We are very proud to introduce the second member of our new “Compact” product line – the AyrMesh ReceiverC.
This new Receiver combines most of the power of our “regular” Receiver with a much smaller form factor. It performs at least as well as the “big” Receiver at distances under 1 mile, and still works well at distances up to 2 miles from the nearest Hub.
We were motivated to bring out the AyrMesh ReceiverC by observing that the vast majority of our customers were mounting AyrMesh Receivers within 1 mile of the nearest AyrMesh Hub, and the power from the AyrMesh Receiver was actually overwhelming the AyrMesh Hub. While we have the ability to reduce the transmit power of the Receiver (and the ReceiverC, by the way), the higher-gain antennae on the Receiver sometimes made it impossible to put it on outbuildings very near the Hub.
The ReceiverC is actually a more flexible version of the AyrMesh Receiver, and, as an added bonus, actually is a little less expensive. Please take a look at it for your next AyrMesh addition.
The Hub2x2C is something of a departure for us – a more compact, slightly lower-power Hub with lower-gain antennas, built not for absolute maximum range but to provide continuous WiFi for smaller to medium-sized rural operations.
The AyrMesh Hub2x2C is a response to a problem we have been seeing from our customers: the ability to put Hubs 2.5 miles apart is great for covering a lot of acreage, but the “normal” Hubs don’t work well if they are LESS than 1 mile apart – they overpower each other. However, at 1 mile or more apart, the Hubs are really providing “pools” of WiFi around them, because lower-power devices may only have a usable range of a few hundred yards. There are frequently areas between the Hubs that are, effectively, uncovered for a lower-power device.
The new AyrMesh Hub2x2C can be placed half a mile apart, meaning that even a device with a maximum range of 400 yards can have continuous coverage, passing cleanly from one Hub to the next at the extent of its range.
When we first developed the AyrMesh Hubs, the predominant WiFi device was a large, sturdy laptop, with a “normal” strength WiFi radio and fairly large (although hidden) WiFi antennas. We were actually surprised at how far the Hubs allowed a device like this to communicate – typically half a mile, sometimes further.
As WiFi cameras came out, they used similar WiFi adapters as laptops and generally had similar range. Many had (and still have) removable external antennas that can be replaced with higher-gain antennas to even longer range.
However, now the predominant WiFi device is the smartphone, which uses a lower-power WiFi radio to save battery power, and has smaller antennas to minimize their size. And, on top of that, we’re seeing a new generation of “truly wireless” cameras run off batteries – again, using lower-power WiFi radios and frequently without an option for a higher-gain antenna. While a standard laptop might be able to use the Hub from half a mile or more away, these low-power devices will typically only have about half that range – 400 yards or so.
In the fields of a large farm, the problem of limited WiFi range is solved by use of the AyrMesh Cab Hub2 – the Cab Hub2 is easily fitted to tractors, combines, sprayers, pickups – even utility vehicles – to keep the vehicle and occupants in touch with the stationary Hubs.
On smaller farms and rural businesses, however, workers are frequently on foot, so the Cab Hub is not very practical.
The new AyrMesh Hub2x2C Hubs can be placed as close as 800 yards apart (even closer in some instances – we can reduce the transmit power) to completely cover an area in WiFi. Note, however, that they can still be positioned up to 2 miles apart (with reduced bandwidth), and you can still put up to three “circles” of Hubs around the Gateway Hub. So the new Hub2x2C can still be used to “light up” thousands of acres.
One question that has come up is the range from the new Hub to “ordinary” WiFi devices – the answer is that, at least in our testing, it is unchanged relative to the “big” Hubs. The range to phones, tablets, laptops, etc. is primarily determined by the transmit power and antenna quality of the device, not the Hub – we actually found no measurable difference between the performance of the Hub2x2C and the Hub2x2 and Hub2T for WiFi – the only real difference is in meshing with other Hubs.
Please have a look at the new Hub2x2C – it’s a great option for most rural WiFi users!
