Futuristic techy stuff with no obvious link to farming…

This is a bit of a departure from our other blog posts – I like to talk mostly about up-to-the minute practical stuff you can start using right away. Today, however, I’m going to point out some upcoming technology trends that appear to have no connection to farming, but I think will end up being profoundly useful.

WiFi 6

WiFi 6 is the new marketing name for 802.11ax, the next generation WiFi standard. Briefly, we have seen 802.11b (2.4 GHz only, WEP security which did not turn out to be secure at all, up to 11 Mbps), 802.11a (similar to b, but on 5.8 GHz and up to 54 Mbps), 802.11g (2.4 GHz. with OFDM for up to 54 Mbps and WPA for real security), 802.11n (dual-band with MIMO for greater bandwidth and range and even better security with WPA2 – this is what the AyrMesh Hub2 series is based on – now re-named “WiFi 4”), and 802.11ac (also called “WiFi 5” – 5.8 GHz only with fallback to 802.11n for 2.4 GHz, with MU-MIMO at the access point to optimize bandwidth to more devices and wider channels to increase bandwidth over short range – not useful at all for long-range outdoor use).

802.11ax brings several improvements to WiFi that I think are important:

  • OFDMA and 1024-QAM modulation for greater bandwidth through the same channel bandwidth. For maximum range (given statutory limitations in total output power) you want to use the narrowest channel bandwidth possible. This allows us to push more data through the same channel bandwidth.
  • Breaking the channels into smaller pieces to make OFDMA work, called “Resource Units” or “RUs.” This also opens the possibility of using fewer RUs to create even narrower channels for longer-range, lower-bandwidth connections, similar to LPWAN networks like 802.15.4 (Zigbee, Threads, etc.) or LoRa.
  • Target Wake Time (TWT) – this is a trick borrowed from 802.11ah and LPWAN systems – it allows devices to sleep efficiently and coordinate with access points to shorten the amount of time the radio has to be on, drastically reducing the amount of power required, especially for devices that are transmitting small amounts of data at sporadic intervals (e.g. sensors and other IoT devices).
  • Download and upload MU-MIMO – maximizing the bandwidth between the AP and the client in both directions (not just transmitting from the AP to the client).

Taken together, these improvements in WiFi 6 will improve on-farm WiFi in two important ways:

  1. Increasing the bandwidth available (through OFDMA and MU-MIMO) – just making everything faster and increasing the value of the network overall.
  2. Being able to use the WiFi network as a low-bandwidth network like Zigbee or LoRa with battery-operated sensors and actuators, so a grower would only need a single wireless network for all their needs.

Now, the truth is that you can use your WiFi network for sensors and actuators today, and devices like the Espressif ESP-32 make that relatively easy and very inexpensive. But it still takes a lot more power to use a WiFi radio than, for instance, a Zigbee or LoRa radio, so you must have either much larger batteries or some form of external power (e.g. solar panels) for WiFi.

WiFi 6 should overcome these shortcomings, which makes us very excited about it. The 802.11ax standard has just been ratified by the IEEE, and we are seeing indoor equipment already available. As more specialized 802.11ax equipment becomes available (especially high-power products and products analogous to the ESP32) we will be watching very closely.

Edge Computing

As I think everyone has seen, all data is now going to “the cloud” – servers on the Internet. This is generally a good thing – I want to make sure all the data I am going to need in the future is safely stored in a class 5 data center that’s not going to fail.

But there are two primary places this paradigm files: one is for cases where ANY latency (delay between sending a request to the server and getting a reply) will slow down operations, and the other is where Internet access is slow, intermittent, or not present. Both of these conditions apply to farming: low latency is vital for enabling farm machinery autonomy, and, despite all the talk about it, rural Internet connectivity is still, generally, awful.

At the same time, we are seeing the next generation of processors for mobile devices coming out that have higher performance than the “top-end” CPUs of a few years ago, while consuming tiny amounts of power. Since they dissipate so little power, they can be housed in more sturdy enclosures requiring little or no air circulation – in other words, deployable on the farm!

