Communication technologies for the Internet of things in agriculture (Agro IoT) and the role of telecom operators

July 2017

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Communication technologies for the Internet of things in agriculture (Agro IoT) and the role of telecom operators
Communication technologies for the Internet of things in agriculture (Agro IoT) and the role of telecom operators
July 2017

Communication technologies for the Internet of things in agriculture (Agro IoT) and the role of telecom operators

July 2017

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J'son & Partners Consulting presents a brief survey of existing and prospective technologies that are used to connect "things" in agriculture, and the role of telecom operators in the Agro IoT (AIoT) ecosystem. The main prospects in this segment are related to the development of energy-efficient technologies with a large range of operation (LPWAN) and NB-IoT.


The Agro IoT ecosystem and the role of telecom operators


In general, the technologies used in smart farming can be divided into several categories (Figure 1):

  • Sensing Technologies;
  • Software Applications;
  • Communications Systems;
  • Telematics, Positioning Technologies;
  • Hardware and Software Systems;
  • Data analytics Solutions.


Source: Beecham Research, 2016


The ecosystem of the main participants and market elements of the Agro IoT is diverse. It includes companies offering solutions for monitoring the fleet of agricultural machinery and combating theft / inefficient use of fuel, fertilizers and other agricultural assets, the development and introduction of agricultural machinery with the function of autopilot, developers of specialized platforms for agriculture, etc.


In Russia, the formation of the Agro IoT ecosystem is at an early stage. Basically, its elements originate in large agro-industrial complexes with private capital and state support. At the same time, the world is developing solutions for small farms and even private amateur gardeners. This creates broad prerequisites for the formation of the mass market of the Internet of things in agriculture.


The role of telecom operators in this ecosystem is not limited to providing communication services for connecting a variety of sensors to collect information about weather, soil moisture, etc.


The largest operators (AT&T, Telefonica, Verizon, Orange, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, etc.) are actively involved in the AIoT segment, offering specialized wireless equipment, sensors, analytical platforms and SIM card management platforms, solutions for diagnosing M2M/IoT devices, etc.


Thus, in the IoT ecosystem, the functions of operators as telecommunications service providers are significantly expanding - in fact they become a key link, that guarantees the availability of applications and the safety of their use. At the same time, cooperation and integration with full-scale IoT platforms gives the operator access to new markets and new customers.


The Internet of things, and in particular AIoT, is gradually becoming an operator business as well, representing a classic example of value-added services (VAS). Such large operators as Orange and AT&T provide their corporate customers with ready-made and custom-built IoT-services. As a rule, such services are sold under the SaaS model under the operator's brand, but are based on industrial IoT-platforms used by operators on the OEM model. In general, foreign operators are more likely to purchase services from specialized providers and resell them to consumers under their own brand.


As for domestic operators, MTS has a strong position in the field of transport monitoring, including agricultural machinery. The operator is mostly engaged in geo-monitoring of commercial vehicles used in the logistics of agricultural products. With the development of industrial IoT platforms, the operator's solutions and experience will be scaled. “VimpelCom”, according to market participants, intends to focus on monitoring livestock farms. ‘MegaFon” jointly with Huawei launched the NB-IoT technology in 2017, this year it is expected that it will be possible to see the first results of its application in agriculture.


According to GSMA, the level of participation of mobile operators in the M2M projects in agriculture in 2015 in the world was only 17% compared to 81% in the automotive sector. The relatively low level of operator involvement creates the prerequisites for a more active involvement in the future.


In the future, the role of operators in the agricultural Internet of Things will grow due to their cooperation with other members of the AIoT ecosystem, which is constantly expanding in parallel with the expansion of the boundaries of agricultural production management.


IoT can consistently evolve from the connection of individual products and objects with the purpose of their diagnostics and control to the unification of various products and more complex process facilities in the IoT network, and IoT networks can in their turn evolve into more complex network platforms and integrated production solutions – systems of systems (or platforms of platforms, Fig. 2)


For example, an automated farm management solution may include not only equipping of agricultural machinery and attachments with remote management and monitoring systems, but it also may integrate solutions for collecting and processing a variety of "field" data that can be used in farm planning and management (weather, soil and air moisture, mineralization, calculation and precise application of agrochemistry, yield assessment, etc.) with the prospect of integrating it with logistics and marketing processes. At the same time the ecosystem of partners plays an important role.


Source: Harvard Business Review Россия



IoT solutions for agriculture are a promising market for Telecom operators in the search for new business models in the framework of digital transformation of businesses.

By 2020, as expected, there will be 100 million IoT connected devices in agriculture (Fig. 3). The role of operators will be expanded from the provision of telecommunications services to provision of complete end-to-end solutions for the agricultural sector in the area of IoT through partnerships and vertical integration with other ecosystem participants.


Source: NEC на основе данных Gartner и GSMA


Communication IoT technologies in agriculture


As expected, the LPWAN /NB-IoTin technologies will mainly be used for data transfer over large distances in agriculture, in some cases 2G and satellite communications, while the use of technologies such as 3G/4G and fixed networks is in question.


The main limitations of 3G/4G cellular networks in agriculture are usually incomplete coverage of such networks in rural areas, high costs for building the network from scratch and large energy consumption.


The NB-IoT technology is a priority for most mobile operators. The world's first commercial NB-IoT network was launched by Vodafone in Spain in January 2017. According to GSA at the end of the 1 quarter of 2017, there are 4 commercial NB-IoT networks launched and 40 more such networks are being tested.


