TV Whitespace Initiative

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New Teagasc and Microsoft partnership will enable Ireland’s farming community to benefit from evolving technologies

Microsoft Airband pilot initiative aiming to address rural connectivity challenges is launched by EU Commissioner Phil Hogan

Teagasc Ballyhaise Agricultural College, Cavan, April 27th: Today, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, joined Teagasc and Microsoft at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which will see both organisations work together to develop agricultural-based technology that will advance Irish agriculture in support of rural development and innovation.

The first initiative to be rolled out under the MOU is a pilot project, announced today, which will provide remote internet connectivity to Teagasc Agricultural College, Ballyhaise and potentially some surrounding households. It will allow students at the college to access internet-based digital technology while training and working remotely in the fields and outbuildings across the 220-hectare campus. Connectivity means students can leverage a range of technologies, including AI and data analytics, to help inform decision making while learning. The other projects identified in the MOU will be rolled out over the summer and will focus on precision agriculture, big data, and AI.

The pilot is part of Microsoft’s Airband global initiative, which aims to extend connectivity to underserved, rural communities around the world by working with partners and leveraging innovative technologies, such as wireless solutions using TV White Spaces. TV White Space is unassigned broadcast spectrum which travels over long distances, penetrates natural and manmade obstacles, and is abundant in rural areas. There are currently 68 Airband projects globally. In the US alone, Microsoft has committed to bringing three million rural Americans online by 2022.

Net1, will work alongside Teagasc and Microsoft providing the ISP connectivity and managing the installation and deployment of the pilot. The pilot project in Ballyhaise Agricultural College is the first of its kind in Ireland. This project will inform how a similar solution can be deployed in other rural or agricultural settings across the country and beyond. The pilot will commence in the coming weeks and will run for up to eight months.

At the launch today, Phil Hogan, European Union Commissioner said, “From 2020 onwards I want and expect to see an upsurge in Smart Village projects where local initiative is supported by EU funding through programmes such as the Rural Development Programme (RDP) or LEADER, along with partners from the private sector such as Microsoft, who can bring innovative solutions like Airband to the table.”

Professor Gerry Boyle, Teagasc Director added: ”Using this technology will allow Teagasc to have high speed broadband across all our farm land in Ballyhaise. Sustainable land management underpins Teagasc courses and our teaching approach is a blend of classroom and practical learning. This project will allow us to bring technology that has previously been restricted to the classroom directly to the field. An example is the measurement of grass and its optimum utilisation. As students are taught the skills of measuring and managing grass, this information, that’s stored on the cloud, can be captured on a handheld device in the field allowing immediate management decisions to be made on how much grass to give to animals. We are also delighted to be partnering with Microsoft on a range of other digital projects that will enable Ireland’s food sector to continue to grow in a manner that meets the highest standards of sustainability.”

Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director of Microsoft Ireland said: “We are delighted to partner with Teagasc to develop a range of technology solutions to help farmers across the country benefit from digitisation. It is critically important that Ireland, as a farming nation, ensures that the agricultural sector gets the benefit of technology to help inform future planning as well as day-to-day farm management.

“The projects that we will work with Teagasc on will bring real impact to farmers and we believe they can be scaled rapidly. The Airband Initiative, the first in Ireland, provides an innovative and cost-effective way to tackle the last mile of connectivity. This will be a game changer for farmers and rural communities. The findings can be used to the benefit of other rural communities – not just in Ireland but across Europe.”

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