I can easily imagine a “farm server” that comes in a small, sturdy box that you plug into the wall and connect to your router and that provides services like:

  • Security- monitoring and recording scenes from cameras on your property, alerting you to events happening on the farm, turning lights on and off, and even locking and unlocking doors and gates.
  • Monitoring and automation – checking and storing readings on sensors, using rules to automate operations (starting an irrigation system, filling tanks, alerting when a grain bin or hay bale is too warm).
  • Communications – providing connection services for VOIP and/or messaging apps on phones.
  • Autonomy – providing coordination to autonomous vehicles operating in your fields.

This approach also has the advantage of increasing the grower’s control over data – it can stay on the farm’s server, be backed up to “the cloud,” or backed up the old way (to USB sticks, for instance).

Autonomy

I have alluded to this a few times in this article, but, living here in Silicon Valley, I see autonomous cars creeping around on public roads all the time. The problems of enabling autonomous vehicles on the farm are DIFFERENT, but not WORSE, than running autonomous cars on public roads.

The first problem is one of functional safety – ensuring that farm equipment is inherently safe. Very simply, farm equipment is dangerous, and a 50,000-lb. combine churning through a field or a sprayer buzzing along at 25 MPH constitute real threats to anything that gets in front of them.

However, LIDAR, RADAR, stereoscopic cameras, and other technologies can help machines “see” their environment very effectively, and the prices of those technologies (and the computing power to effectively combine their inputs in real time) is coming down dramtically. We are seeing some very interesting, practical examples in startup firms (GUSS, Swarmfarm, SmartAg, DOT), and we expect to see a lot more coming.

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning, this post is about stuff that’s not directly applicable to farming, but probably will be soon. Ten years ago I could have written about how smartphones will change life in farming, and a lot of people would have laughed at me. Now I don’t know anyone who doesn’t go out without a smartphone. What will be next?

Interesting proposal from our friends at Land O’ Lakes

We were intrigued and excited by a recent press release from Land O’ Lakes announcing that their retail operations would be installing WiFi for the use of their customers. In the best of times the rural ag retailer can be a lifeline for local farmers; in these difficult times, offering services to help local farmers and their families keep connected and work effectively, even if remotely is absolutely commendable.

We salute the Land O’ Lakes leadership and stand ready to assist any of their affiliated retailers in deploying WiFi on their rural locations.

Whether you’re a farmer needing to have connectivity in the farm office (and perhaps share your connection with a neighbor in need) or a rural business wanting to help your employees and rural communities stay online, Ayrstone can help. Just drop us an email at support@ayrstone.com and we’ll work with you.

It’s Back! Part 3 – The AyrMesh Cab Hub

Ayrstone AyrMesh Cab Hub2

We are pleased to announce the availability of the new AyrMesh Cab Hub2, designed for use with a wide variety of farm equipment: tractors, sprayers, spreaders, harvesters, trucks, utility vehicles – just about anything that rolls and has a 12 volt utility plug.

The AyrMesh Cab Hub2 is a variation of our AyrMesh Hub2x2 design, with two high-gain magnetic mount antennas to provide MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) for high bandwidth and better signal integrity.

This new model of the AyrMesh Cab Hub combines the best qualities of our previous model of the Cab Hub – ease of setup and use – with improvements to make it even easier to set up, as well as significantly better overall performance.

We have been trying to bring out a MIMO version of the Cab Hub for quite a while, but we kept running into problems with the radios we were trying to use. This radio, however, passed all our tests with flying colors and has been rock-solid.

Because it is based on the same weather-resistant design as the Hub2x2, the Cab Hub2 can be used on enclosed cab machines or machines without a cab – open-cab tractors and even utility vehicles and ATVs.

The Cab Hub connects with the stationary Hubs in your AyrMesh network and provides both WiFi and Ethernet connectivity to your vehicle and the area around it. It even connects with other Cab Hubs to extend your WiFi network where you may not have stationary Hubs.

As Machine-to-Machine or M2M communications becomes increasingly important, the Cab Hub2 provides a simple, high-bandwidth, reliable way to connect vehicles to each other and to external servers, on the farm or in the cloud. Meshing WiFi is faster and more reliable than cellular, and available anywhere it’s needed without carriers or subscription fees.

