John Deere Continues to Push the Boundaries of 5G and Agriculture

A John Deere tractor in a field.

In 2020, one of the more surprising names we took a look at connected to 5G was John Deere. While the agricultural industrialists from Illinois may be more associated with harvesting crops and keeping American farmlands running smoothly, make no mistake about it, John Deere isn’t going away any time soon. The company continues to push into the wireless world as it seeks ways to push agriculture further through technology, but with a focus on wireless communication.

Whether John Deere is helping farmers increase efficiency, execute precise seeding thanks to correction technology, or providing better GPS systems, exciting wireless solutions are proving that the company is much more than just large green and yellow farm equipment. One of the most interesting areas in which to look out for are improvements to its fleet of GPS guided self-driving tractors and how 5G will play a role in taking them to the next level. “We’ve been doing this for 20 years. It started out simply driving with straight tracks,” said John Deere’s VP of Data, Applications and Analytics, Lane Arthur. Though John Deere offers self-driving tractors, the machines still require a human driver in the cab to operate.

Using over 300 sensors, 140 controllers, and an LTE modem, John Deere’s 8RX tractor equipped with a 60 foot, 24-row planter is mostly automated and capable of processing 15,000 measurements per second. Data is collected and sent to the cloud where it is used to enhance the capabilities of the tractor for better results. Farmers can access the cloud, which is hosted on Amazon Web Services, through the John Deere Operations Center, an app that outlines the performance of each field. Here, farmers can compare analytics among data to see how crops and fields have done due to weather conditions, from year-to-year, and so on. It is believed that a typical day of planting can send as much as 100 MB of data every second.

Connecting to see the latest stats about fields and crop yields are only part of the equation, however. The LTE modem John Deere equips to its tractors allows farmers to connect with dealers to assist in setting up their tractors or maintenance issues. A particularly popular feature due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. “Customers needed help from their dealers but didn’t want them in the tractor cab,” said John Deere’s Director of the Embedded Software and Solutions Group, Nancy Post. “We could remotely connect and help them,” she continued. Post stated that the pandemic saw this feature rise by 200%. Due to the lack of coverage many rural areas may experience if a modem is unable to send data to the cloud at the time, John Deere has made a feature in which the data is collected and stored until a solid connection can be reestablished and information is then sent to the cloud.

John Deere Continues to Push for 5G in Rural Markets

As it stands, the connectivity found in John Deere tractors rely on LTE, but the iconic tractor manufacturer continues to advocate for 5G in rural markets. With millions of rural Americans lacking access to high-speed broadband, John Deere is working with the FCC to create a change in how the Internet is distributed throughout rural markets. In the fall of 2020, the FCC committed $9 billion to help fund 5G in rural areas with $1 billion focusing on the agricultural industry. “We do have issues with coverage and reliability in rural areas. We are working with the government and wireless carriers to increase that connectivity and reliability,” said Arthur. The funds will be distributed through future FCC auctions.

The future of the John Deere tractor includes the use of 5G as there are plans to incorporate the technology and eventually create full autonomous tractors capable of driving without any operator at all. 5G’s reduction in latency and faster speeds are bringing this and more to life which will allow farmers to not only get their jobs done while handling other tasks but also monitor how their crops are doing with precision.

John Deere is continuing its ambitions in 5G and is still on course to implement 5G at its factories in Illinois and Iowa. The company is using licenses that it won last year in a spectrum bid to create better manufacturing and application solutions. These licenses that will allow for the privatized 5G networks were purchased for around $550,000.

Source: Light Reading