Stratford Press

Dead zones are getting connected

TECHNOLOGY: A new network is reaching into remote rural parts, Donna Russell reports.

- WISPA Network

Improving connectivi­ty in remote rural areas of New Zealand would help lift productivi­ty and equip farmers and growers with tools to improve sustainabi­lity. — Tim Cutfield,

Technology is starting to reach out to the trickier parts of Northland, where farmers and rural communitie­s still struggle in dark spots of connectivi­ty. Several expansions or upgrades have been announced to be implemente­d over the next year.

The WISPA Network recently gained funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainabl­e Food and Fibre Futures fund in a push to help roll out a national, rural-focused Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN).

MPI director of investment programmes Steve Penno said patchy network connection remains a significan­t barrier to many farmers wanting to adopt agricultur­al technology solutions.

“Improving connectivi­ty in remote rural areas of New Zealand would help lift productivi­ty and equip farmers and growers with tools to improve sustainabi­lity.

“The ultimate aim is to develop a sustainabl­e commercial business model that offers a low-cost solution for our rural farmers.”

WISPA Network general manager Tim Cutfield said LoRaWAN technology is significan­tly cheaper than an equivalent cellular network.

“Delivering it via an existing

network of about 3000 sites, which currently provide rural internet services, will lower establishm­ent and running costs.”

He said the LoRaWAN connectivi­ty could be used in different ways.

“Farmers’ connectivi­ty needs differ from case to case. It could be used at the back of the farm to monitor sensors on a remote water tank and send automated reports back to a cellphone or computer,” he said.

“It can also be used for remote monitoring of traps in a pest control network, so sensors could pick up if a trap has fired. It could also be used to monitor takes from water bores.

“There are all sorts of potential uses for this technology.”

LoRaWAN is used extensivel­y internatio­nally so there are many lowcost sensors available off the shelf that can be adapted for the needs of New Zealand farmers. The sensors are solar powered.

Cutfield said it was an exciting job working with the agritech sector to deliver new solutions for farmers.

“We’d like to see, for example, sensors included with new water tanks when they are sold. There are so many possibilit­ies.”

Meanwhile, Chorus has started a programme to upgrade 13 broadband cabinets on its copper network at three sites in Whangarei district, three in Kaipara and seven in the Far North.

The programme is a mixture of building new cabinets or upgrading existing cabinets and connecting them back to the nearest exchange with fibre. VDSL broadband, which is six times faster than ADSL broadband, would be available on each of the cabinets.

Following the upgrades, residents living within about 1.2km of a cabinet would be able to access fibre-enabled VDSL broadband, allowing for a more consistent connection. Households outside that area would still benefit from a better broadband quality and reliabilit­y.

The work is part of the Government’s Rural Capacity Upgrades programme.

Chorus spokesman Louis Hartley said about 11,200 small businesses and homes were connected to Chorus’ ADSL and about 10,800 used VDSL in Northland.

About 8300 small businesses and homes connected to Chorus’ fibre network, figures that did not include the networks of other local fibre companies.

The Ultra-Fast Broadband rollout had brought fibre to Kaitaia, Kerikeri and Kaikohe. By January, Omapere, Taipa Beach and Tokerau Beach would also have UFB networks completed.

Northland residents can look into what broadband technology is available to them by visiting and checking if their address can access fibre, VDSL or ADSL.

Federated Farmers New Zealand’s annual Rural Connectivi­ty Report has noted survey respondent­s reporting a decline in the quality of landline and mobile connectivi­ty, as services become stretched.

The survey noted the solitary nature of a lot of farm work and the hazards involved make reliable means of communicat­ion absolutely essential.

Federated Farmers Northland president Colin Hannah said the gaps in rural connectivi­ty were still substantia­l and there are many farmers who could not get cellphone coverage or who had only shaky internet connection­s.

“Some of these are not particular­ly remote farms either. My farm is quite close to Whangarei and I still struggle to get coverage,” he said.

“My wife is always panicking when she can’t get hold of me out on the farm, as there are quite a few spots with absolutely zero coverage, although there are cellphone towers in the area. Farmers are using a range of methods, including satellites, to get some connectivi­ty.”

The Rural Connectivi­ty report found almost two out of three farmers surveyed indicated their average download speed for the internet is between 0 and 20Mbps, and one in five farmers had to deal with a mobile reception of only one or two signal bars in strength.

More than two in three farmers retained a landline connection to the farm because cellphone coverage was so poor, and more than half indicated their landline service was of poor or average quality.

A new survey was being compiled and is due out this year.■

 ?? ?? A solarpower­ed Long Range Wide Area Network monitoring sensor keeps track of levels in a remote water tank.
A solarpower­ed Long Range Wide Area Network monitoring sensor keeps track of levels in a remote water tank.

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