Author Archives: Hussain Fakhruddin

NB-IoT In India: Looking At The Key Facts, Stats & Updates

NB-IoT in India: Trends and updates

 

India is fast growing into a strong global IoT hub. By the end of 2016, there were ~200 million ‘connected devices‘ in the country – and this count has been estimated to jump to 2.6 billion units in 2020. In terms of revenue, we are looking at an almost 3X increase over the 2016-2020 period ($5.6 billion vs $15 billion). Globally, the overall size of the IoT market will swell to well over $3 trillion by the end of this decade. LPWAN (low power, wide area networks) standards are driving the growth of IoT across the globe in a big way. According to a recent Infoholic Research report, the worldwide LPWAN market will be growing at a CAGR of >93% between 2016 and 2022. We have already highlighted the importance of Semtech Corporation’s LoRa technology in previous posts here and here. Let us now turn our attentions to another competing, and increasingly popular, technology – Narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT.

There are, at present, around 200 million active NB-IoT connections in the world. Come 2021, the number of connections will shoot up to 685 million (a 242.5% spike). The 2017-2022 CAGR of the global NB-IoT market will be ~62% – going up from $16 million (2017) to $181 million (2022). While Europe and North America are, rather expectedly, the early pace-setters in this domain – the Asia-Pacific has emerged as the biggest contributor to the global NB-IoT market – thanks to the proliferation of smart cities, and the large-scale deployments of optimized IoT solutions. The growth of NB-IoT in India over the past few quarters has been well and truly remarkable too. Reliance Jio, in collaboration with Samsung, is planning to deploy a pan-India cellular IoT network (covering 99% of the nation’s population). Last month, Vodafone reported that it is deliberating on the implementation of NB-IoT solutions in India (following its ‘superIoT’ approach). Over here, we will briefly touch upon some interesting facts and stats about the growth of NB-IoT in India:

  1. What exactly is NB-IoT?

    Before getting down to analyzing the technology, it is important to understand the precise nature of narrowband-IoT. Broadly speaking, NB-IoT refers to a new form of LPWAN radio technology, that is typically meant for transferring low data volumes over large networks (NB-IoT powered devices can be used for indoor as well as outdoor use). Alternatively known as LTE-M2, the technology is implemented either through dedicated LTE base stations, or on 200-khZ bands that were not previously in use. NB-IoT was standardized by 3GPP in September 2015 – with the LTE Advanced Pro Release 13 specifying its standards. An optimally functioning NB-IoT setup can deliver a maximum range of 34-35 km (significantly higher than that of LoRa; comparable with GSM), while the downlink data rate varies in the 2 – 170 kbps range. Unlike LoRaWAN and Sigfox, NB-IoT uses licensed LTE frequency spectrums. The highest possible uplink data rate is 250kbps, and the maximum coupling loss is 164 dB (marginally higher than LoRa; similar to Sigfox).

Note: Apart from the ease of bandwidth availability, NB-IoT ensures minimal interferences, excellent battery performance, and general ease of usage. It is, hence, an ideal communication protocol for sending/receiving data over long distances.

  1. Sectors under the NB-IoT focus

    Enterprise applications are increasing in importance in India – and smart automation is playing a key role over here (think: Smart Cities Mission, Digital India). Vodafone, which is actively involved in NB-IoT implementations for business/enterprise cases in Europe, has similar plans for the Indian market in the foreseeable future. The telecom giant is eyeing four industry verticals – education, automotive, medical and energy – as the ones with the biggest growth potentials for IoT. In addition, the consumer IoT sub-domain is growing fast too – thanks to the availability and growing awareness about smart home applications, tracking tools, and smart asset management solutions. The prime point of concern in the Indian IoT market is gradually shifting from ‘connectivity’ to ‘security’ – thereby entering a phase of early maturity. NB-IoT promises to be exciting on two counts – it can help individual end-users, as well as automate enterprise applications to take them to the next level.

Note: Since 5G will have significantly lower latency levels and bring up opportunities for AR/VR tools – it will make IoT connectivity in general, and NB-IoT use cases in particular, stronger.

  1. NB-IoT overcomes bandwidth limitations in India

    For all the developments of LoRa technology in India, the fact remains that there are restrictions on unlicensed IoT bands in the Indian market. NB-IoT does away with this issue, by using licensed frequency bands (the license fees are low). Availability of NB-IoT modules is hardly a factor – since the technology is making a relatively late entry over here, and multiple MNOs (mobile network operators) are already offering such modules. The onus lies on IoT developers to factor in the bandwidth requirements and the limited mobility of narrowband-IoT, while using the technology to create new applications/tools. Competitive pricing is yet another must-have factor for any new technology to be practically viable – and NB-IoT comes up trumps regarding that. The average per-device monthly cost should be around $0.5 (or even slightly lower, depending upon the precise nature of applications). The growth of NB-IoT in India will also be fueled by the network coverage capabilities of the technology.

Note: The value of the Indian digital economy will touch the $1 trillion mark in 2024. It can safely be stated that the country is well on its way towards becoming a ‘digital superpower’.

  1. The developments at MWC 2018

    The Reliance Jio-Samsung partnership is important for the large-scale commercial deployment of NB-IoT in India. At this year’s Mobile World Congress (Feb 26 – Mar 1), several other interesting NB-IoT-related announcements and developments also took place. For starters, France-based Sequans Communication released its first-ever ‘made for NB-IoT’ chip. A new set of 9 radio frequency (RF) chips for LPWANs were showcased by Qorvo. Using Vodafone as the network for its live demo session, Chinese chip vendor company Goodix announced the start of NB-IoT chip sales (the IP will be obtained from CommSolid GmbH). A dual-mode network (LTE-M1/NB-IoT) was presented by Vancouver-based startup Riot Micro. It was also announced at MWC 2018 by China Mobile that chips from 5 companies – ZTE, Huawei, Qualcomm, Mediatek and RDA – have been used to deploy full-fledged NB-IoT networks in as many as 346 cities. According to Qorvo, the global LPWAN market grew by an impressive 20% in 2017 – and by the time 2025 rolls in, it will be the single largest connectivity technology in the globe (with 4 billion+ active IoT devices).

Note: Just as the non-cellular IoT market is being led by LoRa (with Sigfox also having a strong presence), NB-IoT leads the cellular IoT sector.

  1. Successful NB-IoT trial runs in India

    Tata Communications has plans to deploy the largest LoRaWAN network in the world in India. The project, spanning 38 cities, will be completed before the end of 2019. NB-IoT networks are also set to become commercially available on a large-scale in India – with Reliance Jio (and Samsung) and Vodafone both eyeing rollouts in the coming months. Vodafone India announced last month that it had already completed multiple smart city test cases in Pune and Kolkata. At present, more use cases from different business sectors – from retail and automobiles, to manufacturing and healthcare – are being researched. On its part, Reliance has already deployed a fully functional NB-IoT network in Mumbai, and the networks in several other cities are being planned. The total number of Jio subscribers is already well over 158 million, ~9000 new towers are being set up every month, and LTE coverage in India is estimated to reach 99% by 2018 Q4.

Note: In North America and Europe, Deutsche Telekom leads the way in terms of NB-IoT network deployments.

  1. Disruptions with NB-IoT

    The chief objective of the Reliance Jio-Samsung collaboration is the assurance of faster, interruption-free internet across India. Non-IP data delivery will be something that will set apart the NB-IoT movement in India apart – and this innovation will be backed by a steadily growing user-base. For the deployment, all the installed Jio stations will have to be upgraded (the spectrum finalization will also pave the way for 5G, as and when the technology comes along). According to reports, narrowband-IoT can bring about technical disruptions in various industries – like transportation and logistics, smart metering utilities, weather tracking and vehicle tracking, security & surveillance, and predictive maintenance. In a country like India, NB-IoT is likely to pay a prominent role in smart agriculture/precision farming as well – improving yields and efficiency levels, and lowering uncertainties. As already mentioned above, the technology has the power to revolutionize both enterprise and customer IoT systems.

Note: The IoT scaling opportunities in India are unmatched (according to Qualcomm). In 2016, Qualcomm entered into a partnership with Philips, and another collaboration with CISCO (in Jaipur). The market is growing fast.

  1. Help from Finnish NB-IoT technologies?

    In March, Telia became the first Finnish operator to implement NB-IoT technology in its network. In general, Finland is easily one of the global leaders in NB-IoT applications – with Nextfour (in partnership with telecom giant DNA) launching a LTE-M/NB-IoT application in Turku. Not surprisingly, Finnish NB-IoT technologies are being used as a reference point for Indian companies. Late last month, it came to news that a leading telecom service provider in India has expressed interest in the IoT technologies that are being used in Finland – for the optimization and betterment of the Indian IoT sector. Both Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have plans to penetrate the IoT and home automation market – with the help of powerful and innovative M2M solutions. Given that the domestic home automation market is set to move beyond $54 billion in 2022, there is ample scope for more players to use NB-IoT to make a difference in this sector.

Note: Reduction in costs, efficiency boosts, better reliability and easy deployment options are some of the main advantages of NB-IoT.

  1. Band selection for NB-IoT

    The 865-867 MHz unlicensed spectrum band is used for deploying the LoRaWAN protocol in India. Given the top-notch coverage of NB-IoT, the 900 MHz band (licensed) is generally used by most mobile operators for it (the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands can be used as well). By 2015, there were already 14 commercial networks operating on the MHz band – where indoor penetration levels are excellent, there is high propagation, and the existing ecosystem is also fairly strong. Interestingly though, 1800 MHz is the frequency band that has the highest percentage of active LTE networks (>76%) in the world. In countries like Australia, Singapore, China and the United Kingdom, the 1800 MHz band is the most popular for LTE networks. The 2.1 G and 2.6 G bands are also used, albeit at a much lower level. Developers need to be aware of the country-specific bandwidth regulations, and abide by the same – while designing with NB-IoT.

Note: NB-IoT cells are typically larger in size than standard MBB cells. The former should ideally be able to accomodate ~100 concurrent connections.

  1. Main features of NB-IoT

    The buzz about IoT applications in general, and NB-IoT technology in particular, is rising in India. A lot of factors are serving as the drivers of this 3GPP-standardized  technology – right from the 600 bps-250 kbps bidirectional transmissions and the ~10 years battery life (using two AA batteries), to the relatively easy maintenance requirements, the SIM-based security system with ciphering and authentication, and the easy plug-and-play usability (no local networks/gateways required). Compared to GPRS, NB-IoT can deliver a much higher (almost 20 dB) coverage. The fact that NB-Iot works only on licensed bands adds an extra layer of security to the technology. The minimum number of connections in a single NB-IoT cell is 50 – and the real-time data tracking is high on accuracy. What’s more, connectivity and modem costs are minimal – and that, in turn, means that the IoT communication costs with NB-IoT can be significantly lower than that associated with LoRa or 3G modules.

Note: Mass deployment of IoT applications can go a long way in improving public health and safety standards. Users would also be able to save a lot of time and energy by switching over to LPWAN technologies.

       10. NB-IoT: A major source of revenue

Investing big on a new communication technology would only make sense if the returns are high enough. NB-IoT is on firm grounds regarding this – with a cumulative revenue of $1.67 billion being projected for the 2016-2021 period. Smart city projects, smart home applications, and automotive and logistics tools are going to be the top-three revenue earners (in that order). Safety & security ($227 million) and smart agriculture ($159 million) are two other sectors that are going to be disrupted by the arrival of NB-IoT, both worldwide and in India. The cost advantage of NB-IoT is also worth a special mention. The average price of a LoRa module and a Sigfox module is $8 and $9 respectively – higher than the average cost of a NB-IoT module ($5). To put things in perspective, a full-featured Cat4 module can cost as much as $30. The tremendous revenue opportunities of NB-IoT, together with the lowly cost figures (only Bluetooth is cheaper) indicate that large-scale deployments can be really profitable for operators.

Note: LPWAN use cases can broadly be classified under 4 different categories – Industry, Appliances, Personal and Public.

       11. Is NB-IoT suitable for everything?

As both Reliance Jio and Vodafone have pointed out, narrowband-IoT can be deployed in many different business sectors – and more and more new use cases are coming into the picture. That said, the technology might not be an ideal fit in certain cases. For example, since cellular networks do not generally have strong power-saving mechanisms, they are not particularly great for applications that involve infrequent transfer of very small amounts of data. Utilization of capabilities is yet another factor – since NB-IoT does not require voice technology, or high data transmission rates, or messaging tools, all of which are present in standard 3G/LTE devices. As a result of this, the effective cost of using devices only for NB-IoT goes up. Also, the operability of NB-IoT can become rather suspect in remote locations (in the absence of base stations nearby). In such scenarios, the battery life gets adversely affected as a result of the extra strain on the device transmitter. The good thing is, operators are doing their best to work around these issues – and make sure that NB-IoT standards have uniform usability.

Note: There are three alternative deployment scenarios for NB-IoT – standalone (with new bandwidth), guard band (with reserved bandwidth) and in-band (with same resource in LTE carrier).

      12. Understanding the developer mindset

In 2015, there were 4.5 million IoT developers in the world. Cut to 2020, and this figure will cross the 10 million mark – with many Indian players joining the community. The burgeoning popularity of NB-IoT has a lot to do with what these developers actually want from their IoT communication systems. According to a M2M Barometer Survey report, ‘2-way communication’ (55%) and ‘low cost’ (43%) are the two most sought-after features in any IoT technology, followed by ‘extended geographic coverage’ (40%) and ‘long battery life’ (34%). Now, NB-IoT satisfies all of these requirements and many more – and that makes it easier for developers to adopt it and deploy it in their LPWAN systems. By the end of 2024, 6 out of every 10 IoT devices will be powered by NB-IoT – emphasizing the importance of the technology in the long-run.

Note: In January, Telstra became the first Australian carrier to deploy NB-IoT in its network. Incidentally, Telstra also provides Cat M1 IoT coverage (started in 2017).

Apart from the endeavors of Reliance Jio and Vodafone, Huawei is also deliberating with leading Indian telecom players for commercial IoT deployment. There are potential interoperability issues between Huawei and Ericsson (which can affect the rollout of NB-IoT globally). However, the successful ‘interoperability tests’ done by Vodafone reduce such concerns somewhat.

