Many growers and rural businesses continue to experience issues with mobile and internet connectivity that would be considered substandard and unacceptable in larger regional or metropolitan centres.
As well as causing frustration among growers and employees, connectivity issues can have a significant economic impact. A 2017 paper published by BCG estimates that, for farm businesses across the Wimmera Mallee, poor connectivity has the potential to reduce farm profitability by approximately five dollars per hectare, equivalent to $15,000 per annum for the average (3,000 hectare) Victorian grains property.
Additionally, consideration need to be given to the financial opportunities lost due to poor connectivity. A recent economic analysis undertaken by BCG and RMCG for Regional Development Victoria, estimated the value of missed opportunities due to service blackspots to be up to $70 per hectare.
The lack of mobile connectivity also creates significant Occupational Health and Safety risks for farm and rural business employees who, if injured in areas outside of sufficient mobile phone coverage, may struggle to seek aid from employers or emergency services. This is of particular importance given recent research that shows 30 per cent of work-related deaths in Victoria occur on farms, despite farm workers making up only three per cent of the workforce.
Made possible by a grant from the William Buckland Foundation, BCG, in partnership with Australian telecommunications company Zetifi, is undertaking a pilot project investigating ways to improve regional connectivity, with a focus on on-farm connectivity. The Wimmera Development Association, Telstra and the nbn. are also providing support to the project in the form of technical expertise, logistical support and marketing and communications assistance.
In collaboration with a small group of local growers, the project will establish three local, on-farm wi-fi networks, and provide wi-fi calling to authorised passing traffic. The project will investigate a range of different options to connect participating farms to the national telecommunications network, including 3G, 4G, nbn™ Fixed Wireless and nbn™ Sky Muster™ satellite service .
Zetifi, which is part-owned by Telstra, and supported by the GRDC through the Grain Innovate program, is commercialising a range of long-range, solar-powered wi-fi solutions products designed for on farm connectivity, which will be used in the project. These products have been successfully trialled as an alternative solution for voice and data connectivity in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The company also has a growing number of commercial customers in New South Wales.
The installation of the network will be managed by O’Connor’s Birchip on the properties of three BCG members.
The results of this pilot project may be shared with other regional partners, including the Buloke Shire Council, Regional Development Victoria and the Wimmera Development Authority and could support the development of a bid for the Australian Government’s Regional Telecommunications Program.
If you would like more information on this project, please contact BCG Innovations Leader, Phillip Guthrie at [email protected]