While “the digital divide” most often suggests the disparate levels of access to digital inclusion and participation of urban and rural populations, it also more importantly highlights the disproportional levels of ease and choice experienced by non-urban businesses in accessing — and deriving — the benefits of digital technologies.
Business sectors such as agriculture, mining, and forestry have their operations located far away from the metro and urban areas, where fixed — and to an extent — mobile operators have focused on modernizing, extending, and densifying their network footprint. The high levels of population density, concentration of economic activity and levels of disposable income in the urban and metro areas have naturally led the investment and deployment of networks in these areas (and more lately into the secondary towns in the country).
This is evident when looking at the levels of national fibre deployment, which has not really reached the peri-urban and rural areas of the country yet. While several national long-distance fibre routes have been built, they largely serve operators’ transmission requirements, and the access to fibre networks into these areas are still far from the required levels to enable peri-urban and non-urban areas to jump onto the digital highways (that so many urban and global businesses are on today).
While these businesses may have access to mobile coverage that can deliver fixed-mobile connectivity, the base stations serving them are often backhauled by microwave links that have several hops — due to the distance limitations of the microwave transmission. Each hop introduces a potential point of failure to the network, and the connectivity delivered to business end-users that poses a risk to the relevant business applications that run on top of the connectivity layer.
“In light of these challenges and risks, satellite connectivity is ideally positioned to meet the connectivity requirements of non-urban businesses, paving the way for increased access to and adoption of digital applications and services by them. Very small aperture satellite access services (VSAT), can be quickly deployed, requires no fibre backhaul dependency, and is a direct hop to a transponder — and a single hop to the earth station that significantly reduces the number of points-of-failure in the connectivity link,” says Wian Swiegers, Head of McommSat. “Satellite connectivity can also be used to complement other media, such as microwave and fixed-wireless access by providing technology and operator diversity and redundancy”, adds Wian.
The capability of VSAT connectivity to reach remote business operation sites therefore becomes a key enabler for such businesses to deploy and derive the benefits of digital and 4IR technologies. If one had to just look at the agricultural sector, and smart farming technologies and applications, satellite connectivity to remote farms enables:
- Contextual data from internet of things (IoT) sensors such as soil humidity and PH levels to be transferred to cloud based analytic farming applications, which in turn advise medium scale farmers on the concise application of fertilisers as well as timing and the duration of irrigation;
- Photographic and image data from drone surveys to be uploaded to cloud-based platforms so that experts can deliver proactive, predictive, and preventative pest detection to farmers, which in turn minimises the use of pesticides and insecticides;
- Emerging farmers to have access to agricultural training and educational resources, including live collaboration sessions with universities and agri-research centres — to improve on their farming methods in a more sustainable and efficient manner;
- Improved financing and funding models to farmers based on real-time data and digital evidence, which can be accessed and monitored by financing institutions and
- More rigorous security solutions that use data from a combination of remotely placed IoT sensors (vibration, sound, motion, thermal) and cameras to drive cloud-based security algorithms for early criminal activity as well as predator detection.
While these capabilities present a compelling proposition to improving agricultural operational efficiencies, they also have more far-reaching role in terms of environmental and social impact according to Sivi Moodley, CEO of Macrocomm Group. “Optimal use of fertilisers and pesticides has a significant impact on reducing the pollution of our natural water systems because of surface run-off. On-demand, precision irrigation that is driven by digital technologies also go a long way in ensuring that water is more efficiently managed as a critical resource on farms`’ says `Sivi. He concludes by pointing out that “early detection pest management technologies and applications — as well as improved farming methods based on access to knowledge — contributes significantly to improving the yield levels of agricultural production which in turn contributes positively towards improving food security and the sustainable development goal (SDG) of Zero Hunger”.
Digital technologies including IoT, and satellite connectivity play a critical role in improving the efficiency of farming operations and enables them to contribute positively towards attaining the SDGs because of cloud-based and data driven environmentally friendly farming practices.
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