Voices of Digital Communities

Pigs, Cows and Footballs Need Broadband, Too

Despite the amazing progress of the past 20 years, the broadband revolution is just getting started, and nothing illustrates that better than the rise of the Internet of Things.

by / July 7, 2014

The Internet turned 20 this year, by one measure at least. It was in 1994 that Netscape released the first commercial Web browser. Two years later, there were already some 16 million Web users in the world. There are nearly 3 billion of us now, despite the fact that three out of every five of world’s people have yet to go online.

Strange to say, a few pigs, cows and footballs may get there before them.
 
Despite the amazing progress of the past 20 years, the broadband revolution is just getting started. Nothing illustrates that better than the rise of the Internet of Things: devices talking to other devices over the Internet to accomplish some useful aim. I am grateful to Chee Sing Chan, writing in the Show Guide to CommunicAsia in Singapore, for some eye-opening examples.
 
Two companies, General Alert and 1248, have come up with temperature and chemical sensors for pigs that communicate wirelessly with the Internet. Attached to the skin or embedded under it, they track the many factors that contribute to health or signal the onset of disease: temperature, drinking water flow, feed rate, humidity, CO2 concentration and bodily acidity. Pigs still can’t fly but, through these devices, they can provide early warning of diseases like foot-and-mouth that can decimate a drove.
 
Cows have their own kind of online access. In this case, the companies are using Wi-Fi-connected collars and smart software to monitor when they go into “heat.” That may be information cows would prefer to keep to themselves, but it has real commercial value for dairy farmers. Nearly all cows are artificially inseminated, so failed attempts waste money. Impregnating cows also boosts milk production; according to a report by Singularity, missing a cycle of “heat” means lost sales of about five gallons of milk a day.
 
For World Cup fans, Adidas now has a football (soccer ball to Americans) that contains sensors connected wirelessly to a mobile device carried by players. They track the point of impact of every kick and measure the spin, speed and direction of the ball’s flight path. The feedback should help players get more out of the moment when foot, chest or head connects with the ball.
 
These entertaining examples are just the tiny white tip of one very large iceberg. As Intelligent Communities plan for the future, they do so knowing they must provide a platform for innovations that can hardly be imagined today, and that will demand greater and greater broadband capacity from city square to country farm. Remember: The pigs, cows and footballs of tomorrow are counting on you.
Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.