Telecom Argentina has kicked off work with companies involved in the agriculture and livestock sector in an effort to improve connectivity in the country’s rural areas.
“Connectivity is a wall at the moment,” Telecom’s business development manager Juan Pablo Cosentino told BNamericas.
Although some progress has been made in terms of connectivity in rural areas of Argentina – it is one of the 10 countries in the region with significant rural connectivity, according to the Inter-American Institute (IICA) – internet access is still limited outside cities.
Argentina is a pioneer in precision agriculture, but it still has the challenge of taking advantage of technology to make more efficient use of data.
“Agriculture uses the data [from sensors], but in an extemporaneous way. Decisions are made with data that’s 10 or 15 days old,” said Cosentino.
The main problem is due to the fact that much more investment is still needed to install telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas. “If there are no towers in rural areas, it’s because returns are uncertain,” added the executive.
However, the lack of infrastructure also limits the possibility of developing business cases for returns on investments.
Telecom believes that there is an opportunity to generate value with the expansion of infrastructure in rural Argentina and that is why it is working with large companies in the agricultural sector to create connectivity clusters, or groups of antennas.
A report commissioned by Telecom from the agricultural development foundation FADA shows that the area called the Venado Tuerto cluster in the agricultural heartland of central Argentina generates gross production value of almost US$4bn a year and connectivity in that part of the nation leads to savings estimated at US$133mn per year.
The Venado Tuerto cluster covers 22 departments and districts of Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe provinces.
The FADA report identifies six areas where savings are made: reduction in journeys made (US$27.8mn), post-harvest monitoring (US$31.6mn), animal monitoring and control (US$30.7mn), online procedures (US$4.4mn), precision agriculture and weed control (US$35.7mn) and preventive maintenance (US$2.9mn).
“If we extrapolate the results of the six aforementioned savings to Argentine agricultural production, total savings of US$1.75bn are generated,” the report states.
In the Venado Tuerto area, a total of 115 companies provide technological solutions, of which 66% require connectivity.
According to a study carried out in 2021 by national agricultural technology institute INTA, 40% of rural areas in the country do not have internet connectivity.
“We’re going to be giving a strong focus to the creation of clusters. We want to fill the gaps to provide continuity of service,” said Cosentino.
Each cluster will have four or five base stations that each cover around 35,000 hectares and Telecom is working with firms that operate in the sector to fund the installation of the necessary infrastructure.
“The proposal has to do with helping to overcome the inertia that says that you shouldn’t put towers in rural areas because nobody is going to consume services. [We tell them] help me overcome this inertia by buying my services and showing that new valuable services will emerge with the coverage,” he said.
Telecom invests US$2.69 for every dollar that the customer contributes to the cluster, and the services that companies pre-purchase to support the installation of infrastructure in rural areas do not have to be used in the area of the cluster.
In particular, Telecom is focusing on providing connectivity in the Venado Tuerto cluster and two other areas: the so-called sandy west (Buenos Aires and La Pampa) and the Argentine north.
“There are companies interested,” Cosentino said, adding that the “most important companies in the agricultural world” are already working with Telecom to offer financing, acquire services or create value proposals.
Among the firms that could participate in the cluster are suppliers of inputs and machinery, agricultural producers, rural contractors, transporters, insurance brokers, exporters and storage companies.
NETWORKS AND IoT
As part of this interest in developing connectivity in the agricultural sector, Telecom recently announced the deployment of 4G infrastructure in La Chispa, Santa Fe province.
The company also has coverage throughout the country for low-power LTE-M technology and in the main provincial capitals with narrowband internet of things (NB-IoT), which is designed for connecting IoT devices and is optimized for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, requiring lower power consumption.
This technology “is being activated gradually, selectively, depending on the projects that require it,” the company said in a statement.
Low-power networks are exclusively for IoT and allow coverage up to 50% higher than that of a traditional 4G network. Farmers can use IoT sensors in their fields to monitor environmental conditions, track livestock and much more.