New 4G coverage provides the answer to rural broadband issues

Farmers are being held back by poor mobile phone and broadband coverage, but a new partnership approach could finally provide the answer.

Launched in conjunction with PrognostiX, an agri-tech company that is working in association with St David’s Poultry Team, the Rapid Site product from EE provides 4G coverage on almost any farm, at significantly lower cost than satellite links. Currently used on building sites, it can be set up within just three days, providing superfast WIFI capable of handling all the data, internet usage and phone calls required.

“Farmers are really embracing technology, and the opportunities to use real-time data to aid management decisions are tremendous,” says Alan Beynon, Director at PrognostiX. “Modern equipment is capable of sending large amounts of information to be processed on a single computer, but at the moment wireless connectivity is a huge barrier on farms.”

PrognostiX and EE have set up a connected farm project at a poultry unit in Devon, and will soon be rolling it out to other poultry sites. “The opportunities to link up all the data generated on farm – from temperature and humidity sensors and milking robots to production data and feed ration information – are really exciting,” says Mr Beynon. “The detail is there, we just need the wireless connectivity and software to turn it into live, actionable information which farmers can use to improve business efficiencies.”

Although the government has committed to rolling out superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by the end of 2017, in reality many rural areas still have extremely limited broadband coverage. But EE’s 4G network already covers more than 95% of the population and it is aiming to cover 95% of the geographical area by 2020. Having secured the contract to replace the UK’s emergency services’ radio service with 4G this year, it has a strong incentive to roll out geographical coverage as quickly as possible.

In addition to Rapid Site, PrognostiX and EE are also offering Connected Vehicle, which provides 4G WIFI on the move. “Vets and farmers increasingly demand internet access in the field,” says PrognostiX technical consultant Keith Evans. “You can complete reports, access farm or veterinary records, and get work completed instantly rather than waiting until you’re back in the office.”

With both Rapid Site and Connected Vehicle farmers can make internet phone calls even when their own mobile phone coverage fails. “This makes for safer lone working environments, as well as improved labour efficiencies,” says Mr Evans.