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Precision-based RTK farming utilises IoT platform for ‘one-stop’ communications solution

In the world of Precision Farming, landowners rely more on more on the technology that gives them optimisation tools to achieve the highest performance from their crop production.  Known as RTK – Real-time Kinetics, the last few years have seen a proliferation in geo-location infrastructures that enable operators to hone their production accuracy to levels of +/- 2cm, slicing hectares into pin-sharp matrices where every inch counts.

For global agricultural machinery providers like John Deere, RTK has become a critically important part of their service offering, supporting producers with leading-edge GPS positioning tools via their dealer network. This is no more apparent than across the UK, where dealers such as Rea Valley Tractors have developed their own RTK NTrip (Networked Transport of RTCM via Internet Protocol) local network, where operators can receive IP data from a series of RTK base stations which boost the GPS accuracy on a second-by-second basis, counteracting spatial and seasonal factors which would otherwise make a direct  GPS signal alone to the machine more reliable. The RTK base stations continuously provide correctional data to the machine’s receiver, utilising the NTrip IP protocol from the RTK servers to the client-side receiver. Armed with this precision, SIM-enabled receivers located on each John Deere machine can precisely position for sowing, fertilization and harvesting.

For Rea Valley Tractors, the investment in their own RTK infrastructure can only pay dividends when knowing that each field-based operator is communicating reliably with the network. This of course is driven by the cellular connectivity integrated into each machine unit – predominantly retro-fitted at time of purchase. Utilising a number of branded receiver devices, until recently Rea Valley would install and train, but leave the acquisition of connectivity to the operator themselves. This could lead to a fleet manager simply walking into a local mobile phone shop to obtain an appropriate SIM. With limited experience in understanding the nuances of cellular communication, this inevitably led to operators selecting unsuitable networks with weak signal strength, and data tariffs that did not reflect realistic usage levels, creating unnecessary over expenditure, or alternatively ‘billshock’ as the network provider charged for overage. A strategic decision was consequently made to bring connectivity back ‘in-house’ and integrate this as part of their Precision Farming service solution.

 Chris Jacques, one of the lead Precision Farming team at Rea Valley Tractors explains: “The move to bring connectivity into the service mix was driven by our goal to work more closely and seamlessly with our customers. Delivering a connected, ready to work machine was clearly more desirable than pointing an operator to a SIM supplier, and hoping…”

To execute this transition to a connected solutions service, Rea Valley turned to Wireless Logic Group, Europe’s leading IoT (Internet of Things) connectivity platform provider. Working with multiple MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) across their platform, Wireless Logic were perfectly suited to deliver a multi-network package, along with Fixed Private IP to each SIM and APN solution to ensure secure, two-way communication between each receiver and Rea Valley’s RTK servers. Vital to the connectivity was the ability for the Rea Valley team to manage and control a growing multi-network SIM base through one window. Using both EE and Vodafone, it was essential to view and monitor all data activity within one portal and utilise ‘real-time’ data tools to measure individual and group SIM activity ensuring all connected devices remain in check. Wireless Logic’s SIMPro platform created the perfect fit for these requirements, allowing the Rea Valley team to observe up to the minute data usage. This was further supported by SIM subscription aggregation giving Rea Valley accurate forecasts of expenditure when spread across the entire connected fleet. SIMPro also gave Rea Valley control in provisioning SIMs on a ‘just-in-time’ basis - connecting a new SIM-enabled receiver onto a John Deere asset is a simple click of a button on the SIMPro platform, ensuring contracts commence on the day of delivery and not before.

For Rea Valley Tractors, providing an end-to-end communication solution for its customers has delivered numerous benefits to the business as a whole. Chris Jacques continues: “Precision Farming relies heavily on evolving technology where ‘always-on’ connectivity is key to keeping operators happy. With us now controlling and monitoring each connected device, we can assure our customer operators that their field-based machines will perform at their optimum level, receiving the RTK data on time, all the time, so that yields are the best they can be. In partnering with Wireless Logic, we have found an organisation that has the right platform infrastructure and connectivity choices – all under one roof. It’s the ability to control the entire connectivity process that gives us the confidence to market Rea Valley RTK communications effectively. Delivering this as a rolled up serviced means that we have to be mindful of costs. By accessing the complete platform and using competitive tariffs that have been developed to the precise data usage needs of our fleet, we are now operating at better efficiency levels where our monthly expenditure for this mission-critical service is both manageable and competitive.”

For Wireless Logic Group, Justin Godfrey-Cass, Business Development Manager comments: “Rea Valley Tractors are one of a growing number of John Deere partners who have chosen to work with us in delivery a managed connectivity service for their RTK solution. By tailoring our platform to Rea Valley’s regional solution, we have created an integrated scalable approach that meets their business objectives. For the Rea Valley team, it’s single source provision, backed by the considerable Wireless Logic resource and supported by strict SLAs.”

As the roll-out to a connected solutions model continues, Rea Valley are encouraging legacy users of its RTK network to switch from their own SIM provider back to the managed service solution provided by them. Without exception, all operators are taking Rea Valley up on this more resilient and reliable connected offering. And as more and more operators turn to Rea Valley, the latest incarnation of the RTK-based receiver is a dual-SIM version. Designed for operators whose areas are not in strong single network locations, Rea Valley has integrated a dual network router into the receiver bundle, ensuring that in cases of weaker signal, the device will failover to the stronger network. For the operator, it’s business as usual, with no financial penalty incurred due to their location.

For more details please contact our precision farming team on 01743 289100