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 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:
Increasing the bandwidth available (through OFDMA and MU-MIMO) – just making everything faster and increasing the value of the network overall.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work with you.
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!
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!
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
We are pleased to introduce the new model of the AyrMesh Receiver. This new model represents a significant improvement on the older model while maintaining complete compatibility with previous AyrMesh products. This product combines the proven software from our previous model AyrMesh Receiver with new, more capable hardware. The new AyrMesh Receiver is a bit larger than the old model, and offers several new features:
Bigger, stronger antenna for more solid links
Mounting tabs on the back for mounting to poles or flat surfaces
“Extra” external Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) port on the Receiver for connecting external PoE devices like Cameras
Standard 48V power injector/power supply so standard 802.3af devices can use the external PoE port
The ability to mount the Receiver on a flat surface (without additional hardware) is a feature that many users requested over the years, and the ability to add an outdoor PoE device will, we think, enable our customers to enhance security and operational awareness.
Overall, the new Receiver represents a significant improvement over the old model. While the old models will continue to work perfectly, you might want to consider replacing an older Receiver with the new Receiver if:
It is in a marginal location, where it is just getting enough signal to make the link – the new Receiver’s more powerful antennas can help; or
I have a Google Alert for “Wireless Farm” – I get about an article a week (and many of them are about wireless technologies for “server farms” and other odd things). But today I got a link to this article about “How 5G will impact the future of farming.” Intrigued, I clicked it to find a puff-piece about how Deere wants better wireless connectivity so that combines can “talk” to each other via “the cloud,” pointing out that it can take up to a minute with current technology for one combine to upload its data to the cloud, then the other combine to download that data and act on it. A couple of points here:
“5G” mobile technology is based on “millimeter-wave” bands – over 20 GHz. (20,000 MHz.). Current LTE is based on 700 MHz. radios, and previous mobile data technologies (2G/3G) were “piggybacked” on existing 800 MHz. and 1900 MHz. radios. The range and, in particular, the ability of a signal to penetrate solid objects varies inversely with the frequency. So, to have 5G covering the areas cellular covers today requires a MUCH higher density of cellular towers than we have; to have it cover all of the rural U.S. will require thousands and thousands of new towers, a huge infrastructure investment
As I have mentioned previously, the vast majority of cellular infrastructure investment is happening (and will continue to happen) within cities and towns, where the density of opportunities for subscriber revenue makes it profitable.
Within the article, however, is this paragraph:
The term “5G” refers to the fifth-generation wireless broadband technology based on the 802.11ac standard. The packet of technology will bring speed and coverage improvements from 4G, with low-latency wireless up to 1GB/s.
802.11ac is WiFi, not mobile (cellular) technology. Specifically, it is the current generation of WiFI using the 5.8 GHz. (5,800 MHz.) radio band.
And here’s the point: “5G” mobile technology is not going to have an impact on farm operations in the forseeable future. But you can have multi-megabit WiFi technology on your farm TODAY – and you don’t have to wait for your friendly cellular carrier to put up a zillion towers. FURTHERMORE, since your AyrMesh system puts all the devices onto YOUR OWN Local-Area Network (LAN), everything on the system can just talk to each other – they don’t have to upload to the cloud and download from the cloud or anything like that. Your combines can “talk” to each other and your trucks, you can automate processes and enable autonomous vehicles – NOW – with an AyrMesh WiFi network.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, as well as the associated posts on the ezeio and sensor networks, I have focused primarily on IoT hardware: the part you can see and touch, and that touches your farm.
However, in many ways, software is much more important than the hardware. As I observed in Part 2, modern technology products are remarkably similar: a CPU, some memory, some storage, and some peripherals. If the peripheral is a relay, you have a device that can turn things on and off (like a remote-controlled power plug, or a WebRelay). If the peripheral is an “Analog to Digital Converter” (ADC) then the device can monitor sensors and report the values from those sensors. Some devices like the ezeio have both (and even more).
