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LoRaWAN Brings IoT Connectivity to Rural U.S.

Internet of Things startup IoT America is selling an IoT network to extend wireless coverage for rural users such as farmers who want access to data about sensors, enabling the monitoring of assets, conditions, and tank or grain elevator levels in real time.
By Claire Swedberg

Farmers can view that data on an online dashboard, using an Android- or iOS-based device, even while in the field. In that way, if a farm worker has left a piece of equipment behind at a specific location, others can quickly find that item, even if the employee is not there to tell them where it is.

Sensors can provide other details as well, Lai reports. If grain bins or water tanks are being managed remotely, the sensors could include a moisture or pressure sensor and thereby identify the level of the tank's or bin's content, then send that data—along with the sensor's unique ID—to help the user identify which tank or bin he or she is viewing. If the contents fall below a pre-determined safety level, an alert can be issued directly to the farm supervisor or another authorized party.

For soil management, the system can identify the level of moisture in soil in real time. Such data can also be used for analytics purposes. For instance, an almond farmer in California can compare water levels against yields, determine the best level of watering and potentially prevent over-watering. "We pride ourselves on coming in with a consultative approach," Lai states. "The question we ask is, 'What is the problem they want to address?'" That consultative approach includes conducting a site survey to ensure the proper gateway placement and full network coverage across a field or farm.

Farms using the technology could range in size from a few hundred acres to thousands of acres, Lai says. Among those testing the technology, some have a single application, such as asset tracking, while others are utilizing the IoT network for multiple purposes. To date, the company has been providing its solutions through its partners, such as U.S. Cellular. IoT America extends its partners' reach to the sensors via the LoRaWAN network.

"When you look at rural America, infrastructure is key," Lai says. "The value for the partner is getting them in front of a whole new market that's been under-served." For solution partners that need to build networks for their system, IoT America intends to enable them to build a network for their customers that can be used with their existing solutions. The company is currently in the process of screening future partners for the network. That screening process involves validating the sensor and a company's software solution, as well as testing the user experience.

This month, IoT America launched its IoT Soil Monitoring Managed Services, designed to support large or small rural businesses. The company predicts that its customers can use the system to reduce water consumption by up to 30 percent, since they will now have a greater understanding of the moisture content of their fields and can thereby prevent over-watering. The solution is also designed to reduce manual labor costs centered around physical soil condition and irrigation checks.

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