As autonomous farm vehicles become available, M2M communications will become even more vital to farm operations. For that reason, we are also offering the Cab Hub2 in OEM packaging for integration into new autonomous platforms and products. The product is available at a board level up to the complete product, according to the integrator’s needs.

We firmly believe that meshing WiFi is the only communications solution that enables autonomy on the farm – please contact us today to talk more about your autonomous solutions and needs. At the beginning of this article I said the Cab Hub is good for anything that rolls – but we’re talking to folks who make things that fly, too!

Farmers’ Right to Repair, Right to Replace – Open Standards and Open Source in AgTech (and elsewhere)

The “Right to Repair” movement has been slowly gaining momentum over the last few years, as I was reminded this week by an excellent article on Bloomberg Businssweek, “Farmers Fight John Deere Over Who Gets to Fix a $800,000 Tractor”. Where I found this article much more interesting than others is that it tried to explore both sides of the issue, and it used as a source my friend Willie Vogt, who is an agriculture media industry stalwart, industry-described “agriculture technology geek”, and whose knowledge and understanding of AgTech I admire very much.

Support for “Right to Repair,” with some caveats…

So, to be absolutely clear about my own biases, I am absolutely in favor of the right to repair, of open standards and open source, and of, for lack of a better word, “hackability.” So it stands to reason that I would be fully in the camp of advocate and Nebraska engineer Kevin Kenney and the other “Right to Repair” folks, and I am – but with a few important caveats that keep me actually more closely aligned with Willie. I think this deserves some serious explanation.

Having the right to do something carries with it the obligation to do it responsibly. In this article, Willie is pointing out that an enormous amount of damage can be done by someone hacking away with the very sensitive control system for a large, complex piece of equipment like a combine. And I agree. If you disable the emissions controls on a piece of equipment you are just being a selfish, obnoxious neighbor, polluting your property and that of your neighbors for your own gain. If you disable the safety features, you are literally risking the lift of anyone who comes near it. So, when Kevin talks about the right to “hot rod” his equipment, I bristle: I think he should have the right to “hot rod” his combine if he’s about to take it out to a combine derby, or especially being able to run the combine during harvest season while he’s waiting for a part, but I certainly don’t want him running a combine continuously all fall with its emissions system compromised. Similarly with the safety components – I don’t mind him being able to bypass a “port open” sensor while he’s getting a spare part, but there should be some requirement to (1) label it clearly for the sake of anyone who comes in close proximity of the machine, and (2) get it fixed as quickly as possible.

One of the more nuanced examples in the article, however, is one about a line of Deere combines that are mechanically identical but sold at different horsepower ratings limited only by software. On one hand, this seems inherently dishonest: you buy a machine that’s capable of a certain level of performance, but you are artificially prevented from accessing that performance. On the other hand, it seems completely honest: you paid an appropriate price for a level of performance that Deere successfully provided.

Influence from Other Industries

Modern “Software As A Service” platforms, like Salesforce.com or Oracle NetSuite, have introduced this concept widely: it means that a small business can access the same powerful software as large businesses, and each with the particular modules they need, and each paying an appropriate price for the benefit they get from it. The software runs in the same browser window on the same computer, whether they are paying $100 per month or $100,000. So why not sell farm equipment the same way: different versions and options of software running on the same hardware at the customer site? That way the customer can even “upgrade” the machine or turn on additional features as they are needed, saving the farmer money and allowing the dealer to deliver new capability as the farmer requires without having to deliver additional hardware.

The problem is, of course, that business model only works if the vendor has complete control over the software – the users can’t modify it, and, if something goes wrong, they are completely at the mercy of the vendor. So this business model necessarily conflicts with the right to repair – it is only applicable for equipment that is rented or leased, not for equipment that is purchased.

Need for Open Source

There is a fairly radical solution: the source for all this embedded software in devices we purchase – from smartphones to tractors – should be available freely. Clearly, this would enable people to do things that are stupid, inconsiderate, and dangerous. It would also allow people to understand, repair, and maintain their devices indefinitely, protecting the investment they make in these devices that are frequently critical in running customers’ businesses.