Under the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ of the present government, 100 smart cities will be developed in India. In a truly ‘smart city’, narrowband-IoT can be utilized for a lot of purposes – like smart water metering, air-quality monitoring, smart parking, damage prediction, sheep tracking (in farming), and smart waste management. All of these (and much more) are already being done in different countries. With LoRa and NB-IoT both set to become mainstream in India – the country can easily rank among the global LPWAN leaders in the not-too-distant future.

 

 

Farming With Robots: An Overview Of Applications & Use Cases

Robots in Farming| Smart Agriculture

 

The face of agriculture, as we know it, is changing. Technology is playing a pivotal role in making farming techniques smarter than ever before (which is mighty important, given the spiralling food requirements of the burgeoning global population). Switching over to smart precision farming techniques is enabling crop-growers to significantly increase productivity levels from their lands (i.e., making more with the same resources). The role of robotics, powered by powerful GPS technologies and big data, in agriculture is firmly in focus at present. By 2022, the worldwide agri-robots (or, Agbots) market will go beyond $12.50 million – ~365% more than the corresponding figure in 2016. The CAGR for the 2017-2022 period will be just a touch under 21%.

Thanks to the rapid evolutions in farmtech over the last half a decade or so, agricultural robots are no longer about only the John Deere smart tractors and agricultural drones/UAVs. North America and Europe lead the way in precision farming and usage of farming robots, with Asia-Pacific (primarily, China and India) also growing at a fast clip. The growing awareness about IoT (internet of things) in general, and smart farming techniques in particular, is helping end users optimally use agricultural robots – for a myriad of purposes, speeding up processes, making things efficient, and ruling out chances of manual errors. According to a recent Tractica report, annual shipments of such robots will touch the 594000 units mark by the end of 2024 (the annual shipment in 2016 was 33000 units). In what follows, we will focus on some important functions and use cases of robots in farming:

  1. Types of farming robots

    As the implementation of data-backed, tech-based agriculture is rising, more and more types of agbots are coming into the picture. Robots with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and built-in analytics systems are being used for various on-field tasks – right from crop and cattle management, to dairy management, soil monitoring, and overall farm yield optimization. The watchword here is sustainable expansion of agricultural produce, with the help of technology. Apart from agricultural drones and GPS-powered smart tractors, milking robots, unmanned spraying helicopters and materials management systems are steadily growing in popularity. Water management and irrigation is yet another domain where agbots are delivering considerable benefits. There are ‘smart harvesting robots’ as well, as well as ‘intelligent’ tools for farm inventory management. In a nutshell, robots are giving shape to the concept of fully ‘digital farms’. Interestingly, agbots have also provided a much-needed thrust to indoor farming practices.

Note: Clearpath Robotics, John Deere, AGCO and Lely are some of the biggest players in the worldwide farming robots industry.

  1. Micro-level crop monitoring

    In the United States, the average size of agricultural farms is 444 acres (this figure has remained relatively stable over the last couple of decades). Now, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to manually monitor large fields. Lack of actionable data and insights, in turn, increase the uncertainty factor associated with farming – and to mitigate such risks, agbots (ground-level robots) and drones can play a very important role. These farm robots typically make use of powerful sensors and geomapping technologies to bring holistic, real-time crop information to end-users (i.e., the crop growers). There are certain agbots, like BoniRob, which can reach very close to the ground crops – in order to deliver granular-level crop information. Several companies have also started offering farming hardware and software analytics tools as a package.

Note: Broadly speaking, agricultural robotics system have 5 key components – the cloud network, the satellite system, the actual farm robot, the smartphone/tablet, and the logistic unit.

  1. Micro-spraying and weeding

    In a 2016 report, it was estimated that QUT’s Agbot II had the capacity of pulling up the annual savings of Australian farmers to $1.3 billion. Micro-spraying and weeding robots come as a welcome alternative to spreading pesticides on fields manually – which: a) is unduly time-consuming, b) leads to wastage/overuse of chemicals, and c) might have adverse effects on the environment. Agbots used for weeding are powered with advanced computer vision – for identifying the weed-affected areas correctly, and spraying the required amounts of pesticide on those areas. This, understandably, reduces the overall use of herbicides – helping farmers cut down on unnecessary expenses. Robots that spot and uproot weeds (instead of applying chemicals on them) can also be used. On average, autonomous weeding techniques with agbots can kill ~90% of pests, saving 75% of pesticide usage simultaneously.

Note: Laser technology can also be used by certain agri robots to kill weeds. Accurate tactile sensing capabilities is a must-have in any good weeding/micro-spraying robot.

  1. The role of drones and sensors

    By January 2017, the value of the global agri-drone market had swelled to $32.5 million (as per a PwC report). Land mapping, on-field pest detection and general crop-inspection are some important purposes for which drones are being extensively used. In fact, we are probably not far away from a time when agri-drones would be able to communicate with each other and ‘work as a team’ (say, for in-depth crop treatment, irrigation management, and weeding). In the smart agriculture ecosystem, sensors also play a crucial role . For instance, soil moisture sensors can constantly track the condition of the soil (moisture levels, humidity, etc.), send the data to the cloud network, and generate irrigation notifications for the farmers. As a result, chances of water wastage are done away with. In New Zealand, SmartN is already being used to track the places where cows have urinated – since such areas do not need any further fertilizer or chemicals. Without properly functioning on-field drones and sensors, the utility of agricultural robots would have been very limited.

Note: The agricultural drone market will be worth $2.9 billion by the end of 2020 – nearly 5X more than the corresponding figure in 2015.

  1. More efficient picking, sorting and harvesting

    The European Union-funded cROPS project (Clever Robots For Crops) have shown the way for this. Dedicated applications for picking and sorting ‘soft fruits’ are being tested and deployed – and these applications typically have the degree of manual dexterity required for the job (crops like wheat and corn can be easily harvested by automated combine harvesters). Octinion, a leading research company, released a prototype of its strawberry-picking robot a few months back. The robot can sort and pick 70% of all ripe strawberries (Shibiya Seiki – a Japanese company – showcased a similar agbot in 2013). Autonomous apple-picking robots, armed with vacuum removal mechanics and computer vision (so that the tree itself, or the fruit, is not damaged in any way) are coming into the picture – and they are expected to become fairly mainstream in the next couple of years or so. The vision systems in the agbots enable the latter to gauge the ripeness of the fruits, detect the presence of dust on them, and manage temperature/wind conditions. Crop damage at the time of harvest is a big issue in traditional agriculture – and farming robotics is designed to eliminate that concern.

Note: Abundant Robotics (California, USA) and FF Robotics (Israel) are both conducting trial runs of their apple picker robots. The built-in AI sensors can also let farmers know of the correct harvesting time/window for their crops.

  1. Key drivers of farming with robots

    Come 2024, we will be looking at annual revenues in excess of $74 billion from the global agricultural robots market. The exponentially rising global population is, arguably, the single biggest factor behind the rapid developments in precision farming with robots – since there are more mouths to feed, total land resources are limited, and yields have to be maximized. Using agbots and smart farming techniques are also likely to generate significant economies of scale in larger farms. The fact that wage bills make up nearly 41% of the total farming expenses is also motivating farm-owners to replace a section of the labor with agbots. Unavailability of sufficient manpower is yet another factor – with the youth mostly uninterested in getting involved in traditional farming and getting their hands dirty (literally) in the process. The growing food scarcity levels, the constant climatic changes and farmland transfers, and the existing bottlenecks of manual farming (along with the uncertainties and low yields) are also making people switch over to agbots as viable (and much more efficient) alternatives. The impact of IoT in agriculture is growing all the time, and robotic farming offers manifold advantages.

Note: Not all is plain sailing for agricultural robots yet though. The technology itself is rather fragmented, there is still a widespread lack of awareness among farmers, there are infrastructural issues, and the benefits/value propositions of robots in farming might not be immediately apparent. As farmtech standards evolve further, these issues will gradually get resolved.

  1. Planting and seeding with agbots

    In India, nearly 16% of all fruits and vegetable produce was lost in 2016-2017. The waste percentage of cereals was also alarmingly high. Across the world, a lot of wastage occurs at the time of seeding – simply because farmers follow the outdated method of spraying seeds from a moving tractor (with a so-called ‘broadcast spreader’). Farm robots with cutting-edge geomapping functionality can be used as an alternative – to prevent seeds from being wasted. These agbots are designed in the form of ‘robotic seeding attachments’ (to be attached to tractors) – and they can accurately determine all relevant soil features, so that the right seeds are dispersed at the right places in the right time. Agbots can also power nursery automation – ensuring that all greenhouse activities, like potting, seeding and warehousing, are optimized. Precision seeding, in a way, is all about maximizing the chances of growth of food plants from seeds.

Note: With urbanization happening globally at a rapid clip, agbots are helping in the creation, management and maintenance of indoor farms (in urban environments). In Hong Kong, such a farm robotic system can bring down water usage by as much as 95%, while the growth of plants also gets considerably accelerated.

  1. Rise and rise of fully unmanned technology with robots

    Smart tractors have been in existence for a long time – but certain factors are still holding the technology back. Primary among them are the relatively high price tags of sensors (for small farmers, this is a huge factor), a feeling of distrust stemming from lack of knowledge, and regulatory issues. Going forward though, agricultural robots certainly has the potential of ushering in fully unmanned farm technologies. The total number of smart tractor shipments (with GPS guidance, or some other form of steering technology) is expected to be >700K in 2028 – and by 2038, more than 40000 Level 5 tractors will be sold. Agricultural robots will gradually start to work in fleets (rather than as standalone units) – and most of them will have at least some degree of functional autonomy. According to experts, 2024 will be ‘trigger year’ for agbots – following which shipments will start to accelerate in a big way. The cost of farm automation suites will also start to fall gradually, further fueling adoption levels. ‘Intelligent agribots’ are not going to totally replace humans on agricultural fields – but they will be the face of autonomous precision farming in the foreseeable future.

Note: Agribotix, a noted agricultural intelligence company, reported in a case study that it had managed to reduce crop losses by 13%, on a 110-acre land.

  1. Robotics for milking

    By 2017 Q3, more than 34000 robotic milking systems (or, RMS) were in active use on farms across the globe. Instead of having to deal with risk of infections and low volume of milk production – collaborative agbots can be used to sprinkle ‘safe’ disinfectants on the animals’ udders, prior to the milking process. What’s more – these robotic solutions also ‘prepare’ the animals for milking – which ensures that the volume and quality of milk obtained is optimal. As a rule of thumb, the frequency of milking has to steadily decrease over the lactation cycle. The high price of milking robots (~$175000 for a system that can milk 50-70 cows) is a concern – but over time, it can be reasonably expected that the cost will come down. With proper management and regulated operations (training the workforce will also be crucial), cow-milking robots can yield definite advantages – which may not be apparent at first.

Note: It has been found that, in the first three days of the robotic milking process, 3 out of every 4 cows voluntarily go to these robots.

    10. Mowing, Pruning and Thinning

What should be the ideal spacing between seeds on a field – so that the chances of healthy crop growth would be optimal? Traditionally, experience and guesswork were the only tools to answer this question. The scenario has now changed though, with specialized agbots having the capability of gauging the ‘correct’ density of plants, for proper growth (the robots typically reduce the density). This is known as ‘thinning’ – and even with robots, the process can take quite a bit of time. Agri-robots are also being used to mow or cut certain portions of plants, to foster their healthy growth (this is known as ‘pruning’). For both ‘thinning’ and ‘pruning’ crops in the best possible manner, agbots make use of high-level computer vision technology. Automated pruning has already been done in the wine industry (vineyard robot Wall-Ye) – and a robot for blueberry pruning has also been developed.

Note: Last year, LettuceBot – created by Blue River Technologies – bagged an ‘outstanding product innovation in agriculture’ award.

     11. Technical refinements are required

The benefits of switching over to smart agriculture and robotic farming are pretty much well-documented. Even so, issues remain – primarily from a technical perspective – in the path of the growth of agritech in general, and agbots in particular. For starters, the lack of regulatory uniformity is a big problem for both the OEMs as well as the final users. There are also scopes for improving the accuracy of robot positions (which, in turn, will make weeding, irrigation, crop monitoring, and other activities more effective). Question marks still remain over the safety factor of farm robots, for humans as well as for the environment. In addition, it is also uncertain as to who would shoulder the responsibilities in case an unforeseen accident does occur. For accurate analysis (for example, determining the ripeness of fruits before picking), robots need to factor in external things like temperature fluctuations and light variations. The investments required for deploying agbot systems are large – and unless the technology is properly refined – they won’t be able to deliver good value for money. There’s still a long way to go.

Note: Precision irrigation is rapidly growing popular across the globe. It offers two important advantages over traditional irrigation methods – firstly, areas that were previously inaccessible can now be reached, and secondly, plants can be targeted separately.

     12. Sheep herding with robots

Shepherding cattle herds is one of the oldest, and also one of the trickiest, tasks associated with cattle farming. Agricultural robots, in the form of drones, can automate this process as well. Already, UAVs are being used in Ireland (copters) and New Zealand to manage sheep herds. These drones can, of course, be remotely operated – and their constant tracking operations make sure that not a single animal strays away from the herd. Another interesting point is that the sheep followed the drones out of their own free will. The flipside to this is the short battery life of these cattle drones (~20-25 minutes) and their steep price (the Q500 drones are available at $1299). In Australia, many ranchers use helicopters for cattle herding. Drones can be an excellent, and a much cheaper, alternative for them.

Note: The practice of fertilizer application on agricultural fields has also been revolutionized, thanks to the advent of farm robots. The robotics systems of Rowbot, for instance, ensure effective utilization of nitrogen fertilizer.

Present-day farming is – or at least should be – all about the ‘sustainability of agriculture’. Agricultural robots, for all their advantages and powerful functionalities, are still at a nascent stage – and there are still several rough edges. As these issues get resolved, robots in farming would start to increase annual yields, lower crop/food prices, ensure better food accessibility levels, and make farming standards more efficient than ever before.

