Telcos and service providers aren't just bringing you connectivity; they're actively involved in bringing food to your table and feeding you, thanks to Internet of Things innovations in the world of agricultural technology (Ag Tech).
In a recent phone interview with Telco Transformation, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) (NYSE: VZ) extensively discussed what it considers to be the Ag Tech crown jewel in its Internet of Things (IoT) palace: a pilot program collaboration with Intel that began in 2015. The pilot project involved working with Hahn Family Wines -- a California winery -- and the processes and results were especially instructive for Verizon as it planned its IoT analytics strategy.
"With Ag Tech, when we worked with the agronomists [at Hahn Family Wines] in trying to figure out what kind of solution they need when they looked at their vineyards, I never realized that [the grapes for] a cabernet and a merlot and a pinot noir, [and] the lines of the grapes, and the acres of the farm [all] really need to be managed differently," said Mary Beth Hall, Verizon's Director of IoT Operations. "And, you know, I'm a wine drinker; I'm not gonna lie."
Now, with sensors connected to a network and IoT-enhanced agricultural data analytics, explained Hall, that data collection can happen automatically -- and in real time.
"Getting that data right now [without IoT] is a very manual process," said Hall. "We automate those actions and really make it user-driven, where you're setting these alerts based on your own threshold that you need so that you could actually make decisions based on that."
According to Hall, the Hahn partnership was designed to test and establish the power of Verizon's IoT analytics. All of this has served as preparation in advance of the upcoming full release of the telecom's big data analytics engine across its entire IoT platform, ThingSpace -- as confirmed to Telco Transformation last month in an exclusive. (See Exclusive: Verizon Beefs Up ThingSpace With Big Data & App Store and Verizon Reveals IoT PaaS Analytics Strategy.)
An April industry report from Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) (NYSE: VZ) titled State of the Market: Internet of Things 2016 expands upon Hall's observations. (See Internet of Things: Strength in Numbers, and Internet of Things: Sizing the IoT Opportunity.)
"IoT devices enable companies to track heat, light and other relevant factors. By integrating this data with, say, weather and traffic data, the company can make better decisions because it has a more holistic view that is tied to the business," according to the report, which also explains that the Verizon IoT technology Hahn uses is "measuring soil and moisture conditions to improve plant quality, lower operating costs and increase crop value."
Hence, agriculture presents an area -- ahem -- ripe for IoT innovation. According to Verizon, the huge growth in agricultural IoT deployment is happening partly because those solutions help companies navigate the "evolving regulatory landscape." (For instance, the real-time monitoring and analytics IoT can provide -- as with the Hahn pilot project -- help companies comply with legal and regulatory reporting requirements.) Data gathered and created by Verizon indicates that the agriculture sector experienced a 33% increase in the number of IoT network connections between 2014 and 2015. That number continues to increase in 2016 -- and Verizon's report notes that this growth is driven by more than compliance and regulation. Identifying a market opportunity for IoT across 1 million acres of vineyards, Verizon reports that the recent boom in agriculturally purposed IoT connections is directly contributing to the IoT going mainstream.
To be sure, Verizon is far from the only IoT provider in the Ag Tech space. Service provider LogMeIn (NASDAQ: LOGM) has partnered with agriculture startup Freight Farms to help make this IoT agricultural vision a reality. Freight Farms enables farmers to grow crops within shipping containers equipped with LogMeIn's IoT sensors -- for 24/7 crop monitoring and farm management.
"We enable [Freight Farms] to get to market very quickly and to build products that are connected," Paddy Srinivasan, general manager and vice president of Xively IoT, LogMeIn's IoT business unit, told audience members at a breakout session on digital transformation at this summer's Massachusetts Technology Council's Internet of Things Conference. (See: The IoT Revolution: Democratizing DevOps.)
"The only way the economics work is if you keep the time in the farm down," said Kyle Seaman, director of farm technology at Freight Farms, as he spoke on the same panel with Srinivasan -- echoing Hall's points about manual agricultural processes unenhanced by IoT. "If I know that things are physically fine on the farm, I don't have to be on the farm."
Hall, for her part, sees these productivity and economic efficiency interests as empowering for both agricultural workers and the world as a whole.
"IoT will be very powerful for them and for us as a society -- all of us," emphasized Hall. "There's not any more land that can be developed, and there are more people that need farm-produced items."
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing, Telco Transformation