Agribusiness is New Tech Battleground for Australia’s Telcos

M. Rogers

Summary Bullets:

• TPG and Telstra have had multiple trials with various agribusiness in Australia, leveraging 5G, AI, IoT, and data services to develop solutions for livestock.

• Both companies have yet to develop commercialized solutions, and could consider joint ventures with or acquisitions of agritech firms to fully capitalize on the vertical opportunity.

Cows, potatoes, and tomatoes could be the next tech and telco battleground in Australia. Leading telcos Telstra and TPG have both made recent announcements around their efforts to develop converged technology offerings centered on agriculture use cases.

In March 2023 Telstra announced a partnership with Charles Sturt University (CSU) and Food Agility, an industry-focused research and development organization, to develop innovative agricultural technology solutions. The collaboration aims to leverage Telstra’s network capabilities and IoT expertise as well as its “Telstra Data Hub” alongside CSU’s research and academic resources, and Food Agility’s industry connections to support the development of innovative use cases at CSU and Agility’s jointly operated “Global Digital Farm”. The farm, located in Wagga Wagga, NSW, is a commercial farm that incorporates technology labs, innovation centers, and training facilities.

This is not the first foray Telstra has made into developing prototypes for the agriculture and livestock industry. Last March the company partnered with IBM to test a data sharing platform to track western rock lobsters as they move across the supply chain from boat to distribution. Telstra also ran a similar trial with Meat and Livestock Australia in July 2022.

Meanwhile, announced last October, TPG Telecom partnered with the University of Technology Sydney, Nokia, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to develop a cattle counting solution for the Tamworth Livestock exchange. The solutions leverage TPG 5G network to deliver multiple live video feeds of cattle as the move into the exchange, and uses AI-video analytics run on an edge server to count the cattle as they enter, eliminating human error and reducing the need for man hours in a typically laborious process.

Telstra and TPG are hoping to capitalize on a critical industry for Australia, that is underpenetrated with technology. According to the Royal Bank of Australia, the Australian Agriculture industry contributed AUD52 billion to GDP in the calendar year 2022, and has been growing at an average annual rate of 15% over the past three years. There is also a growing demand for agriculture technology solutions. GlobalData Connected Enterprise Tracker, (viewed in March 2023) shows that there are 365 deployments across the world since 2011, including 93 within the last three years. Between use cases, environmental monitoring, people and animal tracking, and condition monitoring lead the demand by accounting for 70% of the total deployments. However, both telcos will face the challenge of moving from trials and prototypes to repeatable business. Despite lengthy prototype periods, neither have announced any commercial solutions.

However, both Telstra and TPG have the right ingredients in place. Telstra’s Datahub can address broader agricultural issues in regulatory compliance, traceability, environmental health, biosecurity, and more efficient food supply networks. Telstra also has wide IoT capabilities across multiple stacks including devices, networks, cybersecurity and platform, which can support and enhance the development of agriculture technology solutions. TPG’s machine vision, paired with private network and edge compute can enable a host of applications for regional farms that go beyond cattle counting to areas like farm security, aerial crop analytics, or grading and sorting.

The broader issue however is the unique challenges that come with each agribusiness use case, and each individual customer. While TPG and Telstra and their technology partners can provide horizontal expertise, the labor cost of developing and deploying field trials that suit the needs of individual agribusiness customer is too high. To be truly competitive in commercializing solutions for agriculture, Telstra and TPG should consider developing more specific skills either through acquisition or joint ventures. Telstra is already taking this approach to the mining sector with its purchase of Alliance Automation.

Meanwhile, TPG is also focusing on industry for its 5G, IoT, and private networks business, and has mentioned sales teams dedicated to mining and energy. However, TPG could consider specializing in agriculture as it seeks to grow its private 5G business with Nokia. Compared to other industries like mining and energy, there fewer existing private wireless customers and it could be a greenfield for them to grow in.

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