Of course, there are other approaches to the particular problems of the Right to Repair farm machinery. Manufacturers offering complete diagnostic software to all owners is a good first step, enabling at least complete troubleshooting if not necessarily the ability to repair or modify the machine. Providing software that will allow someone to bypass or disable a sensor, for instance, for a period of time might also help a lot.

Networked Devices Need Lifelong Updates

Looking forward, however, the problems with farm equipment and other electronic devices like smartphones start to intersect as farm equipment becomes increasingly network-connected, meaning they can be the target of online hackers. Like smartphones, farm equipment will need to be continuously updated long after there is no economic incentive for the manufacturer to do so. Without some form of open-source software to run on these machines, they’ll be vulnerable to online hacking that can render them useless.

Where Ayrstone Stands

For ourselves, we use open-source software and open standards: you can replace the firmware on any Ayrstone product with the open-source packages from OpenWRT, DD-WRT, etc., and you can replace an AyrMesh Hub with another device that uses standard 802.11s meshing. We’re not competing by “trapping” you into our technology; we’re competing by offering the best, easiest-to-use products and support for our market: wireless networking for farms and ranches.

We get it – nobody wants to collect a new “doorstop” because it can’t have the software updated, whether it’s a $300 WiFi access point or a $300,000 tractor. By making use of standards instead of using proprietary technology, we protect the investment you make in our products and all the wireless technology you use on the farm. We’re hoping our example will influence some of the other vendors of agricultural technology, large and small.

It’s Back! Part 2 – The AyrMesh Hub2x2

After over a year, we are happy to announce the new version of the AyrMesh Hub2x2! The new Hub2x2, just like the older model, offers twice the bandwidth (speed) of the single-antenna Hub2T and Hub2n. However, this new model offers more transmit power along with high-gain antennas for maximum range – the same as the Hub2T.

This new model of the Hub2x2 has the antenna jacks solidly molded into the case for maximum durability, with durable, high-gain antennae very similar to the antenna on the Hub2T.

We strongly recommend the Hub2x2 as your “Gateway Hub” – the Hub connected to your Router as the origin of your AyrMesh network; for Remote Hubs we now offer either the Hub2x2 or the Hub2T.

In our testing, we have found that the new Hub2x2 delivers up to 65 Mbps to a 2×2 client (as tested with a Samsung Galaxy S10), and over 30 Mbps as a Remote Hub 2 miles from a Hub2x2 Gateway Hub, so it’s much more capable as a Remote Hub than the older Hub2x2 model – faster than the Hub2T.

The one big difference between the Hub2x2 and the Hub2T is in the amount of power needed – the Hub2T requires only about 4.5 Watts, but the Hub2x2 needs about 8 Watts. For this reason, we continue to suggest the use of the Hub2T in cases where power is an issue, like a “field Hub” powered by a solar-panel battery pack.

The new Hub2x2 is available right now in the Ayrstone store – please check it out today and let us know what you think!

P.S. the new AyrMesh Bridge was part 1, this is part 2… stay tuned for part 3!

It’s Back! Part 1 – The AyrMesh Bridge

We are proud to announce that the AyrMesh Bridge is once again available from the Ayrstone Store and Amazon.com.

The AyrMesh Bridge is just what it sounds like: a very simple-to-install, easy-to-use wireless bridge, consisting of two microwave radios – one connected to your network and the other connected to something you want attached to your network. It’s like a wireless Ethernet cable – up to 5 miles long!

The AyrMesh Bridge is useful for a wide variety of applications, including:

  • Connecting a Gateway AyrMesh Hub to your router when the Hub needs to be mounted more than 100 meters from the router – e.g. on top of a grain leg or hill, at a neighbor’s house, or in the middle of your farm when your Internet access is at one of the edges.
  • Jumping your AyrMesh network across neighboring fields – take off from one Hub at the edge of one field and connect a Hub at the edge of a distant field.
  • Just connecting a device or building on the farm to your network when you don’t need outdoor WiFi (you can use an IndoorHub connected to the Bridge for Indoor WiFi).