Agriculture is increasingly becoming tech-based – and the impact of IoT on farming has been profound. With the need for improving agricultural productivity levels increasing everyday, it can safely be assumed that agbots will become more mainstream in the coming years. It also has to be kept in mind that these robots are not, and will never be, meant for working in isolation. A certain level of human interaction (for management, operation, performance tracking, etc.), will always be required.

Automated farming is definitely the future. Agri-robots will be right at the face of it in the next decade.

 

 

Smart Water Metering In India With LoRa Technology – All You Need To Know

 

smart water meter with lora technology

 

In Papua New Guinea, nearly 6 out of every 10 people do not have access to ‘safe‘ water. The corresponding stat for India stands at ~18% – which is still an uncomfortably high percentage. On the global scale, total water demand is expected to touch 6350 cubic kilometers by 2030 (i.e., 6.35e + 15 litres) – nearly 59% more than the cumulative water demand in 2000. Per capita water consumption hovers in the 85-100 gallon range (per day) – and across the world, problems related to water pollution, wastage, and consequent water scarcity are increasing. In a recent survey, it was found that >75% of people were not happy with the water resources available to them. Agriculture and irrigation contribute a significant chunk of the total water usage in many countries – and the fact that 85% households have little or no idea about automated rainwater harvesting tools further complicates matters. In such a scenario, it is vital to manage, use, transport and distribute water efficiently, and minimize water wastage. That is precisely the concept behind ‘smart water meters‘.

The water scenario in India is pretty grim too. A CWC report has revealed that 90+ important water reservoirs in the country are currently operating at only a quarter of their capacity. In a list of 180 countries ranked according to water availability, India comes in at a lowly 133rd (in terms of water quality, the situation is worse – with India rooted at the 120th position among 122 countries). Internet of Things (IoT) in general, and LPWAN in particular, are being deployed for the creation of smart water meters – to improve water productivity, monitoring and quality standards. SenRa is right at the forefront of smart water metering solutions in India – and in February, the company entered a collaboration with Nordic Automation Systems (NAS) for countrywide LPWAN implementation. Semtech’s LoRa technology is the best fit for such smart water meters, and over here, we will offer interesting insights on how the LoRaWAN protocol is powering smarter water management in India:

  1. Understanding the drivers of water scarcity problems in India

    In an ideal scenario, every Indian would have had access to clean water in adequate amounts. The truth is, sadly, far from such a situation – with almost 64 million people not having clean drinking water (according to a 2017 report). The rapid surge in population is causing total water consumption levels to go up exponentially, and the growing water pollution – caused primarily by industrial discharges and general waste disposal – is also a cause for concern. Man-made and natural disruptions in the water cycle are not helping matters either. There are many political as well as regulatory disputes too, regarding the provision/availability of water in specific regions. The total water required for irrigation is also increasing steadily – and since most farmers are not even acquainted with (forget using!) agritech tools and precision farming methods – there’s a lot of water wastage happening here as well. It’s high time more attention is paid on tackling these burgeoning issues – and usage of technology, in the form of LoRa-powered smart water meters, is going to be instrumental in this regard. The total investment required to manage the water problems in India is likely to be northwards of $14 billion.

Note: An optimally functioning smart water system will help in gathering critical real-time data, analyze issues, detect problems (say, leakages) promptly, and send notifications to concerned parties. LoRaWAN is ideal for transferring the water data over relatively long distances.

  1. Size of the Indian water sector and investment required

    The water sector in India is expanding at a rapid clip – and groundwater resources are getting depleted quickly too. As per reliable estimates, the total water demand will go up by ~32% from present levels by the end of 2050 – and if the current rates of water wastage persist, we might well be looking at a situation where the country is forced to import water (only 22% of the per capita water needs will be resolvable from the resources in the country, in 2050). Big investments are required to stop this bleeding – and ensure that water resources remain sustainable in the long-run. In European nations, the total investment on smart metering solutions is expected to touch the $8 billion mark by the turn of the decade. Similar investments are required in India too (given the relative ‘lack of technological preparedness’ in India, the required spending might be higher). Care has to be taken to make sure that the IoT smart meters installed at the utility endpoints deliver accurate and holistic information – ranging right from tracking chargeable consumption levels and detecting end point leakages/damages/losses, to understanding water consumption patterns and serving as ‘intelligent water regulators’ (with the help of built-in predictive analytics). Between 2015 and 2020, the total capital expenditure on Indian water infrastructure will increase by a whopping 83%.

Note: The Smart Cities Mission initiated by the Government of India – with the objective of developing 100 cities – is a praiseworthy endeavour. However, by January 2018, less than 5.5% of the project had been completed.

  1. Why use LoRa in smart water meters?

    Smart metering solutions must have the capacity of delivering small amounts of data over long distances (high coverage), and they need to offer good battery performance too. The power consumption levels need to be low, so that the operating expenses do not go out of hand. Management and maintenance of the deployed smart water meters have to be straightforward as well. LPWAN technologies are ideal for creating such meters – and LoRa technology offers several advantages over the other options. For starters, the built-in security of the LoRaWAN protocol (AES-128) is a big factor (neither Sigfox nor cellular standards can match this, while security standards vary in wifi or LAN setups). The open standard nature of LoRa technology and the increasingly strong ecosystem (LoRa Alliance has well over 500 members) also work in its favour. Unlike other technologies that use mesh networks (which typically pulls down battery performance and network capacity levels), LoRa uses a ‘star-of-stars’ topology – to deliver seamless long-range connectivity with battery preservation (the Adaptive Data Rate, or ADR, is crucial for this). In addition, the chirp-based spectrum of LoRaWAN delivers considerably higher communication range than the FSK (frequency shifting keying) modulation used in many other standards. The unlicensed 865-867 MHz ISM band is used in India for designing LoRa-based smart devices.

Note: It was announced earlier this month that IoTsens, a leading IoT service provider, had started using LoRa radio technology in its smart water platform in Spain (in collaboration with FACSA).

  1. Greater savings with smart water meters

    In 1951, the per capita availability of water in India was 5177 cubic meters. By 2050, that figure might very well drop to sub-1000 cubic meters, if the smart city developers do not start taking corrective measures quickly. At a time when the ‘real cost of water’ is going up at unprecedented levels and a major water crisis is right on the horizon – the significant savings made possible by switching to LPWAN-powered smart water meters seem all the more attractive. Thanks to the real-time leakage detection systems and notifications, a water meter can find and notify people about problems (say, a faulty toilet flush) immediately, so that the repairments can be made. The billing system can become more transparent and fair – with households having to pay only for the amount of water they use (instead of paying a flat-rate water bill, which is common in many buildings and high-rises). By optimizing water management, bringing down energy bills and minimizing additional sewage charges, smart water meter systems can reduce total water costs by up to 35%. The population is growing fast (projected to reach 1.7 billion in 2050), water costs in rural AND urban areas are going up – and if technology is not adopted quickly and optimally, things can very soon spiral out of control.

Note: Individual metering solutions decrease the amount of water that has to be sent to the distribution tanks. That, in turn, reduces both water consumption and water wastage.

  1. LoRa-based water meters are ideal for smart city setups

    Apart from offering more benefits than other LPWAN technologies, LoRaWAN-powered tools are also suitable in smart cities. The reason for this is simple: in a single network deployment, a large number of automated, ‘intelligent’ services – from smart metering tools and smart parking sensors, to smart street lights and smart environment trackers – can be delivered to end-users (i.e., the citizens). Instead of attaching specific gateway(s) with the different nodes, the LoRa standard allows water data (or any data, for that matter) to be received by multiple gateways. LAN, wifi, or even satellite connections can then be used to move the data from the gateways to the centralized network server (for further in-depth analysis). Spectrum inference, strong security assurance, and excellent long-range communication capabilities all combine to make LoRaWAN just the perfect LPWAN protocol to be used in smart water meters. What’s more, there are no needs of managing too many protocols, and the authorities can always keep track of of how the network/devices are being managed.

Note: A typical, full-featured LoRa system will have 4 key sections – the end nodes, the gateway, the network server and the application server.

  1. Components of smart water metering solutions

    Broadly classifying, a working smart water system powered by LoRa technology will have the following key components: first up, there is the LoRa gateway (300bps – 50kbps data rate; link budget 168 dB (max.)) – in charge of receiving water data from the endpoints (nodes), and sending them to the server (network overhaul). A wide range of pertinent metering data – like meter and billing details, energy snapshots, tamperings (if any), and transactional information – are obtained by the gateway. Next up are the actual meter pulse sensor(s), which receives data-pulses from the index and moves them to an automatic water reading (AMR) system for monitoring. Both inductive pulses and magnetic pulses can be picked up by the AMR. Finally, there is the cloud system (with the server having the operating system) – where web services are used to make data available for all authorized entities (on tablets, smartphones, computers, etc.). The cloud database has multiple levels of security (in many cases, as many as 5 security layers) – ruling out possibilities of data manipulation or access by unauthorized third-parties.

Note: With the help of LoRa technology, IoT developers can create high-performance, bi-directional, cheap devices for data retrieval from the sensors. These metering solutions typically have very high fault-tolerance levels.

  1. What is Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)?

    Manually visiting locations and taking readings from water meters is fast becoming an impractical, and unnecessarily time-consuming exercise. In addition, manual water meter readings also leave ample room for human errors to creep in. This brings into the spotlight the importance of AMIs, or Advanced Metering Infrastructure systems. These automated systems offer real-time data and analytics – and can be easily be used by administrative bodies, corporate organizations, and utility service providers. The data transfer mechanism in AMIs is completely secure – and they also help smart city developers to accurately predict water consumption and water loss amounts. In addition, since smart metering solutions (supported by LoRaWAN) collect and monitor data on a constant basis, consumer behaviour patterns can be detected – and behavioral changes (related to water usage) can be identified quickly. The SenRa smart water meter PoC has been presented in a city in central India (existing water meters were replaced with smart meters at 41 sites).

Note: In general, IoT in India is making rapid strides – thanks to the endeavour of big players like Tata Communications. From developing smart cities and planning automated emergency services, to smart meters (power, water, energy, etc.) and efficient asset-tracking & monitoring – IoT is moving everything to the next level.

  1. Market opportunities for LoRaWAN smart water meters in India

    With a proven coverage distance of 11-12 km, ~135 dBm receiver sensitivity, and minimal power consumption (sleep current lower than 2uA) – a LoRa module can indeed deliver a lot of value to water management and monitoring practices. The Indian market is, at present, cluttered with GPRS and FSK meter readers (together, they make up more than 70% of the smart meter market in India). Going forward, however, the presence of LoRaWAN water metering tools will be much stronger – with the technology set to power more than 50% meters by the next 3-4 years. The prime reason for this growth are the inherent shortcomings of the other connection technologies: with FSK meters, the communication range is relatively short, GPRS connections can suffer frequent network outages, and real-time data readings are not available in IC meters. LoRa technology is not bugged by any of these problems – and hence, the prospect of LoRa water meters in India in the foreseeable future appears bright.

Note: The three-day Smart Asia India 2018 Expo and Summit will take place in Bengaluru from the 4th of October. Apart from smart water metering, smart transportation, smart energy tools and other innovative IoT products will be exhibited at the event.

  1. Smart water meters vs traditional water meters

    Apart from the lack of real-time data, high maintenance costs, billing uncertainties and poor battery performance, traditional water meters (the ones that are still used at most places) have many other shortcomings – which smart metering solutions can effectively address. Both the capital expenditure and the operating expenditure of a LoRa meter are considerably lower, and the system can automatically detect theft attempts and/or tampering. The real-time automated reading capabilities are miles ahead of the error-prone manual readings from traditional meters – and cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) logic is used to deliver real-time data analytics. The amount of non-revenue water (unproductive water) becomes a lot lower too, after a user switches over to smart AMI meters. The end-to-end water consumption visibility to final users is yet another advantage. With advanced cloud computing, big data management and intricate algorithms, smart water meters can revolutionize the way in which water is used in India. A much more efficient and a much more cost-effective solution, that’s what they provide.

Note: OEMs have to pay particular attention to the amount of power that a LoRa smart water meter consumes in the ‘sleep’ and ‘standby’ modes.

   10. Collaborations are helping the growth of the ‘smart water sector’

Last September, SenRa was chosen by IoT service provider CharIoT for the deployment of a series of smart city services (water meters, smart parking solutions, smart public lights, and more). In fact, SenRa has plans to deploy LPWAN standards in 90+ Indian cities – bringing most of the country under effective IoT coverage. This February, CharIoT and SenRa joined hands to deploy the very first AMI Ultrasonic Water Meters (for living areas) of the country. Trimble started using LoRaWAN in its Telog 41 IoT water sensors since late-2016 (for efficient water measurement, management and analysis). SenRa also struck up a partnership with application enablement platform (AEP) Yodiwo in August 2017 – with an eye on speeding up the process of designing and deployment of smart IoT solutions customized for different verticals. Tata Communications, of course, is also working on a wide range of LoRa-based solutions in India. As more and more large players and enterprises join up, the IoT revolution in India (in general) and the ‘smart water sector’ (in particular) will further gather momentum.

Note: By 2020, the value of the Indian IoT market will be more than $15 billion. Between 2020 and 2025, the market will continue to grow at a CAGR of >53%.

    11. The AMR vs AMI debate

This is, in essence, a debate between water meters with one-way communication and two-way communication capabilities. Automatic meter reading (AMR) is often viewed as a ‘lite’ version of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) – with the former requiring, understandably, considerably lower investments than the latter. There is a school of thought according to which unidirectional AMR water grids deliver all that is required (leakage detection, accurate readings, automated bills) – and spending the extra bucks for bidirectional AMI systems is not required. However, this represents a rather myopic view of the state of affairs. The functionalities of LoRa-powered AMI water meters are much more advanced – and as technology evolves further and new monitoring techniques come into the picture – they will be able to deliver full value (AMRs will prove to be of limited usability in the long-run). AMRs serve the purpose for now, but AMI systems are definitely the future.

Note: Meters can remain submerged under water. In any case, they remain in close proximity to water. Developers have to ensure that this does not damage the irreplaceable system batteries in any way.

