But what is the leading IoT killer use case? Self-driving vehicles? Smart cities? Smart health?
How about smart agriculture? When 5G IoT applications are discussed, the spotlight tends to fall on autonomous vehicles, robots, remote surgery or virtual reality – developments which could support mind-boggling new experiences, and which make for eye-catching headlines and images. But some less visually exciting IoT applications could have a greater effect on society and the economy in the short term – and one of those underrated use cases is smart farming.
With the earth’s resources increasingly stretched to provide adequate food for the whole population, farming and food production need to become smarter, urgently. Connecting animals, crops and machinery via sensors and 5G links, and using machine learning to analyze the data they produce, could obviously help farmers to plan more efficiently. It could also help them to foresee weather changes or fluctuations in demand for certain products, to track milk yields and animal movements and to haggle on virtual livestock markets.
IoT-based initiatives in other areas, not directly connected with the day-to-day business of farming, could also have an important part to play in agricultural planning. For instance, a remote and cost-effective environmental water monitoring scheme is being trialled in the US that could make it viable to monitor water quality with sensors rather than collecting samples by hand. The application of this technology to farming needs via IoT could go a long way to improving efficient use of water by assessing, for instance, where it is plentiful and whether it is pure enough to drink or better used to wash stables.
Meanwhile digital health, a growing market for both the fitness-conscious and people with long-term health issues, could transfer to livestock, alerting farmers to urgently required treatment for sheep or potentially infectious illnesses among cattle.
And of course, as we have noted, data would play a part. As the GSMA points out in its 2016 report ‘Mobilising the Internet of Things’:
“Data from various sources such as soil conditions, climate, crop conditions, farm equipment, irrigation sensors, air pollution, cattle conditions, grain silos and more could be analysed to produce solutions that improve efficiency and increase yield, e.g. calculating the optimal level of fertilisers, stocking of feed and servicing of equipment.”
One of the key benefits of 5G IoT for farms is encapsulated in the term ‘remote’, where 5G may offer more options than competing WAN IoT technologies. Whatever WAN IoT technology is involved, however, farms big and small can benefit from monitoring systems that don't rely on direct human involvement and can send information across vast distances if – and it’s a still a big if – sensors, networks, and analysis can all be made cost-effective.
And that’s not just good news for farmers. Indeed, the GSMA estimated that smart agriculture is the second biggest IoT opportunity, in terms of revenue potential for mobile operators, after smart buildings [[i]].
That said, one would assume that changes to farming practice would more often be associated with emerging economies – but they apply to the UK too, as initiatives in sheep tracking, optimising fertiliser levels and assessing crop yields indicate.