As the NBN continues its roll-out throughout the region, an innovative partnership between councils in the North West and an internet service provider has the potential to connect farms, residential properties, businesses and agribusinesses to a network of fast, reliable and affordable internet.
Moree Plains Shire Council is leading the way in helping its residents, businesses and agribusinesses overcome the data drought and connect to high-speed internet.
A year and a half ago, council formed a partnership with JustISP, an Australian-owned internet service provider, to replace their wireless network with a fibre network.
Using existing assets and infrastructure – the main source coming from a multi-point tower on the roof of the B and W Rural silos – JustISP have connected a fibre network through Moree.
So far they have connected 60 residential, business and agribusiness properties and that number continues to grow as they ‘light up’ big farms in the district.
Keytah Sundown Pastoral Company and Rimanui Farms, both west of Moree, are two big farms which have so far invested in the project, allowing smaller properties within a 10km radius the opportunity to also connect.
“Once you find a big farm and build a network, the little farms can build around it,” JustISP regional project manager Brian Ahern said.
“We’ve built a fibre service into B and W Rural from the flour mill and from that fibre service we’ve bounced a licensed microwave network up to the Bennygleet tower, which is 7km west of Moree, and then we have a licensed microwave next hop service from there out to Rimanui. We’ve turned the top of the grain silo [at Rimanui] into a telecommunications PoP where we actually service the next farm across which is Keytah Sundown Pastoral Company. We also service Rimanui and we’re also servicing surrounding farms around it as well.
“Then we’re looking to other structures like other grain elevators and other towers to keep bouncing the service out until we get all the way to Mungindi.”
A key element of the new services is all plans are data unlimited and the services provide, for the first time, high speed upload abilities.
This is critical for emerging technologies such as ‘big data’ mining for agricultural producers using input from drones through to effective video-conferencing such as Skype for business.
In addition, and this is a major boost for businesses, the cloud becomes a genuine option for backup and storage. A further benefit is to attract agricultural workers, who increasingly seek connectivity if they are to locate in regional areas.
The project will also facilitate stronger social networks between farmers, between families and between parents and children. Boarding school will no longer be so remote with Facetime videoing, while the ability to telecommute by holding off-farm jobs while living on-farm will lessen both the daily commute to town while opening up a much wider range of job opportunities.
Sundown Pastoral Company owner/managing director David Statham said he is already seeing major benefits after Keytah was connected in mid-August to accommodate for the Ritchie Bros. agricultural auction in September, which saw bidders from all over Australia and the world.
“For the Ritchie Bros sale we needed something alternate to solve the problem. Telstra were not an option - they were four to five times the prices and four to six times the timeframe,” Mr Statham said.
“We had international bidders and people from all over Australia logged in to the sale which wouldn’t have been possible without a reliable, high-speed connection.”
Mr Statham said the download and upload of data is 10 to 20 times faster than what they had before, which is crucial for the running of the business.
“The speed of all our systems on-farm, almost everything we do is linked to a database, so we’re sending records to and from Brisbane,” he said.
“The speed for people to open files and the speed which you can download things like weather data, tractor data which we’d send down to Narrabri - it used to take hours, now it takes less than a minute.
“Tractors, headers, John Deere link, pickers, they all have data capture. The more data capture we go into, speed is critical.”
Mr Statham said the long-term objective is to get more automation on their pipe stations which they can’t do without a reliable signal. He also hopes to connect the whole farm, so that the key areas have wifi and all houses on the property have wifi data.
Moree Plains Shire Council is facilitating the project through access to infrastructure and is also looking to support and encourage better services for the community.
Director of planning and community development Angus Witherby said what Just ISP is doing is “a major game-changer” which aims to solve a lot of the problems that the NBN, SkyMuster satellite and 4G technology are unable to.
“Because it controls the number of users on each node, they can guarantee the bandwidth and speeds everyone will get,” he said.
With Moree home to international cotton gin and grain handling companies, as well as some of the largest agribusinesses in the country, Mr Witherby said reliable, high-speed broadband is crucial.
“The biggest benefit is it allows our agribusiness sector to make effective use of the internet,” he said.
“Whether you’re on a tractor in a paddock selling wheat fixtures on a phone, coordinating grain deliveries from the farm to the train to port of Newcastle, or you’re an agronomist accessing 40gig of data from a drone … there’s a whole range of ways it’s going to come together.
“For businesses in town, the main benefit is that it opens up the possibility of getting optic fibre into the business premises directly.
“Businesses can communicate better with their customers and back-up business software to the cloud.”
Mr Witherby recommends other councils look into the project.
JustISP are currently in negotiations with Narrabri, Gunnedah and Goondiwindi councils with the aim to connect those communities in the next 12 months.
“If we didn’t have a fibre network from council, it wouldn’t be possible,” Mr Ahern said.
Their next project will be connecting the Croppa Creek and Crooble areas with the construction of two towers – one at AFF Red Mill Farms and a second at ‘Yamboon’.