Although no longer the CEO of Microsoft, the 66-year-old billionaire’s latest business move signals that certain sectors are becoming risky. Gates has invested in Sanderson Farms and Canadian Pacific, which offers water services, as well as stocks of inland transportation companies.
Sectors like food production, water supply, and transport of goods are necessary for human life, but in the 21st century, which is primarily a century of digital technology, they will look much different than they did in the past. In light of digitalization, agriculture, i.e. farming, is particularly interesting. Namely, outdated ways of food production require high working capital and the use of huge land capacity, while business risk lies in climate impacts, so the key to raising profitability and efficiency is the development of precision farming.
We are talking about using new 5G-based technologies in agriculture and livestock to maximize resources, optimize crop and livestock yields, reduce food production costs, and ultimately preserve the environment. These goals can be achieved by farm automation and the use of new tools, which in turn depend on access to high-speed, low-latency networks and the ability to collect and analyze large amounts of data.
5G infrastructure is a technology that enables smarter data communication between farm management systems such as drones, sensors, robots, and autonomous agricultural machinery and vehicles. Equally important is the analysis of the data collected in order to improve yields. The biggest challenge for the development of precision farming is building 5G infrastructure in rural areas, and countries that can provide this will have a comparative advantage in the development of this primary economic sector, which Gates expects to grow in value and profitability in the future.
What does precision farming look like? Assuming the availability of a 5G connection, machines and devices perform most of the heavy, labor-intensive work 24 hours a day, regardless of severe weather conditions. These are just some of the tasks that used to be performed by humas on arable land and in livestock farming thus far, but with new technologies, human activity will become obsolete.
- Driverless tractors can plow the land on their own using GPS and computer vision.
- Combine harvesters and unloading systems can use sensors and inter-machine communication to efficiently manage farming practices and share crop yield data.
- The devices can collect, monitor and share field data on soil health, the presence of pests and crop quality, and farmers can remotely change processes according to this data.
- Autonomous robots can determine when dairy cows move in and out of milking machines.
- Using machine learning, robots can perform a variety of tasks, such as picking and harvesting fruits and vegetables without damage and identifying and measuring fruit ripeness to reduce fruit spoilage.
- Unmanned aerial vehicles and autonomous vehicles can perform tasks that are difficult, dangerous or impossible for workers to perform safely.
Without 5G wireless networks this technology cannot be used effectively. Usually, only the network speed required for the operation of sensors, vehicles and robots is included in the equation, but all these machines collect and send huge amounts of data, without the analysis of which precise farming would be impossible. Fun fact: the average corn field generates 28 times more data than a well-equipped library.
Ericsson is also developing solutions for precision farming, emphasizing that 5G access is necessary in order to achieve technology coordination, data analysis, and increased production efficiency. Through the PAWR program designed for rural areas in the US, Ericsson is focusing its research on the convergence of wireless 5G technology, drones, and autonomous vehicles, that can stream real-time images and videos from farms, which can help in identifying and eliminating weeds and plant diseases.
The importance of 5G for rural areas goes beyond precision farming, in that it also enables innovative services, such as telemedicine – which can greatly benefit rural areas where hospitals are few and far between – and online education of the rural population.