As the title suggests – this is just the beginning of the “It’s Back!” series from Ayrstone. Stay tuned!

Broadband in the Rural U.S.

One of the things that concerns us most at Ayrstone is the issue of broadband Internet connectivity in the Rural U.S.

AyrMesh, of course, doesn’t provide Internet connections – our business is helping you extend your Internet connection across your property ONCE YOU HAVE THAT CONNECTION. AyrMesh can help in some cases: for instance, having an AyrMesh network can let you use an Internet connection on one part of your property far from your home or farm office, and extend that connection all over your property. For instance, some of our users were only able to get satellite coverage at their homes, but bought AyrMesh products so they could connect to Cable at the other end of their property and extend that to their homes, offices, and other on-farm buildings. The result: fast, low-latency Internet coverage across their property.

But having that first connection to the Internet is critical, and there are large areas of the rural U.S. where there are no good options (and, in some cases, no options at all) for connecting to the Internet.

I want to quickly discuss some of the connectivity ideas that are being talked about now and talk about the pros and cons of each. NOTE: since we don’t provide Internet access, and we’re really not looking to get into the business, so we don’t have a dog in this race. So this is an unbiased and fairly dispassionate assessment of these products and technologies.

Whitespace

I am continually encouraged that no less of a technology company than Microsoft is working on this problem, and has been for a few years now. But their “solution” (fixed wireless over “white space” – unused TV broadcasting frequencies) just expands the solutions available for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) in rural areas with solutions that are unable or barely able to deliver the current definition of “Broadband” (25 Mbps). They all depend on UHF radio spectrum, which is strictly a “line of sight” (or, more technically correctly “>60{8fd1ffa65f67a2e931916b3c1288d51eed07dc30586a565c92d055673de7c64e} clear Fresnel zone”) medium. Now, whitespace UHF goes all the way down to under 500 MHz – lower than LTE at 700 MHz – which helps a lot with things like tree crown penetration. There have been breathless articles published with “helpful diagrams” showing whitespace radios effortlessly jumping over hills – just to be clear, that’s just not how radio works. The only way radio “jumps” over hills is to be bounced off the ionosphere, and only relatively long-wave radio signals (e.g. AM radio) can do that. The problem is that the data-carrying capacity of those signals is in the tens of bytes (bytes, not Kilobytes or Megabytes) per second, several orders of magnitude less than is needed for Internet access.

So – whitespace is a useful tool in the hands of rural WISPs for expanding fixed wireless coverage, but it’s not the magic bullet. And, unfortunately, if you define “broadband” as 100 Mbps or higher, it’s not even broadband.

Cellular – 5G

I just laughed at a friend who told me that the rural wireless problem is solved, because we’ll have ubiquitous 5G cellular coverage soon. It’s a great story, and Cisco has been pushing it pretty aggressively (through their “5G Rural First” campaign, among other outlets), but, I’m afraid, it’s far from accurate.

First off, the real promise of 5G involves the use of “FR2” frequencies, which are 24 GHz. and up, with “perfect line-of-sight” ranges in the hundreds of yards and almost no ability to penetrate trees, walls, and other obstructions. Placing towers every few hundred yards across rural areas is not going to happen any time in the forseeable future.

Now, 5G also utilizes the existing cellular frequencies (700, 800, 1900 MHz. in the U.S.) and improves the efficiency of those frequencies to increase throughput up to 50{8fd1ffa65f67a2e931916b3c1288d51eed07dc30586a565c92d055673de7c64e}. So, if you have LTE (4G) access now, you could see the speeds increase when your carrier and you move to 5G, which is a good thing. But the coverage will not change appreciably, so it’s FAR from revolutionary.

Bottom line – cellular remains a valuable way of  accessing the Internet, both via mobile (cellphones, etc.) and fixed installations. We have numerous customers who have set up fixed cellular installations on a hill (with a solar power system and a yagi antenna pointed to the nearest cellular tower) and used AyrMesh to spread that connectivity across fields and to homes and farm offices, and 5G will help with that – a little, if you’re lucky.

