Utilizing a private 5G-capable network for LTE connectivity on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) broadcast frequencies, eliminating latency and cloud-compute issues in autonomous farm operations.

Autonomous vehicles rely on communications with the remote operator. While our autonomous farm has been able to execute missions with limited communication, higher bandwidth can support improved safety capabilities, additional data collection/distribution, and new services to the connected farm. 

A major benefit of CBRS is that it hits the perfect sweet spot between long-distance, high-latency communications and short-wave, high volume transmissions. Previously only available to the US Navy, CBRS doesn’t travel as far as more commonly used cell phone technology, but it is a relatively unused band that allows for less competition during high-traffic communications.

Up until now, our platform’s radio connectivity has relied on a lower frequency spectrum more commonly associated with line-of-sight handheld radios. But, utilizing CBRS will not only allow for the high-volume data and processing required by our autonomous farm platform. It also has the penetrating power of modern WiFi technology – that boosts signals through doors and down hallways – applied to a farming operation that contends with dense tree trunks, foliage, and other obstacles.

The History of CBRS

While the US Navy still gets priority when it comes to CBRS, in 2017, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) completed a five-year process in order to establish rules for commercial use of this band while reserving some of it for military communications. Just last year, wireless carriers were authorized by the FCC to use CBRS for 5G systems without having to go through the process of acquiring a specific license to operate.

Instead, the FCC has created a three-tiered method for determining the priority use of CBRS: Incumbent Access, Priority Access (and Licenses, (PAL)), and General Authorized (GA) Access. Remember, the US Navy has enjoyed the almost entirely sole use of this 150 MHz wide broadcast band at the 3.5 GHz (3550 MHz to 3700 MHz) frequency. Now that they’re sharing, they get first rights as the Incumbent user.

How does the FCC “give the band back” to the US Navy should they need it? They established an automated frequency coordinator, also known as a Spectrum Access System (SAS). The SAS relies on information provided by a sensor network maintained by Department of Defense radar systems.

A diagram describing the CBRS Network and Tiers - the SAS uses information from the Sensor Network to determine priority and use of the Incumbent Access, Priority Access, and General Access tiers.

After the US Navy, PALs have their run of the CBRS show. Bidding for PALs concluded in August of last year and are now held by utility companies in an effort to address growing communication needs with private LTE networks. 

The General Authorized Access tier will protect and accept interference from the previous two tiers while allowing for the widest possible number of users on the band. This tier can operate on any portion of the 3550-3700 MHz band not assigned to a higher tier user and, when unoccupied, utilize Priority Access channels. 

In Practice

While some trials were permitted beforehand, CBRS has only been authorized for use by public entities since last year. Through the hard work of the 5G Open Innovation Lab and their partners – the likes of Intel, Microsoft, T-Mobile, etc, and startups like Monogoto, Blue White Robotics have the power to leverage these private LTE networks for autonomous farming operations.

Through smart RF planning and deployment of this network in different farms that suffer from limited connectivity, Blue White Robotics is able to provide modern infrastructure for multiple new services in the farm. This unobstructed low latency network allows for a potentially unlimited number of connected devices like autonomous tractors, drones, and sensors that can upload and share high amounts of information in real-time, thus allowing for light speed algorithmic learning and situational awareness for a remote operator anywhere.

This isn’t just a huge advantage for our customers and our platform, it’s a world-first for agriculture. We join the 5G Open Innovation Lab as partners and leaders of innovation, creating unmatched levels of safety, autonomous navigational reliability, farming productivity, and food resilience.


Contact: Adam.fine@bw-robotics.com

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