     12. The importance of data visualization

It’s all very well to create and deploy high-end smart metering solutions – but unless the average Indian is convinced about the benefits of the technology, adoption rates are likely to remain low. This is where the importance of water data visualization comes into the picture. With the help of figures and charts and graphs, people can check out their water usage over a specific period of time (say, weekly or monthly) – and get an estimate of their water bills. To keep the users motivated and responsible, the many advantages of water conservation and optimized water consumption can also be displayed. The data from the smart water sensors can be accessed by consumers on a dedicated mobile app (integrated to the platform). Communicating the importance of saving water and using resources smartly is important, and data visualization is an crucial tool for that.

Note: There will be more than 1 billion active LPWAN connections in the world, by 2021 (the 2014-2021 CAGR will be 205%). LoRaWAN will power a large percentage of these connections.

Thanks to strong governmental initiatives, increasing concerns for energy preservation, and rising demands for accurate billing – Asia-Pacific has emerged as the most quickly expanding market for smart meters in the world. In India though, the general lack of awareness about IoT is still a challenge (29% of SMEs and 18% of large enterprises have not even heard about IoT, while a further 15% and 27% (respectively) are uninterested). The fact that smart water meters are somewhat different to smart energy meters – the main power system(s) are not as easily accessible – also has to be considered.

Globally, the market for smart water metering solutions is estimated to move to just a tick under $8 billion in 2020. As the IoT market in India matures more, and people get more familiar with the concept and the advantages of LoRa smart meters – their adoption will soar here too. After all, IoT-powered water meters have too many benefits to be ignored!

Roles of Web Designers and Web Programmers In Building Business Websites

 

business website development

(This post has been contributed by Jessica Watson, noted blogger & web content developer, currently associated with Aurion Dubai south company registration experts)

It is the era of technology and social media, and in this technological epoch, business websites are gaining in popularity. Business websites can generate profitable revenues for a company. The demand for professional website development is increasing due to need of businesses for having a strong online presence. Web designers and web programmers develop the websites according to the requirements of their clients. Web developers or web programmers have different roles in the development of the site. A brief discussion about their main responsibilities is the focus of this document here.

Purpose of the website

Web programmers develop the website for the general public. All sites are available at World Wide Web – ensuring that the public can find their relevant information there. Web designers understand the requirements of the target audience and clarify the purpose of the website. For the clarification of the meaning of the website, they set meetings with the client and discuss business requirements in detail. They also remove their confusions regarding any requirement and write down each requirement in a precise manner.

The content of the website

When the purpose of the website becomes clear, then web developers or programmers decide the type of content that will be hosted on the website. The content of the website mostly depends on its target audience. Web developer posts the content on the website using the web languages. They only post qualitative content to attract the audience.

The front end of the website

Web developer or designer starts their work either from scratch or uses existing packages like the templates. For the front end of the website, they have to decide the color, theme, font style, font size, design and even handle the responsiveness of the website. The responsive website can be viewed appropriately on mobile screens. The front end of the website is the client side script which manifests in the web browser and end user can interact with it. HTML and CSS are the most popular web languages which web developers use to maintain the front end of the website.

The back end of the website

In the management of the back end of the site, web developer or designer manages the server side scripts. Server-side scripts usually handle languages like PHP, C#, Python, Java, and JavaScript. Web programmers develop logic and implement the logic through writing code in any language depending on the scenario. All functionalities of the website are handled at the back end. For instance, business websites may include bank transactions (i.e., online payment gateways) or any other query.

Database handling

The website is incomplete without the database because of data of the customers and items of the business are stored in the database. Items or products of the company are the critical elements for a business website, so database management is mandatory. In a case when visitors register themselves on the website by providing the data, the latter gets instantly stored in the database for further processing. So database management is the duty of the web programmer or developer.

Testing of the website

Testing is essential after the completion of the website because it is the process in which it is estimated whether the business requirements are achieved or not. All the technical issues are resolved through the testing. The key functionalities of a website have to be carefully tested and customized, prior to handing it over to the client. Testing of navigation between web pages is also necessary. Testing of validation of HTML forms is essential as data has to be saved in the database. Web developer also does the screening of the database after storing the data into the database.

Registration with the search engines

The website will be accessible when it is indexed with the search engine. Google is the most popular search engine. The search engine will display the list of links depending on the query entered by the user in the search bar of the web browser. To complete the website registration procedure, a web developer has to think domain name for the website. Domain name is the name of the website through which user can search the website through the use of the web browser. The web developer has to provide domain name, email address, physical address and phone number for the registration process. Web developers, in collaboration with online marketers, adopt tactics to keep the website link inside the top ranks to generate the traffic for the website. This makes it possible for the website to be able to make more revenue due to the traffic.

The software houses which work on massive projects divide the tasks of the project into subtasks and assign duties to different web programmers and developers. Multiple web developers work on a single project. Software house companies hire expert web designers for the front-end development, back-end development, and the database management. Their expertise can help in the management of each task efficiently. Web developers have to create effective business websites which manage online selling of products with a definite customer-centric approach. There are hardly any room for error as far as creating official websites – which establish the brand personality of businesses – are concerned.

 

 

Author Bio: Jessica Watson has been writing for websites and blogs for four years now, currently, she works with Aurion Dubai south company registration experts who are very famous across all UAE.

How Can LoRa Technology Boost Smart Agriculture In India?

 

LoRa technology for smart farming

 

For all the steady growth in the secondary (industrial) and tertiary (services) sectors over the last few decades, the importance of agriculture in India remains huge. On average, 1 out of every 2 members of the Indian workforce is employed in the primary sector – and the latter contributes >17% of the country’s GDP. Around 59% of the rural population (who make up a whopping 70% of the total population in India) rely on farming as their chief means of livelihood. Now, it is hardly possible to increase the volume of cultivable land at a pace to match the rapidly swelling population and the growing food demands – and hence, the onus is squarely on the farmers to maximize productivity and yield levels from the available land and other resources. This requirement, in turn, puts the spotlight on smart agriculture in India.

Implementation of technological solutions to boost agricultural performances is not exactly a new concept. Smart tractors have been in active use across the globe for a fairly long time – along with various other internet of things (IoT) tools and applications. Semtech’s open standard LoRa technology (in collaboration with National Narrowband Network Communications (NNN)) is being used to bolster the rural IoT and smart farming network in Australia. Earlier this month, it was also announced that Spanish IoT service provider IoTsens will be integrating LoRaWAN in its smart water platform. In India, LPWAN technologies like LoRa and Sigfox have begun to make a difference in the agricultural scenario. In what follows, we will take you through the major applications, use cases and impacts of LoRa technology on smart agriculture practices in India:

  1. Suitability of LoRaWAN in precision farming

    The lion’s share of farmlands and cattle ranches in India is in rural, relatively remote locations. Cellular connectivity, if at all available, is typically weak and unstable at such places. What’s more, the locations are often not covered by the licensed spectrum band either. In such a scenario, LoRa technology (which uses the unlicensed frequency band 865 MHz – 867 MHz in India) serves as the best possible alternative. The ease of installation, deployment and integration of LoRa network(s) in existing IoT frameworks is also a big factor. Generally, the sensors used in agritech need to transfer/update real-time data only at certain pre-specified intervals – and when included in the ALOHA-based LoRaWAN infrastructure – they help farmers gain timely, actionable information on a regular basis.

Note: There are more than 40 IoT startups in India that are working on smart agriculture solutions.

  1. Role of LoRa in removing the uncertainty factors

    While Indian farmers are increasingly adopting farm technology tools, agriculture, by nature, is still a high-risk activity. There are a multitude of factors which can have an adverse impact on annual crop yields (droughts, excessive rainfall/flooding, pest infestation, wrong harvesting methods, etc.). Implementation of LoRa technology can minimize such ‘agricultural risks’, or ‘field risks’, by doing away with the uncertainty factors and guesswork associated with the traditional ‘visual observation methods’. With the help of smart on-field sensing tools and advanced data analysis, farm-owners can get access to all the pertinent data – right from tracking soil moisture levels and determining proper irrigation techniques & fertilizer usage, to the vital health parameters of cattle on a ranch (this removes the risk of one sick animal contaminating the others as well). The excellent range and battery performance (>8 years) of LoRa systems ensure that they are economically viable for the farmers (who might not be particularly well-off) too.

Note: Quantified Ag has already started using LoRa-powered wearable devices for animals (e.g., cow ear tags) for constantly tracking health, welfare and productivity levels. The information received is routed through the receiver and the cloud system, to the smart device(s)/website(s) of the farmers.

  1. Importance of sensors & semiconductors in smart agriculture

    By the end of 2017, the worldwide shipments of agricultural IoT devices stood at 43 billion. Cut to 2020, and that figure will jump to ~76 billion – a 76.7% rise. Apart from automating regular agricultural practices (and making them significantly more efficient), different types of semiconductors and sensors – powered by LPWAN technologies – are being used for livestock tracking, smooth data collection & transfer, smart food processing, and other related fields. In a country like India, where agricultural losses (during and after harvest) are as high as $13 billion (well over ₹ 92000) – LoRa technology can be instrumental in bringing down the wastage levels, ensure better food availability, and (ideally) greater returns to the crop-growers. The need for smart agritech solutions is established and the benefits of LoRa gateways, transceivers, and on-field semiconductors and sensors are fairly evident. The onus is now on OEMs to come up with suitable, high-performance tools and systems to take IoT-based agriculture in India forward.

Note: In a LoRaWAN infrastructure, circuit protection can be an important issue. The ESD Protection Platform designed by Semtech handles this very well.

  1. Security assurance, geolocation capabilities and a growing ecosystem makes LoRa a perfect fit 

    On average, an Indian farmer earns not much more than ₹ 77000 annually. Understandably, he does not have the funds to invest big on smart farming solutions and systems. LoRa comes across as an ideal solution – since using the technology involves minimal (or zero) spectrum costs, thanks to the fact that it uses unlicensed ISM bands. Even if the connection has to be taken from a third-party service provider, the fees are very low. The robust AES-128 encryption standard makes sure that there is no chance of data losses or breaches in the rural IoT systems. The open standard nature of LoRa is yet another advantage, and the built-in geolocation technology does not involve excess power consumption (GPS-free). The average daily power used up by the smart agri-sensors is less than 13 joules – ensuring optimal battery longevity. The ecosystem is growing fast too – with the LoRa Alliance, set up in March 2015, currently having more than 500 members. Support and expert guidance is always at hand.

Note: Both private and public LoRa networks are available for deployments, as per the precise requirements of farmers and the nature of the fields.

  1. LoRa technology for agriculture is big…and growing bigger

    For any new technology to be adopted on a large-scale, it needs to find worldwide acceptance first. Semtech’s LoRa comes up trumps in that regard. At the start of this year, well over 65000 LoRaWAN protocol-based macro cell gateways had been deployed, across as many as 65 different countries (in comparison, Sigfox networks were deployed in 45 nations by 2017-end). The number of sensors being used has also been projected to exponentially rise over the next couple of years or so. By 2019, more than 40% of all active LPWAN technologies will be working on LoRa standards. All of these stats underline the global popularity of the technology – and in the context of Indian farming, newer and more innovative use cases for LoRa deployment are being conceived on a regular basis. System integrators, node managers, IoT engineers, manufacturers and network operators are all coming together to help the farming community with technology solutions. LoRa is certainly the future, as far as precision agriculture in India is concerned.

Note: At the Annual City Of Camarillo Awards in 2016, Semtech bagged the ‘Business Of The Year’ award.

  1. For managing water scarcity the smart way, there is LoRaWAN

    Of all the water resources kept aside for farm irrigation, a stunning 60% gets wasted (as per a UN FAO report). In India, this water wastage percentage jumps to 70% (due to pollution, evapotranspiration, runoffs, etc.). To minimize such unduly high wastages, the importance of implementing IoT-based smart irrigation systems is paramount – and once again, LoRa seems to be the go-to technology over here. Farmers can set up soil moisture sensors and actuators on their fields – which would collect accurate, periodic information, and that would help irrigation activities: a) become more effective, and b) involve lesser consumption/wastage of water. The soil moisture data collected from the fields is transferred to the centralized LoRa gateways for further analysis, and on the basis of this analysis, the need for irrigating a field (or any section of it) can be established with certainty. In other words, using agricultural IoT tools allows farmers to arrive at a smarter irrigation decisions. Optimized use of water for irrigation is an absolute must – and LoRaWAN paves the way for that.

Note: It was officially announced in February that Waterbit, a leading smart irrigation agency, has started using LoRa RF technology in its Autonomous Irrigation Solution.

  1. Key elements in smart farming infrastructure

    While the installation, connection and maintenance costs of LoRa networks are pretty much low – Indian farmers need to have a clear idea of the main components of the system. For starters, there are the ‘water flow sensors’ that help in estimating the correct amount of water needed for field irrigation at any point in time. For measuring the soil moisture/ground moisture levels accurately, there are ‘soil moisture sensors’ (which can be digital or analog). Humidity sensors and temperature sensors round off the other important sensing tools that are present in a farm managed by LoRa technology. The ‘gateway’ ensures steady internet access and connectivity for the system microcontroller (generally, single-board microcontrollers are used). In an automated irrigation system, the importance of the ‘water valves’ – which release/stop water flow for irrigation based on preset triggers – also deserves a separate mention. In India and several other developing countries, the main power system often makes use of solar energy for the entire operations.

Note: All sensors have to be carefully calibrated, to make sure that the correct soil moisture levels are obtained. Raspberry Pi microcomputers can be used in scenarios where more power is required.

  1. Quick comparison of LoRaWAN with other similar technologies

    Given the limited range available when operated in the 433 MHz band, LoRaWAN tools for smart agriculture in India generally use the 865-867 MHz range. In contrast, Zigbee uses 2.4 MHz (IEEE 802.15.4) and RFM69 uses 433 MHz. The maximum data rate of a LoRa network is 22 kbps, which is considerably lower than that of RFM69 (300 kbps) and Zigbee (250 kbps). Given that conditions in agricultural lands are hardly likely to change at short notices, the low data throughput rates of LoRa suit perfectly. The line-of-sight (or, LOS) coverage distance of LoRaWAN varies in the 2.00 – 5.00 miles range (tools with higher LOS ranges in rural areas are also being launched) – which is higher than that of RFM69, but well below the level of Zigbee. As a rule of thumb, LoRa technology can be used for precision farming everywhere, provided that the irrigation system’s data transmission rate is less than 22 kbps. Cellular networks (GPRS/3G) have to be used in cases where the distance is more than 4500-5000 meters.

