Kit vendor Ericsson has built a 5G SA network for US researchers which will power data gathering connected robots, livestock monitoring and agricultural automation.

The 5G SA network is part of the Agriculture and Rural Communities (ARA) multi-modal platform for wireless research, based on the Iowa State University campus. The coverage extends to local crop and livestock farms and parts of the city of Ames.

The build consists of a 5G core operating in SA mode and NR radios which operate in both mid-band and millimeter wave spectrum bands, with a high aggregate throughput up to 3Gbps. The outdoor network will run 5G SA with mid and high band New Radio-Dual Connectivity (NR-DC) with a downlink exceeding 2.5Gbps in outdoor live testing.

All this bandwidth will be used to support precision agriculture applications, along with other research initiatives, and it has connected up farm sites that previously had little to no broadband access.

The research will include using connected robots (PhenoBots) to collect plant phenotyping data with stereoscopic cameras generating 800 megabits per second worth of sensor data per camera, livestock monitoring with high-resolution cameras, and agriculture automation.

“As we continue to unlock 5G’s full potential, we’re excited to support ARA’s cutting-edge research on precision agriculture, rural broadband, renewable energy, and public safety for smart and connected rural communities,” said Per Wahlen, Vice President and Head of Business Development, Ericsson North America.

Hongwei Zhang, Principal Investigator of ARA and Director of the Center for Wireless, Communities and Innovation, Iowa State University added: “As ARA aims to help close the gap between academic and industry research in the wireless and agricultural sectors, we’re excited to announce the Ericsson network component, which is open for joint opportunities for both academic and industry research endeavours.”

The concept of the smart farm – like the smart city – made up part of the hype fodder for the initial 5G launch. Since 5G SA is considered ‘proper’ 5G the line seems to now be that it will be the required driving force behind all sorts of industries being revolutionised by high bandwidth and low latency mobile connectivity.

How large a commercial market applications like this represents for kit vendors like Ericsson in the near future remains to be seen, but if it does represent a teaser of how food can be grown better or more abundantly – as is presumably the end goal – we can think of much more frivolous use cases presented over the years.

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