Each year TMForum invites members to develop proof-of-concept (PoC) projects to promote service provider digital transformation by leveraging open digital architectures, application programming interfaces (APIs), standards, open source projects and emerging technologies. These PoCs or catalysts connect the collective power of members to unlock the possibilities of efficiency for businesses, optimized end-user experiences and sustainable growth and connectivity for all.

Red Hat participates in a number of these catalyst projects, and this year played a key role in the Intelligent edge for sustainable agriculture - phase II project. This catalyst project won the outstanding catalyst - sustainability and impact on society award by demonstrating the highest potential to positively impact society and contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The approach and outcomes of this catalyst are also applicable to other industry verticals.

Challenges in farming

Day-to-day, farmers tackle challenges including unpredictable weather, crop rotation planning, labor shortages, operating at scale, trying to ensure economic viability and the list goes on.  On top of this, agricultural operations can be even more challenging as they sit at the extreme edge where access to resources and expertise is further constrained, and environmental sustainability is an imperative. Access to the latest technologies, data science and agronomics to assist with decisions that often need to happen in real-time is a key challenge.

The lack of real-time data and insights makes it difficult to make informed decisions and integrate historical data to identify trends. If the latest technological innovations and agronomic insights were easier to access and use, farmers would be able to improve numerous aspects of their farming practices and move towards precision agriculture.  

An open source solution

Digital transformation within the telecommunications industry has been driven by open standards and open source communities to adopt emerging technologies that can deliver advanced network services. With edge technologies, the agricultural industry has emerged as a new revenue opportunity for service providers. 5G networks—both public and private located at the edge—automation and the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) can help service providers develop new services the farming community can use to address their commercial and technical challenges.

A scalable blueprint is needed for service providers and farmers to deliver these technological innovations. Red Hat delivers a key component of this blueprint—an open cloud-native application platform that delivers 5G, edge and AI/ML. Red Hat OpenShift provides the foundation for the latest technological innovations and simplifies the onboarding of different partner applications as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Open solution blueprint

Figure 1: Open solution blueprint

Open source and cloud-native technologies have become critical for 5G to deliver advanced services. As identified by the TelecomTV cloud-native telco market survey—in which 38 global executives representing 21 service providers who serve more than 1 billion customers across their group operations were polled—Kubernetes was selected by 90% of respondents as the platform recognized as vital to meeting their strategic aims.  Red Hat was also recognized as being the cloud-native leader in the market by 73% of the respondents.

Furthermore, the OpenShift-based advancements that Verizon has put into their web-scale environment can quickly push software improvements to elements on the network with very little downtime, improving resilience and creating greater service agility. Open source facilitates the integration of emerging technologies, forming the foundational framework for constructing next-generation 5G networks and advanced services accelerated to the edge with cloud-native solutions.

Unlocking opportunities at the edge

Edge computing presents exciting opportunities from a broad range of use cases but also poses many technology challenges. Service providers should look for edge solutions leveraging open source platforms so as to fully benefit from the latest innovations. For stringent edge cases, traditional design thinking from the cloud or core and distributing out to edge doesn't work. 

Red Hat understood this, highlighting it during Phase 1 of this catalyst project as a design-first principle on "farm edge" requirements including sustainability. Our point-of-view was to place yourself in the operational environment of the furthest edge location and think back from there towards the core and cloud.    

All the catalyst project champions leverage open source and cloud-native technology in their network to deliver 5G and other innovative edge services.  For example, Verizon built an intelligent, adaptive, and service-aware network as part of their 5G transformation to provide edge computing services, and was named the 2023 Red Hat Innovation Award winner. Over 2 years ago, NTT built a next-gen video analytics edge AI platform and Regional Edge with Inter-connected Wide Area network (REIWA) to create and deliver multiaccess edge computing (MEC) solutions to their enterprise customers, including the "store edge" for the retail industry. 

For the catalyst project, our industry and customer focus was driven by Telus Agriculture, for the farmer and the farm edge.   Their domain expertise of smart farms and actual farm data gave the catalyst project a real world sustainability context that drove insights and outcomes on the use cases.    