Note: All LoRa-based smart agriculture devices have to be carefully tested prior to release. A buggy farm automation system can give misleading information, leading up to serious damages.

  1. The Teks agritech system, powered by LoRa

    A couple of months back, we launched the first prototype of our breakthrough LoRa-based smart agriculture device. A single SIM needs to be used in the gateway (if multiple SIMs are needed per user, that might lead to serious management issues). The on-field sensors transfer high-accuracy, real-time data to the system nodes – and the latter then moves the central gateway (bidirectional data transfer). The gateway then sends the data to the server for processing and analysis, and the user (farmer) receives regular updates on his devices. We have gone with a single-channel gateway – with an eye on the cost and affordability factors, without compromising on the key capabilities of the system. The time-intervals for data readings can be selected by farmers (through the dedicated mobile app). The gateway can operate on LAN or wifi connectivity – and ensure superior management of water resources for irrigation (soil moisture is tracked, and irrigation notifications are sent to users). It also has additional capabilities for analyzing soil, temperature and atmospheric data – based on which accurate predictions are sent to the server, and the farmers are notified. As things stand now, the main purpose of our IoT agritech system is to minimize water wastage, ensure proper fertilizer application, and preserve soil quality.

Note: Every node of the Teks LoRa-based agritech tool is both low-power and low-cost. It can be charged through standard USB charging ports or with power banks.

   10. Smarter use of fertilizers with LoRa

On Indian soils, there is an inherent lack of adequate nitrogen content. To tackle that, nitrogen fertilizers in general, and urea in particular, are often used rather indiscriminately on fields. This practice can, and often does, prove counterproductive. A recent report revealed that these nitrogen fertilizers make up around 75% of the total greenhouse gas emissions from crop fields (for instance, nitrous oxide). Manual soil testing is often not adequate (particularly in larger farms) – and the LoRa sensors (which use low power and cover high ranges) offer real-time visibility and tracking options for soil conditions, so that fertilizers can be applied at the right times, and in the right quantities. Overfertilization and underfertilization are both rather alarmingly common in Indian agriculture – and switching over to smart farming practices can finally bring in a balance. In March 2018, wireless soil sensor manufacturer company Teralytic announced the integration of LoRa technology in its NPK (nitrogen, phosphate, potassium) sensor. The device has as many as 26 built-in sensors, and it runs on battery.

Note: Teralytic’s NPK soil sensor was launched at the 2018 World Agritech Innovation Summit.

     11. Role of AI and agricultural drones

In a benchmark move in 2016, the government of Andhra Pradesh entered into a collaboration with Microsoft and ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics) – for technology-based analysis of soil parameters, weather conditions, and other key stats. The entire system is operated on the basis of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and of course, secure cloud computing – and it sends text messages to the farmers (mentioning important information, like correct sowing times). It has been proven that crop-growers can increase annual yields by up to 30% with this AI-powered agritech system (the Microsoft Azure platform is used to examine 4 decades of data). Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are also extremely important in the overall smart agriculture setup, for an array of purposes – from crop spraying and field/soil monitoring (soil mapping), to planting and regular crop examinations. Research projects for using drones for smart farming in India are already underway.

Note: As the use of smart farmtech tools becomes more and more common, the importance of big data in agriculture will also rise. Already, the number of data points in a ‘connected farm’ is several times more than that in a farm half a decade back.

     12. Training the farmers is a challenge that has to be overcome

Precision agriculture needs data…and lots of it (we might just call it ‘data-driven agriculture’). While LPWAN-powered systems facilitate easy and prompt access of such data – and eases a lot of pain points by automating crop monitoring tasks and generating alerts – the farmers have to be thoroughly trained on how the tools and sensors and gateways are to be used for the best possible results. Any IoT agritech tool performs four major functions (visualization, data analysis, control and process monitoring) – and the end-users have to be made familiar with all of these capabilities. The fact that the young generation is not very keen on farming (i.e., in following the footsteps of their forefathers) is also a challenge. Typically, the younger lot is more conversant with technical stuff – and unless they start taking a more active role in smart farm management, things can be difficult. It’s one thing for the technology to be available – and quite another to have the on-field personnel to optimally utilize it.

Factoring in the rapid growth in global population, the UN FAO has forecasted that food production has to go up by a whopping 70% by 2050 (in comparison to 2016). What’s more – the average land size of an Indian farmer is a measly 1.15 hectares - which often does not allow for much in the way of scale economies.

To sum up, the Indian agricultural setup has more than its fair share of fragmentations and bottlenecks. However, progress is being made in the realm of smart agriculture in India – and the LoRa technology is right in the face of this revolution. The collaboration of SenRa with Skysens last December was chalked up to make low-cost, long-range IoT solutions easily available in India. The scenario is challenging yet promising – and LoRaWAN definitely has the potential of disrupting the Indian primary sector in a big way.

LoRaWAN In India: Developments, Opportunities & More

 

Tracking the growth of LoRa technology in India

 

 

According to reasonable estimates, the world will have close to 76 billion connected devices by the end of 2025. Internet of Things (IoT) has already started to make its presence felt in diverse fields – affecting and improving the lives and operations of both general customers (the random Joe-s) as well as governmental bodies. While North America, Greater China and Europe are, expectedly, the runaway leaders – India is moving ahead at a fast clip in this domain. A recent report pegged the annual IoT growth rate in India (for the 2017-2020 period) at ~41% – well over the worldwide growth rate.

As the IoT industry continues to mature and move beyond the experimentation phases, the importance of the LPWAN (low power wide area networks) market is increasingly coming into focus. By 2025, 1 out of every 9 smart devices is set to be connected with one or the other form of LPWAN technologies. There will be 190+ million LPWAN-connected devices in 2019 – and in another two years’ time, the global market value of this sector will touch the $24.5 billion mark. With proven benefits in a large number of fields – right from smart agriculture and home automation, to sensor-based weather forecasting, predictive maintenance, smart water metering and creation of smart cities – Semtech’s LoRa technology (LoRaWAN) is rapidly gaining in popularity and adoption across the globe. In India too, a lot of research work, developments and trials (along with heavy investments) are being made on this technology. Over here, we will do a roundup of the state of LoRa technology in India:

  1. What exactly is the LoRa technology?

    The LoRa technology refers to a long-range, low-power radio communication technology – typically used for systematic data transfer with low data throughput rates. While LoRa and LoRaWAN are often treated synonymously, the two are not one and the same. The former refers to the chirp-based spectrum (or, CSS)-powered physical layer, while the latter is the open-standard MAC layer protocol which serves as the platform for utilizing the built-in LoRa architecture. Put in another way, the physical layer (LoRa) powers the long range link in the architecture (i.e, the LoRa module is present in the physical layer), and LoRaWAN operates as the main network and communication protocol. The range of LoRaWAN networks is around 4-5 kilometers in urban settings, and can comfortably be more than 40 kilometers in rural areas (in semi-urban areas, the range should be around 15 km). On average, the battery life of LoRa systems can be as high as 8-9 years – thanks to the Adaptive Data Rate (ADR) system used in these networks. LoRa networks can function under water, have ~50 meters underground range, and can penetrate 6-7 walls of buildings in urban areas.

Note: By 2022, the worldwide IoT market will be worth northwards of $300 billion. India will account for around 20% of this market.

  1. The largest LoRa deployment in the world

    Taken together, North America, Europe and China make up almost 66% of the global IoT industry at present. India is set to become a major player in this field in the foreseeable future – with Tata Communications planning the ‘largest LoRa network deployment in the world’ over here. The deployment will be complete by the end of 2019, and over $100 million has been earmarked for investment over the next couple of years. As many as 38 important Indian cities will have dedicated IoT networks (powered by LPWAN). The Tata Telecommunications MOVE platform – with its capacity for seamless integration of multiple IoT applications – is also being worked upon. In India, Tata is eyeing 6 major tracks, including automated safety solutions and a range of utilities. Over the next few quarters, more and more enterprises will be switching over to IoT (in general) and LoRaWAN (in particular) tools – in a bid to reduce costs and maximize efficiency levels. The technology will be rolled out in tier 1, 2, 3, and 4 cities (initial field trials have been conducted at Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru) – and well over 400 million people will be brought under the purview of LoRa-based connections. Over 30 proofs-of-concept (PoC) have also been created on the network.

Note: The machine-to-machine (M2M) communications made possible by LoRa technology will be radically different from traditional voice and data networks.

  1. Competition and use cases in India

    The degree of competition in the LPWAN market in India will increase, with the entry of new players, new GSM service providers, and other technologies (say, NB-IoT). This is precisely where Tata Telecommunications enjoys a definite ‘first-mover advantage’, with an ecosystem of 45+ device partners. On average, most tech entrepreneurs and startups have also been willing to give LoRaWAN a try, which is very encouraging. Of course, the biggest driver of the rising demand for LoRa networking in India is the multitude of use cases in which it can be applied – right from smart lighting and smart irrigation (hugely important in a country like India), to personal safety, gas and water metering, smart asset management, and real-time customer servicing/smart feedback. IoT will also provide an effective channel for employers to track the health metrics of workers round the clock. For long-range communications, SIM cards are mostly used till now. In future, that will change as well.

Note: In 2016, about 4 out of 10 smart devices were SIM-connected. The corresponding figure will drop to less than 2% by the end of 2020.

  1. Using the 865 MHz – 868MHz frequency band

    The LoRa system network is built in a ‘star-of-stars topology’ (and not the regular mesh network) – and the technology uses sub-1GHz unlicensed spectrums for direct sequence communication. While both the 433-434 MHz range and the 865-867 MHz are allowed in India, the former typically has low range – and is generally used only for making internet-enabled gaming applications. For more serious business/productivity tools, the 865-867 MHz is made use of by IoT developers. There is a point of confusion over here – since European Union (EU) allows the entire 863 – 870 MHz frequency range as licence free, but in India, 867 MHz is the final unlicensed band. However, a large number of the channels in the 868 MHz LoRa band (there are 8 channels overall, between 865.2 MHz and 868 MHz) are also license-free, providing the developers with that much more leeway. The proprietary Teks agritech tool uses the 866 MHz band.

Note: In the Americas, the 902-908 MHz frequency bands are used (915 MHz is the most common). Europe uses both 870-876 MHz and 915-921 MHz bands. Lower bands are, of course, also used in both places.

  1. Challenges for LoRa technology in India

    The advantages of LoRaWAN over cellular technologies are pretty much well-documented. It facilitates communication between base stations and smart sensors over longer ranges – and what’s more, a much lower number of base stations/gateways have to be set up (bringing down the overall expenses). There is also no dearth of requirements/use cases where the technology can be deployed. That said, there also exist several challenges that can potentially stand in the widespread usage of LoRa technology in India. For starters, the price points are still on the higher side – and scale/volume benefits can become available only if the biggest players (enterprises and OEMs) join the ecosystem. Making the target consumers aware of the benefits of LPWAN technologies, and the requirements/problems they can address, is also a significant task. Also, studies have confirmed that the 865-867 MHz in India might very well run out of capacity fairly soon – with IoT deployments constantly on the rise. TRAI has already recommended a 1 MHz addition in this band (along with a 6 MHz addition in the 915-935 MHz band). These will take the LoRa-based IoT system in India well and truly to the next level.

Note: In India, more than 100 smart cities have been planned. LoRa is well on its way towards becoming mainstream in the country.

  1. Corporate collaborations driving LoRa growth

    At last year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), HP started its collaborations with Tata Communications for the first-of-its-kind LoRaWAN network system in India. The network would affect the lives of more than 2000 communities in the country – with deployments covering domains like fleet management, smart buildings & predictive maintenance, healthcare, campus management, security, and others. High-end LoRa support is embedded in the HPE Universal IoT Platform. For the smart cities program in India, Tata is also working with Semtech Corporation. French IoT provider Kerlink has also signed in with Tata Communications, with an Indian subsidiary office at Chennai (Kerlink base stations will be present in the LoRaWAN network). Senet, the LPWAN provider which announced managed services for IoT in June 2017, has forged a partnership with SenRa Tech – with the latter using Senet’s MNSI (managed network services for IoT). Several other players are also joining hands to bolster the LoRaWAN systems for the Indian environments. Going forward, these collaborations will be mighty important.

Note: Started in March 2015, the LoRa Alliance has grown rapidly over the years – and currently has well over 500 members.

  1. Key elements in the LoRaWAN protocol

    As already stated above, LoRaWAN is the media access control (MAC) protocol layer of the technology. Since it is powered by the ALOHA communication scheme, the connected devices can ‘wake’ at pre-specified intervals, for receiving/transferring data and checking downlinks (instead of staying ‘always on’). This ensures minimal energy consumption as well as communication latency. There are 3 device classes included in the protocol: the bidirectional Class A devices come with 2 shortlink windows and a single, scheduled uplink transmission window, the Class B devices have extra downlink windows & are fairly efficient with controlled downlink, and the Class C devices have continuous receiving windows, and typically consume much more power than the other two categories. Data transfer rates are controlled by the ADR system, and the node-to-gateway rates can support distances ranging from 0.3 km to 50 km. The ‘network capacity’ refers to the availability and capability of receiving messages/data from many nodes simultaneously. ADR, along with the multi-channel transmitters, enhance this capacity. The various internal technology trade-offs ensure that the technology remains highly scalable. Security is yet another issue that LoRa technology handles well – thanks to the AES-128 encryption standards used in the network. Data packets are sent by the connected devices, which are then decoded by the network server, and new packets are created for sending to the devices again.

Note: The data rate of a LoRaWAN protocol can vary from 290 bps to 50 kbps. The link budget and the data packet size is 154 dB.