LPWAN

One of the popular topics around rural wireless is the use of Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs) like LoRa and Sigfox. These technologies are narrow-banded UHF data radios that can provide low-bandwidth (tens to hundreds of thousands of bits per second – under 1 Mbps) wireless signals over very large areas. The narrow bandwidth allows the signals to go much farther than wide-banded cellular or WiFi signals, but they don’t carry enough data to be anywhere near broadband. They are primarily aimed at enabling battery-operated sensor networks.

There are carriers deploying these technologies – Sigfox has a good coverage map (scroll all the way to the bottom of the list for the U.S.) and companies like Senet are rolling out LoRa coverage in rural California, for instance. However, what you see is that these are primarily urban technologies – there is just a lot more opportunity to connect things in urban environments, so that’s where the investment in infrastructure is going.

We also see some large ranches out in California setting up private LoRa networks for soil sensors. Those networks use some other form of Internet connectivity to move the data to the Internet, but it’s a way to get the sensors out in the fields without waiting for a company to set up towers and bring service. The LoRa gateways typically have an Ethernet port which can plug directly into the LAN port of a router or an AyrMesh device.

Other Fixed Wireless

Every so often I run across an article espousing some other wireless spectrum that can be used for rural wireless access – here’s one talking about using lightly-used satellite C-band frequencies. C-band is, roughly speaking, 4 GHz. to 8 GHz., so it is potentially a high-bandwidth solution (note that 5 GHz. WiFi like 802.11a, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax are within C-band) but also a very strictly line-of-sight technology. I would hate to see too many WISPs start using C-band, because some of the rural bars I hang out in use C-band antennas to pull in “Free-to-air” TV signals, and too many local C-band data links might fuzz up the picture of the Brazil-Uruguay soccer match. However, all these frequencies might eventually end up in use to help WISPs expand their reach into rural areas – a good thing, but, again, not revolutionary.

Satellite

Today there are two main choices for satellite broadband internet coverage: HughesNet (EchoStar) and Exede (ViaSat). Both offer broadband coverage, as long as you have a good view of the southern sky, but both services suffer from two problems:

  1. Data caps – after you have transferred some amount of data, they will either charge you extra or limit your access speed, and
  2. Latency – it simply takes about 1.5 seconds to get the data up to the satellite and back down to Earth, which makes “real-time” applications like telephony difficult.

These services use Geostationary satellites that are far out in space so they can orbit the earth at the same speed that the Earth is turning, so they appear stationary relative to the planet’s surface. That way you can have the dish on the roof pointed to the south for constant connectivity. If there’s no WISP that can service your farm, satellite may be your best option.

There has, for some time, been a second form of Satellite internet access, using what are called “LEOs” – Low-Earth Orbit satellites. The old Iridium phones use a network like this network for very low-speed messaging and voice.

Lately, more companies have taken an interest in this – OneWeb and SpaceX are sending hundreds of satellites into orbit with the goal of providing terrestrial wireless Internet coverage, and there are many others who want to get in on this – both for high-bandwidth Internet connectivity and low-bandwidth IoT connectivity (like LoRa or SigFox, but without the towers…).

Will these become a viable option for the farm? I’ll bet one or more of them do… some day. Just not next week, or probably next year.

Wires and Fiber

If you live close enough to town, you may have access to DSL or cable internet service, which can provide speeds of up to 100 Mbps (sometimes even more). And a lucky few rural residents have fiber access, which can provide up to 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) service, and potentially more.

For those who have access to fiber, it’s unquestionably the best option: high speed and lowest latency (time from your farm to the Internet). Cable and DSL are the next-best options. Fixed wireless (WISPs) and fixed cellular are the next-best options, and Satellite is generally the last choice for Internet access. That said, we have a LOT of AyrMesh customers with Satellite Internet access – it’s the ONLY option in a lot of rural areas.

So…where next?

Here’s the thing – cellular, fixed wireless, satellite, and even cable and DSL are barely able to reach modern broadband speeds of 25 Mbps, and few can reach 100 Mbps.

