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German industry is poised to exploit rural broadband

Peter Sayer | March 16, 2015
Internet speeds of 50Mbps are nothing but a pipe dream for most inhabitants of Britain, while even 5Mbps would be a welcome boost for many living in remote areas.

Internet speeds of 50Mbps are nothing but a pipe dream for most inhabitants of Britain, while even 5Mbps would be a welcome boost for many living in remote areas.

Yet by 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants all Germans, even those in rural communities, to have access to 50Mbps broadband connections, she said at the opening ceremony of the Cebit trade show on Sunday.

This ambitious goal, if attained, could revolutionize many aspects of farming and forestry, allowing a transition from practices based on intuition and tradition to those based on big data and analytics.

And German businesses, including century-old agricultural machinery maker Claas, enterprise software specialist SAP, and a new generation of mobile app developers, are ready to take advantage of it.

Take SAP: At the of center of its booth at this sprawling trade show are a few tens of square meters of grass — real, living grass — standing in for the somewhat larger fields of cereal, maize or potatoes that it says it can help cultivate using its Hana cloud platform.

But how can real-time, cloud-based "field analytics" help farmers?

In SAP's demonstration, farmers can trace the outlines of their fields on existing digital mapping services such as Nokia Here, and record details of the activities, such as plowing, sowing, irrigating or fertilizing, necessary to cultivate them. SAP's prototype Digital Farming application then recommends when to start each task, taking into account the range of dates suggested by the farmer or the seed merchant, the rate of growth of the crop, soil humidity, sunlight and other data gathered from sensors in the fields.

Using live weather reports, the system can make real time recommendations to reschedule or even cancel a task. There's no point irrigating a field, for instance, if it will rain a few hours later — but advancing the harvest of a crop might make sense in such conditions.

All these data exchanges — especially live weather reports or satellite imagery — could clog up the typical rural broadband connection if all the processing had to be performed on the farm. But, said SAP software development architect Matthias Aurin, SAP's system can significantly reduce the bandwidth demands: "You don't have to get all the data out of the system. We preprocess the data and just bring up the recommendations."

If farmers don't do all the work themselves, they can use the system to delegate tasks to contractors. In SAP's demo, each form for delegating tasks included a check-box indicating the farmer's agreement that data would be passed to the contractor. Germany's data protection regulations are notoriously strict, but there's more to it than that, said Aurin.

 

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