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CHANGING SIGNAL: Wireless companies are dropping support of older standards, which will limit future access to cellular RTK correction service. Upgrades are available.

Changing wireless rules affect RTK

Farmers who use cellular correction for precision ag may need to make a tech upgrade.

The notices from wireless companies may go unnoticed by farmers, but they will affect your operation if you use cellular RTK correction. The key is that wireless carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, are ending their support of older, slower network standards.

The focus going forward will be on 4G LTE and eventually 5G technologies. Farmers who turned to cellular RTK correction in the past few years may find their systems rely on the older standards. “What these companies are saying is that they’re not turning off the services until 2019, but we are seeing that they’re phasing out the service in some market areas,” says Tom Foley, president and CEO, Intuicom, a maker of cellular communication equipment used in precision ag applications.

Cellular RTK has become more common as a range of providers turned to this approach for increased precision, versus RTK tower networks installed around the country. With cellular RTK, it’s possible to achieve the sub-inch precision and repeatability often associated with the tower systems. But if your cellular correction transmitter is going to rely on the older standards, chances are it’s going to stop working soon.

On-farm impact
Foley explains that for farmers who turn their service on and off, there could be a surprise soon — perhaps as early as this season — where you won’t be able to turn that service back on. It’s common for cellular RTK accounts to be part-timers for use on those networks. “We know 2019 is a long way off, but if you turn that device off next fall, it may not turn on the next year,” Foley says.

He does have an interest in this change in wireless carrier news. His company, Intuicom, makes the RTK Bridge that uses 4G LTE and would allow you to update your system. “We had one of the first devices on the market designed to support cellular RTK correction to GPS guidance back in 2010,” he says. With an Intuicom box, it’s pretty simple to use the cellular network for the correction signal. “We wanted to work on just getting a robust cellular connection and allow the operator to set up which network to log into, and make it as easy and functional as possible,” he says.

In the past year, Foley says cellular RTK has been well-adopted, and that the RTK Bridge his company offers even allows for the farmer to have Wi-Fi in the cab for using the tractor or combine as a hot spot for accessing the internet. That has value for systems that allow you to move information from a machine to the cloud for future data management.

“With our system, you can get better connectivity than over your cellphone for a Wi-Fi hot spot, because we designed the product for this purpose and use a higher-gain external antenna system,” Foley says. “This can be a communication hub for the farmer.”

Changing systems
With the faster-changing world of wireless connectivity, the idea of a third-party source for that correction signal might make sense. “In the beginning, all the manufacturers started to build their own cellular modems,” Foley says. “But they’ve found really quickly that it’s difficult to keep up with changing systems and certifications.”

He says that Intuicom works well with all brands of ag guidance, and can provide the RTK signal farmers need for those precision ag systems that lean on the wireless network. If your system relies on the 1G/2G/3G spectrum for correction, you may want to consider a modem upgrade.

Foley notes that his company is offering a trade-in credit to help farmers upgrade. The RTK Bridge-X Trade-in Program lets users earn a $500 trade-in credit on any 4G LTE RTK Bridge-X when trading in any existing Intuicom RTK Bridge-M, Bridge-C, Intuicom 3G RTK Bridge-X, Trimble DCM-300, Sierra Wireless GX450, Sierra Wireless Raven Airlink, or Digi Connect. Other modems may qualify.

Foley acknowledges that his company benefits from a farm upgrade, but also notes wireless companies are dropping support for older systems. “Farmers relying on cellular RTK will have to upgrade their modems eventually, no matter what brand they choose,” he says.

Learn more at intuicom.com.

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