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US pig and poultry operations could lose barn monitoring connectivity right now

3G networks are being retired at the latest in 2022 to make way for 5G.

15 November 2021, at 12:30am

Pig and poultry producers in the US are new facing challenges with connectivity as cellular providers phase out their 3G networks and upgrade to 5G.

Michael Hansen, co-founder of BarnTools, speaks to The Pig Site's Sarah Mikesell at the Leman Swine Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.

3G will be retired by the biggest mobile carriers in 2022, meaning people with 3G devices will no longer get service. The primary US cellular carriers, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, have plans to shift bandwidth resources toward expanding 5G technology.

“For pig and poultry operations, challenges with connectivity are twofold - a lot of producers default to thinking that they can't get connectivity, but there's also another aspect and that's producers who are dependent on landlines and certain cellular networks who are going to face future challenges," said Michael Hansen, co-founder of BarnTools. “What I mean by that is the large mobile carriers are making upgrades to their network, which is going to take old tech like barn alarms and push them off the network. Essentially you will have an alarm system that dies. You won't know it; it won't tell you. These are changes that we're seeing happening now - today.”

On the connectivity front, BarnTools’ system allows them to optimize the way they send data.

“If you were to watch a YouTube video - let's say that YouTube video is the size of a loaf of bread. If we can send data the size of a bread crumb, we can work in Cullman, Alabama, or Iowa Falls, Iowa, and rural areas that can't always get connectivity,” he said. “There's more risk to staying put today and doing nothing because upgrades are being made that are out of our control - phone lines are dying. The 3G hotspots won't exist, and old devices won't be compatible. I see that as a bigger risk today than worrying about not being able to get connectivity.”

BarnTools provides technology that is carrier agnostic, meaning they don't depend on one carrier, but they can actually hop carriers.

“We find the strongest cell phone tower, and then the way we send information to that cell phone tower is in an optimized way where we're not trying to send a big chunk of data,” he said. “Our system is optimized to work with poor connection, and we have equipped our hardware to send the data in a manner that will get your barn connected and keep you connected.”

It's possible that a producer may wake up tomorrow and their connection is dead, and their barn monitors are not working due to the upgrades in cellular connectivity happening across the country. Because the existing barn systems are unidirectional, which means the alarm system only dials out and if it loses the connection, it just stops working.

“At BarnTools, we have a system called the Heartbeat - every minute our servers are listening for all our alarm systems. If we don't hear a response, it triggers an alarm. It’s called Heartbeat because it's like checking vitals. You’ll never have an alarm that fails and not know it,” Hansen said. “Our number one priority is to make sure the technology works, and your herd or flock is being protected through monitoring.”

BarnTools was started because Hanson almost had a near loss in one of his barns, and he didn’t want it to happen to others.

“We are seeing losses left and right due to the same problem - a phone line failed for the alarm system or the alarm system never called because it wasn't working,” he said. “If you can have peace of mind knowing that every minute your system's being checked to make sure it's online and working, that means every minute you know your herd or flock is protected.”

Right now, advanced producers conduct routine checkups by sending someone to each production site weekly to do a test on the hardware itself inside the barn to ensure it's working.

“That process is inefficient - it's costly and it's not the way forward. If our system can check the system every minute using technology and save those resources, you're a lot better off,” he said.

Learn more about BarnTools' solutions.