The role of a cloud-native application platform

Red Hat OpenShift is a unified application and deployment platform that is capable of running different application, network and AI workloads within different parts of a network, including public and private clouds, core and regional data centers, radio access networks (RAN) and at the furthest edge of the network, shown here in Figure 2 . 

Figure 2: Flexibility and consistency across environments

Figure 2: Flexibility and consistency across environments

OpenShift has the ability to deploy applications built using microservices and containers to take advantage of the latest cloud-native tools and methodologies, with a common user experience and management model as you accelerate to the edge. 

Various OpenShift deployment options are available, from very large footprints consisting of hundreds of servers to a very small form factor that is suitable for agricultural applications located at the farm edge, shown here in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Intelligent edge for sustainable agriculture end-to-end 5G network architecture

Figure 3: Intelligent edge for sustainable agriculture end-to-end 5G network architecture

Compelling use cases for increased productivity

The catalyst project introduced a number of compelling use cases for precision farming. As shown in Figure 4, drone-captured images of farmland are analyzed by AI/ML to determine which areas require attention (i.e. weed spraying). The AI generates a map for drone sprayers to accurately apply treatment to affected areas. Edge-based AI/ML makes real-time decisions based on information from sensors and other sources including weather forecasts, soil conditions and crop requirements, using this data to create specific drone flight paths for remedial actions.

Figure 4: Drone images used for precision weed spraying

Figure 4: Drone images used for precision weed spraying

As shown in Figure 5, camera footage of livestock is also analyzed by AI/ML and identifies key behavior changes including feeding patterns, estrus phases and calving events, notifying farm personnel in order to prioritize tasks and make timely interventions. 

Figure 5: Animal video analytics

Figure 5: Animal video analytics

These compelling uses cases drive significant benefits for farmers that include:

  • Reduction of fertilizer usage by 20% with the removal of indiscriminate spraying practices
  • Reduction of water consumption by 30% with efficient irrigation from machine learning techniques that develop crop-based watering need models across the growing season
  • Up to 50% in time savings in farm operations from the utilization of computer vision and camera footage that creates immediate and actionable alerts

Wrap up

The intelligent edge for sustainable agriculture catalyst project leverages Red Hat’s cloud-native platform and emerging technologies that reimagine farming practices that include crop and animal health for precision agriculture. 

OpenShift is a cloud-native application development and deployment platform that integrates the latest technological innovations including 5G, network slicing, edge and multiple types of artificial intelligence including AI/ML and generative AI.

OpenShift simplifies the onboarding process for edge and AI solutions, partner applications, network functions and operations and business support systems, delivering high value outcomes for both service providers and the agricultural community.

In our next blog we will discuss the role of sustainable computing, and how that reduces energy consumption and carbon emissions to meet the goal of sustainable farming as well as a number of the United Nations Sustainability Goals (SDGs).

To learn more see Red Hat OpenShift and read the resources located at the TMForum website.

About the authors

Rob McManus is a Principal Product Marketing Manager at Red Hat. McManus is an adept member of complex matrix-style teams tasked to define and position telecommunication service provider and partner solutions with a focus on network transformation that includes 5G, vRAN and the evolution to cloud-native network functions (CNFs).

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Rich Gee is Head of 5G Sales at Red Hat. He leads global sales and business development focused on collaboration with customers in the telecommunications network and edge transformation, incubating emerging technologies and developing forward-looking solutions to generate new revenue. Prior to joining Red Hat in 2016, Gee was Director, OEM Sales at MicroStrategy, an analytics software company.

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David Kypuros is a Global Principal Solutions Architect at Red Hat. With over 15 years in telecommunications, including pivotal roles at Verizon and AT&T, David now leads initiatives in 5G, edge computing, and AI. A key contributor to the TM Forum Catalyst programs, David has earned accolades for leading award-winning projects in sustainability and generative AI, underscoring a commitment to innovative and responsible technology solutions.

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