In parallel, we can see an intensive development of energy-efficient technologies with large ranges (LPWAN) – LoRa, Sigfox, "STRIZH" etc.


The ability to create a local LoRa network on a small area and with a small number of devices is a significant advantage of this technology to enable its use in small farms or even private households without any licenses and charges.


In Russia the LoRaWAN technology is used, in particular, in the project using an IoT platform called Tibbo AggreGate. The main advantages of LoRaWAN compared with the ZigBee technology, which was previously used in this project are:

  • bigger range and better coverage - to cover the same area you need less LoRaWAN base stations;
  • lower energy consumption;
  • lower cost of production.[1]


According to forecasts by Statista, the number of LPWAN connections used in farming agriculture all over the world, will grow to over 117 million by 2024, compared to 160 thousand connections in 2015. This exponential growth is associated with a sharp decrease in the value of individual sensors and the network operating costs.


In the long term, after 2020, the smart agriculture will use networking technologies of the fifth generation (5G), for example, in the field of autonomous driving and monitoring/management of agricultural machinery and robots. They are the fields that need higher data transmission speeds or/and lower delay time which are unattainable in modern cellular networks.




Detailed results of the research are presented in the full version of the report:

“Communication technologies for the Internet of things in agriculture (Agro IoT) and the role of telecom operators”




1.1.The development directions of Telecom operators

1.2.Drivers of entry of operators to the market of IoT for agriculture

1.3.Potential obstacles of the IoT market in agriculture for operators

1.4.Prospects and forecast of the market for IoT in the agricultural sector for operators

1.5.Successful projects of operators for IoT in agriculture

1.5.1.   AT&T

1.5.2.   Telefonica

1.5.3.   Verizon

1.5.4.   Telstra

1.5.5.   Orange

1.5.6.   Deutsche Telekom

1.5.7.   Vodafone      The Connected Cows Solution      The KEENAN In-Touch solution for optimal cow feeding

1.5.8.   NTT


2.1.Cellular networks


2.3.Basic LPWAN technologies

2.3.1.   LoRaWAN

2.3.2.   Sigfox

2.3.3.   «STRIZH»

2.4.Wireless technologies of small and medium range

2.4.1.   Wi-Fi

2.4.2.   NFC

2.4.3.   Bluetooth

2.4.4.   ZigBee

2.5.Other technologies

2.5.1.   DigiMesh

2.5.2.   Radiocommunication 433 MHz

2.6.Prospects for the use of 5G networks in agriculture



List of figures


Fig. 1. Change of boundaries of the industries at the example of agriculture

Fig. 2. The number of IoT devices in the world by sectors, billion, 2013-2020

Fig. 3. Dedicated IoT network

Fig. 4. The role of the Telecom operator in the segment of IoT for agriculture

Fig. 5. Implementation of IoT for preventive maintenance of construction equipment (Deutsche Telekom)

Fig. 6. The share of mobile operators in various sectors of the economy in the IoT segment

Fig. 7. Forecast of traffic growth of a medium agricultural enterprise to 2034

Fig. 8. Potential profit from sales of IoT devices, their installation and maintenance in the agricultural sector: forecast to 2020

Fig. 9. Screen shot of one of the IoT services from AT&T

Fig. 10. LTE gateway connected to a weather station in Hahn Winery

Fig. 11. User interface of the Verizon Wireless analytics system with recommendations on watering

Fig. 12. A cow with a Vel Phone sensor

Fig. 13. MEDRIA data collector, that receives signals from Vel’Phone and Heat'Phone (then they are sent to the farmer’s mobile phone in the form of SMS)

Fig. 14. The scheme of work of Vel’Phone and Heat'Phone with Medria data collector

Fig. 15. Moocall terminal attached to the cow's tail

Fig. 16. Feeder KEENAN

Fig. 17. Controller of the KEENAN feeder with a SIM card Vodafone

Fig. 18. Technologies used in smart agriculture

Fig. 19. Use of different communication technologies for IoT in various sectors

Fig. 20. Use of the LoRaWAN technology for controlling the temperature of drinking water for cows

Fig. 21. The scheme of using 3G/GPRS and Sigfox in the project on cultivation of kiwi

Fig. 22. The degree of transparancy of different LPWAN technologies

Fig. 23. The scheme of using the Wi-Fi technology in a nursery in Australia

Fig. 24. The scheme of using the ZigBee (802.15.4) and 3G/GPRS technology in the project on cultivation of bananas in Colombia

Fig. 25. Features of the XBee wireless technology used in integrable radio modules on the Waspmote platform from Libelium


List of tables


Table. 1. The main features of use of cellular technology (3G/GPRS) and Sigfox in the project on cultivation of kiwi in Italy



The newsletter was prepared by J'son & Partners Consulting. We make every effort to provide factual and forecast data that fully reflect the situation and are available at the time of the release of the material. J'son & Partners Consulting reserves the right to revise the data after the publication of new official information by individual players. 


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J'son & Partners Consulting presents a brief survey of existing and prospective technologies that are used to connect "things" in agriculture, and the role of telecom operators in the Agro IoT (AIoT) ecosystem. The main prospects in this segment are related to the development of energy-efficient technologies with a large range of operation (LPWAN) and NB-IoT.