Of course, nothing happens on these devices without software. And software is involved in at least two important places: the software that is running on the devices themselves, sometimes referred to as “firmware,” and the software running on back-end computers (local or cloud servers, PCs, or even your phone or tablet) that is used to store and interpret the results from the devices.
These two pieces of software have to be able to “talk” with each other, and we’ll assume* they do so over your network, with the device connected to your AyrMesh network and the “back-end” software on some sort of cloud-based server on the Internet. Note that the “back-end” software COULD reside on a server on your property if you are using AyrMesh.
What the devices themselves do depends on both the hardware and the firmware on the device – in most cases, that firmware will collect readings from the sensors, upload that information to the back-end server, and, if appropriate, take commands from that server and take action, from turning on a light to starting a pump or a grain auger.
In most cases, that firmware is a closed system – there is no way for you to collect data off or communicate with the device directly, or to direct it to a location other than the vendor’s cloud server. It doesn’t have to be that way, but (1) it’s simpler, and (2) that gives the vendor much more control over the data.
The back-end server usually stores the data and presents it to you (either through a web page or a mobile app, or both). What data you see, how you see it, and what you can do with it depends on that back-end software. It may just present a time series of observations in the field as a graph, it may let you set up simple or complex rules (if the soil moisture is at this level or below, turn on the irrigation system), and it be able to present data in many useful ways (different graphs, superimposed on maps, etc.) and enable very complex control of your farm machinery.
The back-end server is usually a closed system, as well – most times it can only accept data from the vendor’s own devices. Sometimes it may have an “Application Program Interface” (API) that allows it to exchange data with other programs. It may also have the ability to upload data into it for tracking and presentation, or to download data from it for importation into another program. These APIs and import/export mechanisms may be very good, well-written, and well-documented, making them extremely useful. Or they may not. APIs are generally only useful for programmers – it takes code to make them work – but well-written and well-documented APIs can enable even relatively inexperienced programmers to create custom programs to do exactly what you want, and that can be extremely valuable.
On the other hand, back-end software without good APIs and/or import/export features is a “closed box” – what you get is just what you get, and there’s no way to get more or less. Understand, of course, that a closed system like this may do EXACTLY what you need, but, if your needs change, it may suddenly become useless.
Of course, there is also the issue of your data and what happens to it. The terms and conditions for the service may be very clear about what happens to your data, or they may be quite vague. Many of the data services will anonymize and sell the data that you store on their servers (the most unethical may not even anonymize it – beware!). This may concern you or not, depending on the nature of the data and how closely tied to your operation it is. For instance, it is generally valuable to share weather data – if your neighbors do so as well, you can gain a much better insight into the local weather patterns. On the other hand, you may not want to share geo-referenced harvest data – that tells too many people exactly what your land and your harvest is worth. “Fuzzing up” the geo-reference, however, might make it a lot more shareable.
When you are considering new devices to collect data and/or control machinery on the farm, these distinctions between “open” and “closed” systems, and the availability if good, usable APIs may seem abstract. Salespeople for “closed” systems will do their best to minimize the importance of these issues, but it’s absolutely critical. Openness in the device’s firmware means that the devices can be re-purposed to work with another system if you don’t like the vendor’s services, and openness in the back-end database means you can easily get your data and move it where it can be combined with other data and used (e.g. providing it to your agronomist for analysis, or storing it in a system where it can be combined with other data for decision-making).
Being smart about buying new technology for your farm can save you a lot of money in the long term, and a lot of frustration in the short term. We’ll keep an eye out for and report on interesting products that help you on the farm using open technologies.
*some devices connect directly to the network using WiFi or Ethernet, and some devices will have low-power networking (e.g. Zigbee or Google Threads) that use a “gateway” device to connect them to your network (or directly to a public network via cellular or satellite). There are even some that don’t talk to the network at all, using either Bluetooth or an embedded WiFi server to communicate directly with your phone, tablet, or laptop. And, of course, there are still devices that use some sort of flash memory and “sneakernet” (taking the flash memory off the device and walking it to a computer).