griffin says IoT systems allowed him to stop fuel theft—something common on large farms. It gave him visibility of when fuel was disappearing unaccounted for. It also meant that when fuel was removed during the night, he could know straight away and investigate.
It also saves him time: “I don’t have to proactively tell anyone that I need more fuel. We were constantly running out of fuel a few years ago. Now we can adapt to and monitor seasonal use better, and when we do need more, the system sends a message to Allied Petroleum and they come by with a delivery.”
With fuel being monitored so closely, farmers like Griffin have a view on which vehicles are needing fuel more often and which are running the most economically. The ability to reconcile stocks also helps with fuel excise duty claims. For many farmers, this has meant huge savings.
On Farm IoT use cases become more prevalent
Bringing low power, wide area network coverage (LoRaWAN™) connectivity to life for farmers and agribusinesses means those wanting to harness the power of IoT can do so. In farming it’s critical to manage resources efficiently. Being able to know in real-time whether a water tank is leaking, or whether a gate’s been left open, will save farmers time, money and energy.
For tech savvy Waikato farmer and co-founder of IoT company Knode, Marcus Graham, the new Spark IoT Low Power Network coverage is an exciting development to help better manage operations on his 145-hectare dairy farm.
“Connecting Knode through Spark’s IoT Low Power Network provides another connectivity option and allows me to investigate options for controlling assets on the farm right from my phone.”
“Using Spark’s IoT Low Power Network to connect to the Knode platform I‘m able to monitor water flow, measure tank levels and check for water leaks. The new network will enable the control of things like water valves and pumps right from my pocket. Nine times out of ten I’ll get a water leak as I sit down for dinner. Being able to put the pump on snooze until morning will be a game changer.”
Beyond developing their IoT networks Spark has also launched its’ first ‘plug and go’ solution. Aptly called Coverage-in-a-Box the straightforward solution provides customers with a network extension of Spark’s IoT Low Power network in just a few steps allowing customers to track more assets and keep tabs on vital data at a low cost making it more affordable for businesses to get underway with IoT.
The product will enable farmers utilising Spark’s IoT network to extend coverage indoors by setting up the solution in the milking sheds, storage garages and more to project localised coverage where there was otherwise none. This is a cost friendly solution that farmers can use to track more assets or measure milk, water or oil levels in tanks.
Spark launches new digital-assessment tool to boost agri-sector
Spark, together with partner Digital Journey, has also launched the Spark Agri Assessment, a tool specifically for the agri-sector. The tool is a response to huge growth in Agribusinesses innovation.
Spark says the agribusiness sector could see some of the fastest growth in IoT technology, with over 50% of the company’s IoT partners focused on solutions for this industry.
After answering a series of questions covering mobile technology through to sensors on the farm, participants are delivered a personalised digital action plan that lays out the areas they could consider working on.
Farmers and agribusinesses have been some of the first to adopt smart technologies to revolutionise the way they work, some even founding IoT businesses to solve pain points they face in their day-to-day working lives.
The innovation seen in the agri-sector is extraordinary, farmers have always used kiwi ingenuity to work smarter and now they’re taking that number 8 wire mentality to the next level with technology.
Anyone wanting to complete the Spark Agri Assessment tool can check it out at sparkagri.digitaljourney.nz or can visit sparkdigital.co.nz/iot.