Verizon Surprises with Plan to Launch End-to-End Agriculture IoT Product in Q3

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Verizon is set to launch an Internet-of-Things (IoT) and decision support product for permanent crop farmers this quarter. The Verizon AgTech product aims to improve the connectivity of sensors and other data-capturing devices on the farm to help farmers turn this data into actionable insights through a Verizon Agtech software platform.

Verizon Agtech will run through Verizon’s relatively new IoT platform ThingSpace, which was launched in late November 2015 as a tool to help developers and others build for, and use, IoT. For many ag data and sensor-based startups that have struggled with connectivity issues — and as data standards remain absent — a network and platform leader entering the sector with an IoT product could be the answer to their prayers.

But surprisingly, Verizon Agtech will be a closed off system and a Verizon branded product that’s only accessible to “certified” hardware manufacturers. This is the best route to market, according to Mike Toto, global product and new business development executive for IoT, and the lead on the Verizon agtech initiative.

“We are committed to building an end-to-end agtech solution, that’s flexible, scalable and simplifies the entire ecosystem,” Toto, told AgFunderNews. “Multiple farmers have many disjointed and fragmented solutions. We feel that Verizon and its hardware partners can help a lot of farmers take the data they’re already getting today, combine it with data analytics and produce a common interface to manage their entire operation with predictive recommendations.”

Verizon has yet to announce who the certified providers are except ITK, a French agtech company, which will provide flow meters for the platform as part of a partnership established between the two earlier this year. ITK has a range of different hardware and software agtech tools to its name, including Vintel, a water monitoring service for vineyards.

Verizon has also worked with other hardware providers on a pilot project of its ‘IoT for ag’ product at Californian winery Hahn Family Wines. According to an article in IoT Journal about the pilot project, Sentek Technologies’ soil sensors are sending data to Intel IoT gateways via Banner Engineering’s 900 MHz radios. A YouTube video about the project also shows PrecisionHawk drones being flown across the vineyards, feeding geospatial data into Verizon’s dashboard.

In addition to providing farmers with the ability to track everything that’s happening in their fields such as a water pipe leak, Verizon aims to provide them with prescriptive recommendations based on the combination of historical, geospatial and on-farm data into “a single pane of glass” dashboard, said Toto.

Once launched, Verizon will assess each potential customer and then make recommendations on the equipment and services they need, including help with installation on a block-by-block basis.

Mike Betts, director of investments at online investment platform AgFunder who’s been researching agriculture IoT for many months, is surprised that Verizon chose to go this route.

“I would have hoped they would focus on their strengths in wireless connectivity and tackle some of the technical challenges of connecting devices and getting data out of the field and into the cloud. They could then have built a completely open IoT platform that an existing and future ecosystem of companies could build farmer-focused solutions on — this piece would be innovative for Verizon and drive usage of the Verizon network,” he said. “As it is, they are selecting preferred partners and trying to build their own software products to sell to farmers, which is a bit outside their domain expertise.”

While Verizon has had agriculture clients for many years, it only started focusing on the sector last year as part of its overall IoT strategy; agriculture is one of five verticals being targeted by the platform.

Toto argues that Verizon Agtech will not be completely closed off to other technology providers, however.

“We would welcome anyone to come in through device certification process when we would evaluate it and see if meets the specifications needed,” he said. “Initially, we are launching with certified devices, but we have future plans for offer our agtech services over the top globally.”

Verizon has not yet set a specific launch date and would not disclose any details around pricing of the product at this stage.

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