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Technology boosts internet connectivity for downs feedlots

by Jon Condon, 03 August 2017

March IT’s microwave dish mounted high above the Brindley Park feedlot’s mill tower. The signal is beamed from the main tower on the elevated range seen in the distance.

 

TWO large commercial feedlots on Queensland’s Darling Downs are benefitting from greatly improved internet access, since the completion of a telecommunications network delivering high-speed internet services into the region.

Australian Country Choice’s Brindley Park feedlot in the Roma district and Stanbroke Beef’s Stanbroke feedlot near Chinchilla now both enjoy much greater speed and reliability in their internet services.

Behind both projects was Brisbane based telecommunications carrier March IT, whose business focus is on developing solutions for business internet users in remote regional and rural areas where internet access is poor. March IT was launched six years ago, as a spinoff from another business that has supplied internet services since the technology’s earliest origins in 1996.

Geoff Marsh, director of business development, said agriculture clients were already benefiting from access to quality and reliable internet services for their remote properties.

One of its early clients is Stanbroke Beef, which operates the Stanbroke feedlot near Chinchilla, which recently gained approval to expand to 40,000 head capacity.

During the western downs’ ‘gas boom’, March IT built a tower on an elevated position on land owned by Stanbroke – which is now utilised by the feedlot itself and services other resources and agribusinesses in the region.

Since the original Stanbroke installation a couple of years ago, March IT is focused on providing lotfeeding and breeding properties with improved services. A recent similar installation, completed four months ago, is located at ACC’s Brindley Park feedlot.

The installations at both feedlots use fixed wireless (microwave) as the service delivery method into both properties.

The technology picks-up a fibre service in a nearby population centre location, such as a local town with good internet access, and delivers it over large distances using microwave and a telecommunications receiving tower on an elevated location.

While the systems operate on line-of-sight, some of March IT’s links operate at distances up to 70km. In the case of Brindley Park, the microwave signal comes from Roma, while Stanbroke’s signal comes from Chinchilla.

A small fixed wireless dish on the roof at each property picks up the microwave signal from the nearby elevated microwave tower.

In the case of Brindley Park, the dish is located atop the feedmill tower (often the highest point in a feedlot development, see photo) allowing reach to the yard’s hospital area, induction shed and other locations where internet is required, plus accommodation buildings. Wi-fi is accessible across the whole feedlot operations area.

Service improvement

How much improved is the internet service at both sites?

In ACC’s case at Brindley Park, it previously used a Telstra 3G connection, delivering somewhere between one and two-and-a-half megabits per second (mbps) download – but the system was unreliable and at different times of day would slow dramatically, and require regular rebooting. Not only was it slow, but unreliable.

Stanbroke was also in a ‘black hole’ area in terms of reliability.

Brindley Park now gets a dedicated 20mbps (download and upload) with unlimited data, permanently, and the service does not slow down at peak times. As one of the busiest feedlots in Australia in terms of turnover (domestic feeding programs for Coles range of 50-70 days), Brindley Park has enormous requirements for data access for NLIS and other purposes.

Stanbroke’s service is even better, at a dedicated 30mbps download and upload, and unlimited data.

Stanbroke’s service is provided by a 40 metre-high telecommunications tower, while Brindley Park’s is 30 metres tall.

Because of their location on the highest local point, mains power is often not available, and in both these cases, solar installations power the microwave towers.

Nearby to Brindley Park, a group of other local graziers, some 70-80km from Roma, also gain access through the service. In this application, three repeater towers are used to transport the signal larger distances, in this case up to 165km from Roma.

Main microwave receiving tower on its elevated position on Brindley Park, complete with solar power. Click on image for a larger view.

Cost of installation

Trenching a fibre connection over a similar distance would be cost-prohibitive, making microwave a much more cost-effective solution.

In terms of cost of service fees, an alternative such as Telstra fibre, could cost anywhere from $8000 to $16,000 per month, for a similar quality of service.

The March IT solution is delivering service at a fraction of that cost – from around $2000 per month.

Another alternative, a dedicated satellite link, costs between $3000 and $4000 for a service delivering just 1mbps, making a high-speed satellite service cost-prohibitive.

Geoff Marsh said his company saw the opportunities in the agriculture sector as ‘massive.’

“The requirements for data access, and hence high-speed internet, is growing all the time in agriculture,” he said.

“At many ag industry events these days, there’s often a line-up of technology providers with systems allowing producers to operate smarter, and more efficiently – but big data requires good communications and connectivity,” he said.

“While they are all great ideas and may well improve on-farm productivity, there’s no way to make those systems work without good internet access.”

He said what March IT was finding was that unlike the gas industry, where accessibility was more about providing internet facility for remotely-located personnel for personal use, in agriculture it was all about business productivity and enabling technology.

March IT plans to work with bigger pastoral and feedlot players. The company also sees potential to work with ‘clusters’ of producers in a given area, to share cost of installation.

 

 



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