That’s not going to be enough very soon – 100 Mbps is going to be the absolute minimum, and everyone is going to expect 1 Gbps or faster Internet. LEO satellites may be able to provide that in the future, but, at the moment, the only option for that speed is fiber.

There are a lot of initiatives to improve rural broadband service – state, county, and even local governments have created incentives, and the USDA has had numerous programs over the years, with the 2019 program the biggest so far.

However, these programs have historically prompted existing service providers to extend their coverage, whatever it is, marginally into more rural land. That helps, but it’s not getting us to 100-1000 Mbps for all farms.

Putting fiber into rural roads is going to be disruptive and expensive, but it’s likely to be the only way to get the kind of bandwidth that will be required for modern homes and businesses. Many communities already have conduit placed under roadways, ready for fiber, and many areas have miles of “dark fiber” that can be utilized. Encourage local governments and businesses to utilize the resources available to bring true broadband (100 Mbps and more) out to rural farms – moving forward, it’s going to be as important as electricity in keeping our agricultural industry competitive, so this should be the equivalent of the Rural Electrification Project.

Whitespace, C-Band, and 5G may provide good stopgaps, depending on where you are, and LEO satellite Internet may (or may not) eventually provide gigabit speed wireless connectivity – obviously, I’m hoping it does, but it’s not going to be this year or next. Our recommendations are as follows:

  1. Get good Internet connectivity however and wherever you can.
  2. Use AyrMesh to “light up” your farm with WiFi (OK, that’s a bit self-serving, but, hey, it’s our blog…)
  3. Work in your community to bring optical fiber connectivity to your farm. If you’re close enough to the nearest fiber distribution center, it might not be too hard, but, in general, this is expensive.
  4. Hope the LEO satellite companies deliver.

This is probably not our last word on this topic…

The Future is Coming – Get Ready for the Robots…

There is an image of farming – bucolic, peaceful, unfettered by the concerns of the technological age. It’s lovely, and many of us indulge it to some degree… but it is patently false. Agriculture is an industry moving quickly on the technology curve as markets demand more, higher-quality, and cheaper food and grains. Specialized implements, higher-horsepower machines, GPS steering, variable rate planting and spraying, and the cellphone have all had an impact on farm productivity. But that’s not all.

Courtesy of Waymo

The Robots are coming.

Look, anybody who has sat in a tractor or combine moving through the field by itself using AutoSteer has to have thought, “Do I really need to be here?” In various cities around the U.S., we have been witness to Google vehicles (and others) happily (if sometimes slowly) wheeling themselves around town, their human handlers typing away on their laptops. If they can run sedans on public roads, they can run a tractor down a row of corn. There are a lot of questions about what the first (big) bunch of farm robots will be doing, but the Japanese have been using almost completely autonomous mini-tractors for rice transplanting for years. There are a lot of people and companies testing robots around the world for farming – big ones and little ones.

Courtesy of CNH

We have been interested in robots on the farm because we had a vague sense they need a lot more data connectivity than is available in most places now. So I read this article with interest; to quote: “Internet access is a problem,” [Scott Shearer, professor and chair of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Ohio State University] said. “We need 10 megabits per second connection speed.” Data-gathering tools today can capture gigabytes of information that must be able to flow back to the driverless machine quickly and easily; and the machine must be able to communicate to a central location too.

In some places, cellular connectivity may be enough, but, as discussed earlier in this blog, we don’t expect cellular service to improve dramatically in rural America. And it’s going to still be expensive.

Our modest proposal: set up an AyrMesh network on your farm today for long-range WiFi. And be ready for the robots!

Courtesy of ClearPath Robotics

 

Introducing the new AyrMesh IndoorHub

We are pleased to introduce the new AyrMesh IndoorHub, our new indoor meshing WiFi system.

The IndoorHub is the replacement for the AyrMesh IndoorAP – it’s a tiny but powerful indoor 2×2 access point with meshing. IndoorHubs can be used to fill a large building with WiFi without having to run Ethernet cables.