  1. How does LoRa stack up against the other LPWAN technologies?

    The SS chirp-based LoRa technology compares favourably against most other LPWAN tools – making the former an ideal fit for powering IoT in India. The battery life, for instance, is much higher compared to NB-IoT (8 years vs 1-2 years, on average), and even Sigfox. While all the technologies are scalable, the data rates of LoRaWAN (min. 290 bps) are lower than that supported by LTE-M (min. 200 kbps), but higher than that of Sigfox (min. 100 bps). LoRa also stands marginally ahead in terms of link budget (154 dB vs 151 dB (NB-IoT) or 146 dB (Sigfox, LTE-M)). The excellent interference immunity is one of LoRaWAN’s biggest advantages (for the other LPWAN standards, interference is a big issue) – as are the mobility and localization capabilities. The power efficiencies of the different technologies are similarly high. LTE-M, however, blows LoRaWAN out of the park when it comes to range – with the former covering >30km (2G) and >180km (3G,4G), compared to the 2-5 km urban coverage of the latter. Depending on the specific use cases, the range of Sigfox can also be slightly higher than that of LoRa.

Note: Several other 3GPP standards (e.g., EC-GSM) and LPWAN technologies (e.g., RPMA, Weightless-N) are, at present, being commercially deployed. LoRa, however, is streets ahead of the others when it comes to usage in India.

  1. Looking at the IEEE standards

    LoRaWan follows the 802.15.4g IEEE standard (unlike, say, Zigbee, which uses 802.15.4). Apart from general smart outdoor applications based on LoRa, this standard also supports a range of low-rate wireless personal networks. The system requirements of smart metering utilities are addressed, along with the low data rate instances. This IEEE standard also has additional PHYs defined on it. Reports have confirmed that the 433-434 MHz frequency band can provide a maximum bandwidth of 10 mW, and is hence best suited for creating smart indoor applications. Like any other sub-GHz communication standard, the installation, deployment and maintenance cost of LoRa systems are relatively low. In smart grid applications (an automated metering mechanism, for instance), sub-GHz standards are ideal.

Note: Data rates between 6.25 kbps and 300 kbps are supported by the IEEE 802.15.4u standard.

    10. IoT awareness in India is still low

In a recent survey covering 12 Indian cities, nearly 70% of the respondents expressed their willingness to switch over to ‘connected technology’ (read: IoT) – to allay their FOLO (‘fear of lights on’ at home). Apart from the greater conveniences of automated homes, many people also opined in favour of IoT as an effective tool for traffic management, maintaining healthcare records and various other use cases. In fact, three-fourth of the respondents were also willing to invest on the technology. However, there is a definite knowledge-gap when it comes to proper awareness about IoT per se. Nearly 35% respondents felt that the concept of ‘internet of things’ was associated exclusively with smartphones. More alarmingly, only 1 out of every 10 people felt that IoT could make a difference in the quality (QoS) of public services. A measly 14.6% people from the survey were found to be fully aware of the nature and the various applications/benefits of the technology. For LoRa-based IoT to truly take roots in India, the awareness levels have to be considerably boosted – and therein lies a big challenge.

Note: The biggest expectation of Indian consumers from IoT implementation is the betterment of personal healthcare. That is followed by pollution reduction, lower traffic congestions, and smarter personal safety.

     11. Need for LoRaWAN testing

From heavy battery consumption, to glitches in the underlying radio technology – a lot of factors can prevent a LoRa network to perform optimally. Generally, such ‘bugs’ can pull up expenses – adversely affecting the viability of the concerned system. This brings us to the importance of thorough testing of LoRaWAN systems prior to deployment. The radio-frequency (RF) transmission quality has to be checked carefully – since non-regular receipts of data packets can cause higher-than-average battery drainage. The effect of each of the operations of a LoRa device on the latter’s battery also has to be analyzed. There are country-specific RF regulations (for instance, FCC Part 15.247 has to be complied with in the US) – and IoT app developers in India have to closely abide by the laid-down regulations. Moreover, the sensitivity of the receiver component has to be checked, to make sure that the RF reception powers are at desired levels. Semtech offers test software, and devices under test (DUT) should be working on them. The IoT market in India is at a nascent stage – and there are hardly any room for errors.

Note: Bluetooth, DASH7 and Sigfox are some other popular communication technologies.

     12. The main components of LoRa networks

Broadly speaking, a LoRaWAN system has 3 major components. First up, there is the ‘network server’, which receives data packets from devices, duplicates/decodes them, and generates the packets to be returned. Next is the ‘gateway’, which uses an IP interface (with either 3G or Ethernet) to route data packets from the devices to the server (multiple gateways can be present in a single LoRa deployment). Finally, there are the ‘end-devices’ (in essence, the sensors), which use the LoRa technology for sending packets. Among the parameters required for personalizing the LoRa framework, ‘code rate’, ‘bandwidth’ and ‘spreading factor’ are the most important. The chirp rate of the system solely depends on the bandwidth of the system.

Note: For making the end-device customized, a series of MAC commands can be used. Some common LoRa MAC commands are ‘DutyCycleReq’, ‘LinkCheckReq’ and ‘LinkADRReq’.

IoT is not, contrary to what many think, a particularly new thing in India. The country already has a 40%+ share in the global IoT market – and the 2020-2025 CAGR will be around 55%. The lack of high-speed wireless data connectivity in the country (particularly in the rural areas) is an issue – but the foundations for IoT and LPWAN growth are already in place. A couple of months back, Nordic Automation Systems (NAS) and SenRa joined hands to develop smart street lights and smart metering solutions in India. We can easily expect many more such innovative LoRa-powered IoT solutions to debut in the near future. LoRa will change people’s lives in India, that’s for sure!

 

[Infographic] The Growth Of Mobile Gaming

With the rapid growth of smartphone users worldwide, it’s not surprising that the mobile gaming industry has matured and developed into one of the most lucrative markets in the business world. In fact, the overall revenue of the mGaming sphere has doubled in only three years. In 2014, the market weighed $25 billion, which rose to $46.2 billion in 2017.
The growth can be connected to the rising ownership of mobile devices, particularly the smartphones, that is projected to surpass the usage of dedicated console platforms. Ownership of smartphones has shown a steady growth of 145 million users in 2014 to 180 million after three years. Meanwhile, PC and console owners are a bit flat with 45 million users to 60 million for the same time period.
There’s also a rise in the number of new titles in mobile devices than in PC and console. In 2014, new games for mobile was at 72, 530 compared to 1, 580 in PC and 360 in console. In only three years, the release of new game apps for mobile rose to 152, 180 versus the 3, 400 in PC and 520 in console. With a steady growth in user and demand, this is a clear evident that game developers are focusing more on reaching out to smartphone gamers with the growth in new game apps yearly.
You might be wondering why mobile gaming is highly popular. Apart from the increased ownership and usage of mobile devices, there are plenty of other reasons why game apps are prevalent today. Here are the top reasons:
The gaming platform is portable. Anyone can carry it anywhere easily and play conveniently. Game apps are highly addictive. Even a simple tap-and-play game can get you stuck in playing for hours. The quality of gaming apps has increased massively with high definition features and new technology used. Most importantly, it offers free games for gamers.
Experts foresee further growth in the mobile gaming sphere. MrGamez’s detailed infographic not only discusses the current trends in mGaming, but also highlights future developments to expect in the industry. Some of the highlighted future trends include multiplayer and social gaming as well as the application of new technology (i.e. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality) that will span across all gaming platforms.
infographic on mobile gaming

 

SaaS in 2018: An Overview Of Key Trends And Statistics

list of important SaaS trends in 2018

 

The global software-as-a-service industry is growing at an exponential rate. From artificial intelligence to blockchain technology, and from IoT to advancements in machine learning (ML) – a host of factors are driving the growth of SaaS in various industrial sectors. By the end of this year, the valuation of the SaaS market worldwide would go beyond $71 billion (~21.5% more than the corresponding figure in 2017). A recent Forbes report indicated that the CAGR of SaaS applications will hover around 21% in the 2015-2020 time period. In today’s discourse, we will look at some key SaaS trends and stats for 2018 and beyond:

  1. Business Ops account for the most SaaS subscriptions

    Back in 2009, engineering did all the early running in terms of paid SaaS subscriptions, while the shares of marketing and business operations were relatively very small. Cut to 2017, and the scenario has undergone a full overhaul – with DevOps easily being the segment that registers the maximum growth in paid enterprise software subscriptions. As this segment has expanded, the percentage share of engineering has gone down (right through the early years of this decade). At present, the focus is squarely on enterprise-wide application of SaaS tools and resources – from sales, customer support and dev ops, to financial operations and even HR activities. At present, the average company is going in for 16-18 SaaS subscriptions, and investing close to $14000 for the purpose.

Note: Slack and GSuite are two popular SaaS applications used in business operations. In engineering, tools like Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services are used.

  1. Increased emphasis on feature marketing and anti-lean products

    The tech market as a whole has already entered early maturity. The strategy of companies to come out with ‘minimum viable products’ (MVPs) as quickly as possible is no longer a viable one – with too many MVPs (with features that overlap) crowding the tech industry. Seamless implementation of SaaS is gradually enabling organizations to create ‘feature-rich’ versions of their products – the so-called ‘anti-lean products. These ‘relevant functionalities’ are also helping companies in getting a competitive advantage. The rise of anti-lean products is, in turn, pulling up the importance of feature marketing (in place of the more holistic ‘product marketing’). Over time, a product can become ‘too big’ to be marketed per se (as developers keep adding new features and add-ons) – and the need shifts to promoting specific new features. SaaS offers platforms for the purpose.

Note: According to Cardin Partners, the growth rate of the global SaaS economy is almost 6X more than that of the world economy. There are 5000+ SaaS companies in the market at present – up from a measly 150 in 2011.

  1. Role of artificial intelligence is increasing

    From bolstering human capacity and productivity levels, to enhancing security standards, facilitating process automation and ushering in the age of ‘hyper personalization’ (with natural language processing, or NLP) – artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a strong role in the effectiveness of SaaS platforms for all of these. On average, 8 out of 10 IT and tech experts are actively involved in AI-related development. Apart from automating repetitive activities, AI-powered SaaS optimises day-to-day business activities by quickening the pace of internal operations of enterprises, enabling AI chatbots for instantaneous customer servicing, and bolstering overall productivity levels. It’s all about optimizing business workflows – and the combination of AI (more specifically, machine learning) and SaaS is proving to be extremely useful for that.

Note: Leading tech players like CA Technologies, Microsoft, SAP and IBM switched over to SaaS-based product development strategies in 2017.

  1. The rise of vertical SaaS

    Broad-based software tools and platforms that target many users and multiple industries (i.e., ‘horizontal SaaS’) are rapidly going out of favour. The focus has well and truly shifted to creating fully customizable, scalable and adaptable software solutions (say, a logistics system or an specialized analytics tracking system) for users from a particular industry or enterprise. Such ‘vertical SaaS’ tools are typically much more cost-effective and efficient - delivering greater business value to end-users. What’s more, important KPIs and other metrics are often pre-integrated with vertical SaaS platforms – and the latter offer greater usage flexibility and customer intelligence as well. More personalized software support is also bringing down customer acquisition costs (for large enterprises, ‘customer retention’ is often a more important concern than ‘customer acquisition’). As things stand now, both pro developers as well as general users need to be given open API access of SaaS tools – failing which, large-scale implementations are not likely to happen.

Note: Many experts feel that a combination of horizontal and vertical combination – one which will be customized and yet have certain ‘use it everywhere’ functions – will be important for enterprises in 2018 and beyond. Prior to purchase/subscription, the compatibility of a SaaS tool with the existing tech infrastructure system of a business has to be ascertained.

  1. Increased acceptance in companies worldwide

    In 2017, there was a ~33% YoY rise in the number of companies using custom B2B software applications. The per-company subscription moved towards the 20 mark in the third quarter of the year – indicating that SaaS adoptions are set to explode further in the foreseeable future. In the United States alone, around 80% final users prefer using SaaS applications (in 2016, this figure was 52%), and 39% companies initiated SaaS-oriented workplaces (in 2016, only 18% US companies had SaaS-exclusive spaces). The demand for optimized SaaS tools is being driven up by the need for greater team collaborations, cutting down on unnecessary legacy costs, facilitating faster data access, enabling greater business process consistency, and removing platform maintenance/upgradation-related problems. SaaS platforms can generally handle the required software updates without any hassles.

Note: By 2026, the total expenditure in the SaaS market in the US will cross $54 billion.

  1. The need for ‘immediacy’ is pulling up SaaS

    The importance of promptly responding to a lead can hardly be overemphasized. Researches have shown that, the chances of lead-conversion fall drastically – if a company fails to respond to it within 5 minutes (an addition five minute delay can decrease the probabilities of lead conversion by ~400%, as per a recent Drift survey). The onus is on enterprises to engage customers with immediate and contextual ‘conversational conversation’ – to ensure smooth user onboarding and excellent first-time user experience (FTUE). Interactive chatbots bring in that much sought-after ‘human touch’ to business communications – and not surprisingly, they have emerged as one of the most important SaaS elements. Promptness and round-the-clock availability, along with advanced multitasking capabilities and assured efficiency have made sure that the trend of implementing ‘live chat support’ is here to stay.

Note: Lengthy lead forms and the blanket ‘spray and pray’ approach for professional B2B marketing are over and done with. With SaaS, the importance of engaging users, and helping them learn about products/services has become greater than ever before. Messaging apps are also being used by businesses for the purpose.

  1. Under the scanner: the pricing of SaaS

    We are well into 2018, and the days of experimentation with SaaS platforms and implementations are behind us. Till now, not much importance had been given on the pricing factor – with nearly 54% companies not even having dedicated teams to analyze price-related stuff. Even in the first quarter of this year, a measly 15% people factored in pricing before deciding to create a SaaS platform. As SaaS implementation becomes more and more mainstream, this mindset will change – and all stakeholders (investors, venture capitalists, developers, final users) will keep a close eye on the pricing trends. That will enable them to track the returns from new enterprise software, and make more informed purchase-decisions.

Note: Salesforce’s ‘Lightning Essentials’ CRM package is priced at $25 per user annually.

