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Landcorp Overcomes Rural Broadband Challenges

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Landcorp Overcomes Rural Broadband Challenges

14 May 2009 - Many of New Zealand's farms are isolated by distance and rugged terrain. But while physical isolation is one thing, being unable to effectively communicate and share information is another.

It was a desire to overcome these challenges that saw State Owned Enterprise, Landcorp, engage Voco to assist in the development of a communications strategy.

Landcorp IT Manager, Mark Johnstone, says they decided to use Voco as a company with a good understanding of the communications market and experience in developing the strategies it was looking for.

Landcorp has 112 farms throughout the country, from the far north down to the deep south. Iconic properties such as Molesworth Station and others on remote parts of the East Cape present a challenge when it comes to affordably securing good communications connections.

But not only did a common solution need to be found for all the farms, the PABX system at the Wellington corporate office needed replacing, and new broadband and intranet demands needed to be met as well. A system needed to be identified that would meet not only the needs of the corporate office, but also cope with growing demands of the future. It needed to enable Landcorp to function as a networked organisation.

In the midwinter of 2007, Voco consultants donned their gumboots and took to the farm to hear what managers wanted out of any communications upgrade and the difficulties they were currently facing. But even as this consultative process was underway, a shift to new premises in Wellington and a rationalisation of the regional offices into the capital meant the work there had to become the focus.

Voco's Paul Fagan says finding the right telecommunications solution for Landcorp to deal with both voice and data networks needed a holistic assessment of Landcorp's requirements.

"It was important not to compartmentalise the farms and corporate office. We needed to look to the future of how Landcorp in its totality would best function."

Landcorp's farms were relying on satellite broadband and ADSL broadband connections. But speed and bandwidth were insufficient and the reliability of the satellite connections was often adversely affected by bad weather. The problems were increasingly becoming an issue as greater use of computer systems on farms was driving the need for increased access to reliable links.

Paul Fagan believes the key was to ask the right questions to find out what was really required.

"We see too many "cookie cutter" RFPs in the market, offering a one size fits all solution. It's little wonder that many deployed systems just don't hit the mark."

Once the key needs were identified, Voco went to the market on behalf of Landcorp to help identify a solution and choose a telecommunications services supplier. The ultimate solution recommended by Voco was a wireless network provided by a New Zealand company, Araneo Ltd.

Paul Fagan says it was a question of taking advantage of local expertise and specialisation in the rural context, to deliver a customised solution that overcame previous issues.

Mark Johnstone says Landcorp selected the Araneo solution recommended by Voco, because of the quality of the proposed network and the existing towers that would provide the best coverage without a need for a huge investment in equipment. Some low cost repeaters will be installed, but the majority of farms have line of sight to existing structures.

The amount of data being captured on the farm is increasing all the time, according to Mark Johnstone, who highlights how crucial it is to have enough capacity to be able to feed that information around the network.

Previously, he said farms did not have enough bandwidth to run business applications quickly. But now they are looking forward to high speed interaction and the use of functions such as video conferencing.

In addition to enabling effective business functions and capabilities to be rolled out, Voco's Paul Fagan says there is also an important social element to having access to high quality broad band connections.

"While the business demands for such capacity are increasing all the time, managers and other staff working on these farms, along with their families, also require fast internet access to neutralise isolation through social networking, distance learning and other non business applications.

"Especially in isolated areas, people increasingly need and insist on being able to have good access as society becomes increasingly connected."

With Voco's involvement in the strategy and sourcing phases completed, the wireless solution is being rolled out under Landcorp's management.

Mark Johnstone says Voco brought a breadth and depth of knowledge to the project while being effective, efficient and easy to work whether it was in the corporate office or on the farm.

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