The IndoorHub works just like the IndoorAP to provide indoor WiFi in conjunction with the AyrMesh outdoor products. However, there are some significant improvements over the IndoorAP:

  • 2×2 MIMO on the IndoorHub vs. 1×1 on the IndoorAP – higher speed, better coverage
  • Meshing – use additional IndoorHubs to fill a large building or house.
  • Does not use an existing AyrMesh outdoor product’s power supply – runs off USB power, comes with its own power supply.
  • Can be used stand-alone (without other AyrMesh products) by just plugging into a router. For instance, you can use one or more IndoorAP in a large house or outbuilding with its own Internet connection.

The Hub2 and the IndoorHub
The AyrMesh IndoorHub uses the same KIND of meshing as the Hub2 products, but it offsets itself from the Hub’s channel in order to keep from interfering with Hub2 units. It also uses a different SSID (with “-IndoorAP” appended to the end) to reduce confusion. It normally connects to the LAN port of an AyrMesh Hub, Receiver, or Bridge radio, but it can also be uses with any Internet-connected router – for instance, to spread WiFi throughout a large house or a separately-connected outbuilding.

Just like the outdoor Hubs, the first IndoorHub is connected to your network with an Ethernet cable, and additional IndoorHubs just require power. The IndoorHubs can be up to 200′ apart with clear line-of-sight, or up to 2-3 “standard” walls apart.

The IndoorHub is available today from the Ayrstone Store. The IndoorHub is priced at $149.95, but, for a limited time, we are selling it for $99.95 – the same price as the IndoorAP.

A Whole New Kind of AyrMesh Hub – the Hub2x2

The new AyrMesh Hub2x2

After extensive research, testing, and development, we are pleased to announce the all new AyrMesh Hub2x2.

The AyrMesh Hub2x2 is our first Hub to use MIMO to dramatically improve the upload and download speed, both between the Hub and your devices and between the meshed Hubs themselves. The Hub2x2 can deliver up to twice the data speed of the Hub2T, enabling our customers to do things like:

  • Use high-definition security cameras
  • Download manuals, diagrams, videos, etc. up to twice as fast
  • Make and Receive video calls
  • Stream HD movies – even out in the garden

MIMO is a technology that allows a WiFi access point (like the AyrMesh Hubs) to use multiple antennas that receive and transmit multiple “spatial streams” of data simultaneously. Multiple antennas also help make the signal more readily available in difficult places like in trees and around buildings.

The use of MIMO represents a new strategy for AyrMesh Hubs. Previous AyrMesh Hubs traded off bandwidth to achieve maximum range. The Hub2x2 combines outstanding bandwidth and excellent range to normal WIFI-enabled devices, with a small sacrifice in Hub-to-Hub range.

The reason for this tradeoff is that we have found that most of our customers have their Hubs within a mile of each other, and are primarily interested in ensuring good WiFi coverage with excellent speed around their home, pool, gardens, farm office, workshop, barns, chicken coops, and stables. The new Ayrmesh Hub2x2 is designed specifically for those needs while still enabling you to expand your AyrMesh network out into fields and across thousands of acres.

The Hub2x2 vs. the Hub2T

The AyrMesh Hub2x2 is a perfect Gateway Hub for almost any AyrMesh network, because it provides long range and high bandwidth. The Hub2x2 is also a great Remote Hub up to a mile away, making it an excellent product for providing high-bandwidth WiFi around a rural home, farm, or estate. By placing Hubs a mile or less apart, you can ensure a continuous “cloud” of WiFi for your devices.

For Remote Hub installations more than a mile away, we recommend using the Hub2T. Its single antenna “focuses” its signal much more for longer-range applications, which provides better bandwidth at those distances than the Hub2x2.

The only time we will recommend the Hub2T as a Gateway Hub is when a Remote Hub will be positioned over 2 miles away from the Gateway. In this case, the Hub2T will provide better bandwidth to the Remote Hub2T than the Hub2x2 would.

One other point: the Hub2T has MUCH lower power requirements than the Hub2x2, so it is more suitable for solar/wind powered installations.

The new AyrMesh Hub2x2 – a new kind of AyrMesh Hub

As always, please let us know what you think!