  1. Moving on to PaaS and XaaS

    Companies like Box and Salesforce (with Force.com) have laid down the marker – and over the next few quarters more top-level SaaS companies will start to deliver platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions. That, in turn, will allow clients to include additional applications on digital products, as and when required. Over time, it will become possible to use cloud services to perform nearly all tasks online – doing away with the need for software/platform installations. In other words, ‘Everything-as-a-Service’ (XaaS) is fast becoming a very real thing – and this progress is being boosted by the need for combining quality assurance, service delivery, and optimized engineering. Availability of 24×7 disaster recovery plans, and the ease of account upgradation/changes in subscriptions are also factors working in favour of XaaS. By the end of this decade, PaaS and IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) will find widespread acceptance – and XaaS will be making businesses smarter than ever.

Note: Minimal designs are a key characteristic of user-friendly SaaS tools. High-end enterprise software also needs to be device-agnostic and offer smooth operability across the board.

  1. The increasingly important role of BYOD

    In the last half a decade or so, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has grown big – and that has further fueled the expansion & adoption of SaaS in enterprises. By the end of 2017, 68% of American small businesses had already adopted BYOD practices – and it was found that nearly 9 out of every 10 employees indeed connect to corporate networks (wifi) while at work. Acceptance of BYOD practices has facilitated quick data access and fostered a sense of confidence among workers – apart from generating additional business savings. Company cultures are changing, and dedicated SaaS applications with specific user-roles and permissions can easily help in establishing a secure, highly productive, and communicative environment. Microsoft reported that 68% of employees in the US admit the advantages that the BYOD regime has delivered for them. Fixed working hours and shared working spaces are becoming things of the past – thanks to the proliferation of high-quality cloud hosting services.

Note: Around 65% corporate organizations let workers connect to corporate networks – significantly more than the corresponding figure a couple of years back.

   10. Growth in DaaS is making cybersecurity a big point of concern

Right through the lifecycle of an enterprise software tool, a large number of data points are created. Given the sheer number and seriousness of cybersecurity breaches in 2017 (Equifax, Uber and many other market leaders fell prey), the importance of robust security standards simply cannot be glossed over. As a result, the demand for secure cloud services is at an all-time high – and it has become imperative for a SaaS company to provide complete data safety assurances to final users. The volume of confidential, personal data shared in the online space is huge – and if a digital platform cannot rule out unauthorized third-party access/theft of such data, it is not likely to find any takers. Only after the data security standards have been finalized, can a company move on to the actual product development stage.

Note: As SaaS tools grow more refined, more attention is being paid on the user-end experience (UX) they deliver. Minimizing manual inputs and maximizing outputs/results should be the objective of these smart software solutions.

    11. Smooth API connections and SaaS unbundling

As the quality and levels of built-in integrations in digital platforms are rising, the need for redirecting users to third-party applications is being done away with. Instead of the over-reliance on external APIs, companies are looking for quick and seamless integrations in current digital frameworks, through built-in API connections. In fact, lack of proper integration capabilities is, at present, viewed as a serious shortcoming by people – hampering the popularity of the SaaS tool as a result. ‘SaaS unbundling’ has also emerged as an interesting trend – with many instances of companies including all their main services in custom APIs (the Clearbit API serves as a classic example in this regard). The SaaS industry is mature and already crowded, there are many similar products in place, and packaging core services as APIs marks a great point of difference.

Note: The growth of regular SaaS companies is being accompanied by rapid rises in micro-SaaS tools – owned and managed by small teams.

    12. A ‘mobile-first’ approach is gaining momentum

By 2020, the world will have 2.87 billion smartphone users. The popularity of messaging apps (like WhatsApp) is increasing – and their importance for sales, marketing, and productivity-related communications is growing. With a humongous 2.5 billion people expected to regularly use mobile messaging apps – it is hardly surprising that SaaS companies are treating the platform as a priority. Vendors have recognized the importance of delivering optimal user convenience at all times (top-notch user experience) – and letting them use digital products on the go, as and when they need it. People will continue to rely on their mobile devices – and ‘mobile SaaS’ will continue to grow.

The rapidly evolving SaaS industry has also increased the demand for trained workforce manifold. That has, in turn, resulted in greater needs for targeted coaching in enterprises, including real-time lessons and constant training. Identifying and addressing key areas of improvement, and providing timely feedback to the managerial level is also vital. At the end of the day, it is all about increasing customer convenience levels. In 2017, improvements in cloud functionality increased user-satisfaction levels by nearly 30% (according to a Zendesk report).

While the rate of new SaaS subscriptions might have eased out slightly last year, the spending on the technology continues to increase at a frantic pace. More and more companies are coming up with refined, feature-rich and customizable SaaS solutions. The market has entered a consolidation phase, the concept of ‘SaaS-exclusive workspaces’ are becoming a reality – and in future, enterprises will continue to benefit from cutting-edge software solutions.

 

 

Looking Forward To iOS 12: New Features We Would Love To See

For all the hype and hoopla about iPhone 8 and, to a much greater extent, the outrageously expensive iPhone X – the adoption of iOS 11 has been decidedly ho-hum. By the third week of January, the global adoption rate of the latest version of Apple’s mobile platform had climbed to 65%, more than 10 percentage points lower than iOS 10’s adoption rate in January 2017. What’s more, iOS 11 has been touted as one of the buggiest updates in recent years (both iOS 11.2.1 and iOS 11.2.2 were launched to fix important glitches). There are rumours about the iPhone X getting a price cut (and maybe a new ‘blush gold’ colour option, to push up the faltering sales figures). iOS 11.3 has only just been released (there will be an iOS 11.4 update too) – and in what follows, we will look at certain fixes and new features that users would love to see in this year’s iOS 12 update:

  1. Dark Mode API for developers

    Last year’s iOS 11 did have a ‘hidden dark mode’, but the Cupertino company probably missed out on the chance of doing so much more. Although iPhone X has not done as well as expected, it has ‘set Apple up for the next decade’ (in the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook) – and since it has a OLED display screen, the battery performance of the device can be significantly enhanced by keeping most of the screen dark. With across the board availability, Dark Mode would make the task of reading at night/in low-light areas considerably less strenuous on the eyes. It would also be great if iOS 12 came with a Dark Mode API for third-party app developers – enabling the latter to determine how their new applications would ‘behave’ when the Dark Mode is activated. The triggers for activation – for instance, the ambient lighting – should be included in the ‘Settings’ menu.

  2. A more customized Control Center

    For years now, Android-users have gloated over the (much) greater flexibility available on their handsets, in comparison with iPhone-users. iOS 11 has made the Control Center more customized, and this summer’s iOS 12 update should take matters further forward. For starters, app shortcuts need to be included over here, along with the option to add other important settings. Users are not given any option to toggle the Bluetooth and/or wifi to ‘off’ from the Control Center – and this is another thing that should be addressed by Apple (a stronger 3D Touch option in iOS 12, maybe?). What’s more, things like ‘screen mirroring’ and music controls should be easily removable from this section. iOS should ideally be striving to deliver Android-like levels of personalization, and there’s still a long way to go for that.

  3. Group calling on FaceTime

    Given that FaceTime Audio made its debut way back in 2013 (in iOS 7), it’s downright surprising that multi-user calling options have not yet become available on it (iOS 11 was rumored to have it, and fans were disappointed). It has been reported that Apple is struggling with am patent-related issue over this – and provided that things get sorted out soon enough, iOS 12 might very well finally come with FaceTime Group Calling (video calling). The phone screen can be divided into multiple quadrants, to facilitate multi-person video calling, and users will have the option of turning off the visual feed option as well (i.e., operating in ‘audio-only’ mode). Of course, the functionality of this multi-user video calling feature would crucially depend on the internet speed and network strength of each participant.

Note: Both FB Messenger and Whatsapp already offer group-calling options. The new iOS update can offer FaceTime video calling for upto 4-5 participants.

  1. A smarter Siri to keep up with the competition

    Siri on iOS 11 is fairly good in its own right – but it is still not a patch on other popular virtual assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Echo. In iOS 12, users would love to see an upgraded Siri with a series of improved features – from greater accuracy in answers and quicker response capabilities, to better contextual conversations, improved voice recognition, and (hopefully) some cool little games and activities, to keep up engagement levels. SiriKit, which was introduced in iOS 10, could also do with some enhancements – preferably in the form of aids for music and shopping functions. The biggest point of concern is that there is not much buzz about Siri improvements in iOS 12 till now. Let’s just hope that Apple will give its much-loved mobile digital assistant the performance boosts to compare with its competitors.

Note: In a artificial intelligence (AI)-based test survey in February, the accuracy of answers given by Siri on HomePod was 52.3%. There is much room for improvement over here.

  1. Quoted replies and ‘@’ mentions in Messages

    The number of monthly active users WhatsApp users crossed the 1500 million mark last December. The Telegram app registers close to 400000 new users every day. While both these applications are hugely popular among iPhone-users worldwide, there is no way of neglecting the native ‘Messages’ app on the platform – and that is precisely where the shortcomings of the latter become evident. iOS 12 should bring in an update that allows users to quote specific messages from chat threads (just like WhatsApp and Telegram does), and reply directly to them. In addition, group conversations should start allowing people to tag anyone with ‘@username’. This will ensure that notifications are sent to a particular user only when (s)he is mentioned in a group chat. Being notified for each and every message is unnecessary and can be rather irritating.

Note: iOS 10 brought split-screen multitasking to the iPad. If iOS 12 extends the same feature to the iPhone, it will bolster the convenience levels of users.

  1. App icons that are rearrangeable

    Make no mistake, Apple does allow people to ‘reorder’ folders and icons on the Home screen. However, the way in which these are pre-arranged in rows cannot be altered – giving a somewhat sandboxed feel to the overall system. For example, a person might want to put a frequently used application at a position which can be easily reached with the thumb – but such customizations cannot be made presently. While making the entire grid positions customizable might be off the table for iOS 12, people should at least be able to arrange app icons according to their preference and convenience. Providing a dedicated ‘app drawer’ would also be a nice option, to prevent the screen from becoming cluttered. The average iPhone-user has 30/35 apps installed on his/her handset – and it’s important to keep them properly organized.

Note: We will, in all likelihood, have to wait till iOS 13 for dynamic icons.

  1. More features in the Camera app

    Wish to change the video format? You will have to head to the ‘Settings’ menu, to make the necessary tweaks. That’s an extra hassle – one that iOS 12 should resolve. The Camera application itself should allow people to make changes by tapping on the video format displayed on the screen. The ‘Time Lapse’ tab should also receive this functionality. There are reports of Apple working on several major changes in the Camera app – like an all-new ‘Pro’ section for playing around with the white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and other key controls. There are no questions about the quality of iPhone photography – but it’s time that the Camera app had more of the controls.

  2. Better Face ID; Improvements in Portrait Mode

    The Cupertino tech giant is eyeing the release of three new iPhones in 2018 – and each of them will have TrueDepth Camera (which debuted on iPhone X). While opinions remain divided over FaceID replacing Touch ID in the latest generation of iPhone models – it certainly seems that the former will feature in most (if not all) future models. In such a scenario, it would make a lot of sense if iOS 12 brought in more recognition patterns for Face ID, along with significant improvements in the reliability and accuracy factors. Apple also has some catching up to do with the ‘Portrait Mode’ (iPhone 7 Plus had it first) – which appears rather mediocre compared to that of Google Pixel 2. With the A11 chip present in the latest iPhones, it is certainly possible to make enhancements in this context.

Note: This keeps on surfacing every year and nothing happens – but the absence of a ‘Back’ button is often problematic. Maybe, the iOS 12 update will have something regarding this?

  1. Smarter iPhone unlocking

    Apple can easily take a leaf out of Android’s Smart Lock system, to make the iPhone unlocking smarter than ever before. It should be possible for users to unlock the handsets in trustworthy Bluetooth or wifi networks, after upgrading to iOS 12. For instance, a connected Apple Watch will be able to unlock a iPhone (it can already unlock paired Mac systems). In future, unlocking a device by syncing it with the Apple CarPlay system should also be a possibility. In the Apple ecosystem, security concerns are accorded much more importance than in Android – and that probably makes it next to impossible for iPhones/iPads to unlock in all scenarios. However, unlocking should be possible in more frequent (and safe) use cases, the range should be improved, and devices – once unlocked – should remain in that state for a few hours. It’s all about implementing proper geofencing and wifi standards in the next iteration of the iOS platform.

  2. Return of the wish list

    Why iOS 11 did away with the wish list feature in the App Store is anyone’s guess (the other tweaks were mostly good). As a result of that, iPhone-users were stripped of the option to add applications to their personal wishlists, to purchase/download them later. Given that it is not always possible to install a new application as and when one sees it at the store (the cellular data may be week, the price may be rather high), and memorizing the names of many apps is hardly possible – it is highly recommended that iOS 12 brings back this feature. At present, users cannot even see their previously saved wishlists either. If wish lists indeed make a comeback, that would boost app downloads and revenues in the long-run too.

  3. Arrival of ‘always-on’ displays

    Android has it, and iPhone does not. ‘Always-on’ displays can have implications on the battery lives of devices – but on the OLED displays of iPhone X and its successors in 2018 – not much battery juice will be consumed for lighting up a small section of the screen (battery used in OLED depends only on the number of lighted pixels). While more elaborate updates can wait till 2019, the iOS 12 update can bring an ‘always on’ screen with the clock (multiple designs), calendar, a summary of new notifications, and (perhaps) some of the home screen widgets. The display needs to be customizable – and going forward, Apple should provide a new API to facilitate developer access to this screen. Reduced colors and the dark background will make sure that there is no excess battery drain.

Note: The last couple of iOS updates have made improvements to iPhone notifications – but there are still scopes for further streamlining. Apart from customized notification grouping, people should also have the option of ignoring do-not-disturb (DND) settings.

     12. Improvements in the Files system

The Files app in iOS 11 is promising, but not much more than that. It does not quite function like a dedicated mobile file manager/file explorer yet – and that’s something that the upcoming platform update can address. Putting it differently, the software should be overhauled in such a way that, people are able to check out all the documents stored locally on their iDevices at one go. With more and more media content being stored on iCloud worldwide, storage is also an issue (Apple currently offers 5GB free storage, which often turns out to be inadequate). If iOS 12 allows users to purchase additional iCloud storage space without that being added on to the personal storage limits, things will become a lot easier. Google offers similar features (photos on Google Pixel), and upgraded iPhones/iPads can do the same.

