ANKENY, Iowa (DTN) -- Recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) action could bolster internet connectivity and speed in rural areas with limited or no access to broadband infrastructure.
The FCC amended its rules regarding TV white spaces in late October to increase the maximum permissible power and antenna height of equipment so Wi-Fi signals embedded in unused over-the-air TV channels (TV white spaces) can be transmitted farther. Microsoft developed the technology, which is part of its Airband Initiative, to bring and improve broadband connectivity to people living in underserved rural areas.
Ranveer Chandra, chief scientist of Microsoft Azure Global and partner researcher at Microsoft Research, conveyed the importance of the initiative and technological advances in agriculture during the DTN Ag Summit, held virtually from Dec. 7-9. He said the FCC's decision is a significant step to allow more farmers to acquire high-speed internet access, which will help them solve the world's food problems in a sustainable and hopefully profitable way.
"The most promising approach to solve the problem (food insecurity) is data-driven agriculture," Chandra said. "(But) connectivity is a major issue. To address that problem, we use a technology we're working on called TV white spaces."
More than 21 million people in America, nearly 17 million of whom live in rural communities, don't have broadband access, according to a 2019 FCC report. For millions of others, satellite or other forms of internet access is unreliable or slow. If farms have broadband, Chandra said, many only get 1- to 3-megabit-per-second connections.
Embedded Wi-Fi signals in empty over-the-air TV channels can connect rural home and fields at higher speeds, Chandra said. The FCC ruling bolsters the effort.
Previously, the FCC's maximum permissible power for fixed white space devices to transmit wireless Wi-Fi signals was 10 watts and the maximum antenna height was 250 feet. The new rule allows Wi-Fi signals to be sent in unused TV channels 2-35 at a maximum power of 16 watts, and it doubles the antenna height to 500 feet in "less congested" areas. It erases the limit on antenna height in most circumstances.
Before the ruling, Chandra estimated 5 to 10 miles of connectivity using TV white spaces was normal with one antenna.
"With the new regulations, we expect coverage to double or more," Chandra said. "Imagine if you had a Wi-Fi router that you could get access several miles away.
"You could mount antennas on your house or grain silo and start streaming large amounts of data that you couldn't before," he added. "With TV white spaces, we can address the problem of connectivity."
Better connectivity allows farmers to remotely monitor the location and health of livestock. It also helps growers fully take advantage of the digital age, Chandra said. Microsoft Azure FarmBeats is a cloud-based platform that enables actionable insights from data. It allows farmers to:
-- Aggregate agricultural data from different sources.
-- Fuse different agricultural datasets from sensors, drones and satellites.
-- Rapidly build artificial intelligence models from data.
-- Build your own customized digital agriculture solution.
Chandra said FarmBeats can help farmers apply the right amount of nutrients, chemicals, water and other inputs per acre.
"That's better for the environment," he added. "It (FarmBeats) can help farmers grow more and reduce costs."
For more information:
Chandra's entire lecture, along with the entire three days of Ag Summit presentations, can be accessed by Summit registrants through Jan. 8. Registration information is here: www.dtn.com/agsummit20.
Registrants can also still participate in engagement activities that earn points toward a number of prizes, including free registration to the 2021 DTN Summit, planned for Dec. 6-8 in Chicago.
Matthew Wilde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @progressivwilde
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