Four new animojis have been added to the iOS 11.3 (it is, rather curiously, been made available only on the sixth-gen iPad). In iOS 12, app developers would love to be able to create and register custom animojis (with a separate Animoji API). Parental controls need to be improved, a user should be able to mark Messages as ‘unread’, a double-tap feature to put devices to sleep can be included, and there is need for a greater sync between timers and alarms (the way they are set and displayed). Phil Schiller might have referred to the iPad (more specifically, the iPad Pro) as the ‘ultimate PC replacement’ – but until it gets multi-user support and seamless user-switching features, its popularity will remain limited. It also remains to be seen what (if anything) iOS 12 does for Apple Music – given that it is still well behind Spotify, in terms of global subscribers (38 million vs 70 million).

iOS 12 (codenamed ‘Peace’) will be announced at this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2018 has been scheduled from the 4th to the 8th of June), along with tvOS 12, macOS 10.14 and watchOS 5. Given the early troubles iOS 11 ran into, Apple is expected to focus on strengthening the security, reliability and performance levels in the new version – instead of going for big feature additions. Even so, iOS 12 will have more than its fair share of interesting new stuff – and we’ll have to wait and see how many of the features listed above actually makes the cut.

Busted! Finding The Truth Behind The Top 14 Smart Agriculture Myths

 

The facts behind the biggest modern farming myths

 

Over the next three decades, global food demand levels will rise by close to 70% – thanks to the exponentially growing population. A recent survey found that >800 million people worldwide do not have access to sustainable levels of food/other agricultural resources. The importance of the primary sector is further underlined by the fact that 4 out of every 10 people in the global workforce are employed over here (even though farming is not a particularly favourite field of activity for millennials). With the total volume of arable land steadily diminishing due to a series of factors (climatic changes, urbanization, large-scale industrialization, etc.) – the focus has shifted towards maximizing the yield from the available land resources. This is precisely where the concepts of ‘smart farming‘ and ‘precision agriculture‘ come into the picture.

Going by reasonable estimates, the market value of smart agriculture will soar to $27 billion in 2020 – with the use of big data, sensors and other advanced IoT tools becoming increasingly mainstream. However, the growth of digitization and automation for farming has been accompanied by a fair number of misleading myths. In what follows, we will bust a few of the most common smart farming myths:

  1. Present-day farmers are not willing to invest in precision farming and automation tools

    While the terms ‘agriculture’ and ‘digitization’ did not quite go hand in hand traditionally, the times are changing. In France, more than 65% of full-time crop-growers have expressed their interest in investing their resources on precision farming tools and technologies. The scenario is roughly similar across the globe, with the emphasis squarely on boosting yields, increasing margin earnings, and doing away with the uncertainty factors (e.g., those associated with fertilizers and/or irrigation). With the demand for automated farm management software and gateways increasing, large companies have started to offer real-time farm-based data, like soil conditions, crop cycles & performance, and moisture levels, as a ‘service’ to the farmers. These, together with higher-quality equipments and dynamic pricing, are bolstering yield quality and farm revenues.

Note: The challenge lies in making the technologies uniformly available to all farmers. Providing the latter with the necessary training is also vital.

  1. Smart agriculture is for large-scale agricultural farms only

    There is, without a shadow of a doubt, a direct correlation between the size of the farm, and the ability of its owner to spend big bucks on smart farming tools. However, considering that smart agritech solutions are meant for only the biggest of farms would be too naive. Nearly 76% of the total food in the world is produced in small, family-based farms (as per a UN FAO report) – and this makes the implementation of high-end precision tools in such farms absolutely critical. Such farms are, on average, <2.5 acres in size, and often suffer from various constraints – with fund crunches being the most common. Over the next few years, we can reasonably expect commercial farming practices to become prevalent in small farms too, aided by customized and powerful smart farming tools.

  2. ‘Digital Farming’ and ‘Digital Agriculture’ are one and the same

    This is probably the biggest misconception related to smart farming out there. The origins of digital farming can be traced back to the mid-90s, when the first set of tractors with built-in GPS capabilities arrived on the scene. At present, the John Deere tractors have become relatively common in US farms (in particular), along with satellite imaging, agricultural drones and smart sensors. These are all pushing ‘digital farming’ to newer and greater heights. It has to be, however, kept in mind that ‘digital agriculture’ is a different – and a much more inclusive – concept. While ‘digital farming’ is mostly limited to field-centric data and operations, ‘digital agriculture’ includes everything, right from digital platforms for agriculture (like the one SAP is working on), food technology awareness generation, and tech-backed transportation & logistics, to supply chain optimization, food safety, and better engagements of farmers with other stakeholders. The progresses made thus far in ‘digital farming’ make up only a small section of an integrated farm management system – which is what ‘digital agriculture’ is all about.

Note: Innovative and high-utility digital solutions for agriculture have been released by several leading players, like IBM, Bayer and Monsanto.

  1. Using big data and analytics is risk-free in the agricultural domain

    The worldwide big data market, currently valued at ~$41 billion, is expected to be worth $88.5 billion in 2025 (~115% increase). Buoyed by the performance and efficiency boosts brought about by systematic application of big data in other fields and use cases, it is increasingly being used for creating databases for digital farming tools too. The practice, unfortunately, comes with its own share of risks and uncertainties. For starters, unlike factory-based or workplace operations, agricultural activities and outputs are affected by natural factors (even though technology is being used to minimize their effects) – and there is no way of accurately predicting certain things. In other words, the crop-growing industry is a highly segmented one – and over here, big data is useful, but not always all-encompassing. What’s more, the analytics reports also fail to bring out the right picture at times (for instance, it is impossible to ascertain the percentage of yield increases caused by favourable climate conditions, and the percentage due to application of agritech solutions). With the right insights and greater accuracy of data, these uncertainties can be done away with in future – but there is still a long way to go.

  2. Maximizing the grid resolution is the only important factor for weather data collection and analysis

    Not quite true, While increasing the grid resolution should, theoretically, offer more accurate data outputs – problems would still remain over the maintenance and delivery of the higher number of grid points. In addition, it has been seen that agricultural weather grids generally fall short of 100% accuracy – and hence, simply increasing the resolution levels do not always provide the benefits originally expected. Instead, farmers and smart farming service providers need to maintain a proper balance – by ensuring that the collected data will indeed be relevant for their day-to-day operations (concentrating only on grid resolution can be counterproductive). The resolution for numerical weather prediction, or NWP, needs to be optimized, and end-to-end analytics platforms (with custom agronomic modeling) have to be created. These would deliver greater value to contemporary agricultural practices.

  3. Food technology should follow cold, hard logic

    Agriculture is not a so-called ‘hard science’ – and it would be a gross mistake to expect it to behave as one. It is one thing to ‘know’ what crops SHOULD be grown at what time (with the help of the agritech tools and assistants), but such data need not necessarily match the food patterns – or even the preferences – of human beings. For instance, the conditions in a farm in the Netherlands might not be in favour of dairy farming – but there is a high chance that such ‘logical conclusions’ will not be heeded. The rising awareness and concern over environmental hazards, welfare of animals and personal health risks also have important roles to play in modifying the behaviour of customers – forcing them to think beyond the price tags and supply-side elements. A clear example of this would be the steadily falling consumption of red meat across Western Europe. Digitized agriculture promises plenty of advantages, and large-scale overhauls in farm activities are required – but long-standing food habits are not going to change anytime soon. This is not a field that is driven by logical expectations only.

  4. Startups will dominate the precision agriculture industry

    Smart agriculture is all about innovations. Not surprisingly, new players are making big splashes in this domain – from investors and incubators, to tech service providers and partner companies. On the other hand, the established, large-scale companies are feeling the heat – since most of them fall short on that much-needed ‘innovation’ factor. This, however, does not mean that precision farming will be dominated by only startups in the foreseeable future. While coming up with revolutionary agritech ideas is easy for them, they often run into problems during the idea validation stage – primarily because they do not have the specialized manpower resources to test/implement their proofs-of-concept (PoCs). As a result, agritech startups are collaborating with big organizations, to access the better facilities, real validation, and improved marketing options. Hybrid models are becoming more and more common – and in future, it will be the business partnerships (and not the startups alone) that will make a difference.

Note: Contrary to what is widely believed, large scale agricultural farms are not necessarily more efficient. In fact, a recent study revealed that output from smaller farms can be nearly two times more than their larger counterparts (much higher yield-per-hectare).

  1. Farming does not require education

    Once upon a time, agriculture used to be more about physical strength than mental acumen – but those times have now been relegated to the pages of history. On average, a crop-grower using smart farming tools and data have to handle as many as 4 million data points annually (this is based on a Farmer’s Business Network report). On top of that, farmers need to be capable of operating the self-driving tractors, the smart field sensors, the drones and a host of other cutting-edge technical tools and accessories. For maximizing field outputs at the time of harvest, a wide range of advanced machines and gateways have to be used by farmers – and unless they have proper education and the required training, the task would be beyond them. Managing a ‘smart farm’ is not the easiest task in the world – and ‘smart farmers’ must be well-educated.

  2. If the rainfall data is accurate, the overall quality of weather data will be optimal

    At very high precision levels, maintaining high accuracy of virtual rain gauge data can be a big challenge. Many issues can crop up – from calibration errors and signal problems, to faulty radar setups and field clutter – affecting the accuracy of rainfall data/predictions. However, even if the rainfall data is mostly accurate, that does not necessarily mean that the overall weather data quality will also be optimal. It has to be kept in mind that wind/temperature forecasts are not related to rainfall forecasting (rainfall is not a parameter in Numerical Weather Prediction models either). Hence, it is not the standalone accuracy of rainfall data, but the overall relevance, personalization and actionable nature of the weather data that should be paid attention to. It might very well happen that the rainfall forecasts are fairly spot-on, but other key weather parameters might be wide of the mark.

Note: IoT-based agritech tools, powered by LoRaWAN or Sigfox, can be used to generate high-accuracy weather data, mitigate water wastage (through over-irrigation), and bring down the uncertainties associated with agriculture.

    10. Every crop-grower will be happy to share their data

In an ideal world where everyone trusts everyone, a farmer should be more than willing to share their field data on the value chain – to exploit the latest digital agritech innovations. Thanks to the continuous malpractices against crop-growers since decades, this much-needed trust factor is missing (between farmers and large corporations). As a result, the farmers might not be very keen to share their confidential on-field data to corporate houses – in fear of manipulations and unauthorized usage. However, they cannot afford to keep working in isolation either – since that would mean they will ignore the potential smart agriculture optimizations. In any digital farming initiative, feelings of mistrust and suspicion are major bottlenecks. There are no quick fixes – and it would be great for everyone concerned if the trust-factor gradually builds over time.

    11. Truly usable and affordable smart farming tools do not exist yet

This one is far removed from the truth. We are in a highly digitized economy, one which technology has ceased to be a bottleneck long ago. Farmers (at least those who are willing to invest) can easily lay their hands on vertical agriculture tools, automated (GPS-powered) tractors, robotics, competitively-priced sensors, nanotechnologies, smart irrigation management systems, and a whole lot more. LPWAN technologies are gradually taking connectivity-related problems out of the equation, and food blockchains are also being implemented. Many manual (and hugely time-consuming) on-field tasks can be replaced with automated processes with the help of the available technology. Further adding to the convenience of farm-owners is the fact that the average prices of smart farming tools are on a downward trend. Apart from the already launched tools, many others are currently under development. Technology is not holding the primary sector back, that’s for sure.

    12. Establishing on-field weather stations is vital

For generating location-based weather forecasts, the importance of optimally operated weather stations is immense. That does not, however, mean that farmers should always install such stations onsite. There have been many cases where the performances of weather stations have suffered due to instrumentation issues, or incorrect calibration, or simply wrong placement. In addition, the value of such stations for forecasting weather is limited (i.e., they contribute only a small section of an entire day’s weather forecast) in regular NWP models. What’s more – weather stations typically deliver information pertinent only to a small area, and cannot be referred to for large-scale analysis. Put in another way, these stations are not of much use on their own. The dynamic changes in climatic conditions cannot be captured by these either. The costs of maintaining full-blown weather stations on crop-fields are also not insignificant.

     13. Farmers will be ready to spend big bucks

Problems like excessive competition and overproduction made food production a ‘buyer’s market’ – where farmers had little say. With the advent of technology, this is gradually being converted into a ‘seller’s market’. For getting quantitatively and qualitatively enhanced outputs, customers have to cough up more money – with farmers standing to earn more. However, even the crop-growers who are ready to invest on precision agriculture have to be made familiar with, and thoroughly convinced about, the value propositions associated with each new technology. Putting it in another way, the value of each new solution has to be ‘proved’ continuously, to motivate the farmers to spend money for it. With most farmers having shortage of resources – their ‘purchase decisions’ are, expectedly, taken after carefully weighing all the probable pros and cons of the different agritech tools and machinery. They have to be first made aware of the lingering issues with their fields/operations, and then acquainted with the tools that can resolve those issues.

      14. Food industry is a domain solely for consolidated businesses

The $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto merger deal has generated quite a bit of buzz among agritech and foodtech enthusiasts worldwide. There are several large corporations with global presence in the food industry. However, it cannot be inferred from these information that multinational companies rule the roost, as far as the food industry is concerned. The true picture is, in fact, quite the opposite – with 8 out of every 10 food producers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa being small landholders. Extreme fragmentation has traditionally characterized the worldwide food industry, and continues to do so. Food security and land ownership are key causes for this fragmentation – and barring a few sub-segments (grain production, for example), both small local land-owners coexist with billion-dollar stakeholders. Every player has to ‘optimize’ its operations to generate value. Unlike, say, the telecom industry, agriculture will not be ‘ruled’ by a couple of MNCs.

By the end of 2024, ~225 million smart agritech devices will be in active use (in 2014, the corresponding figure was a measly 12 million). The CAGR of the agricultural IoT market is expected to hover around the 20% mark over the next few years. Precision farming tools and techniques are set to pick up further momentum – and it’s high time we knew the truths behind the many myths shrouding this domain.