While many dealerships still rely on their own tower-based RTK networks they’ve spent years building, some companies are transitioning to more cellular-based offerings for farm customers.

As cellular-based technology becomes more reliable, accurate and affordable, some dealerships are considering an increased commitment to the technology to fulfill their customers’ needs. 

While many dealerships still rely on their own tower-based RTK networks they’ve spent years building, precision specialists like Brice Hennings with Central Illinois Ag in Clinton, Ill., are already almost completely out of that business. 

“Our location used to have about 4 or 5 base stations, but we just sold our last one to a customer,” says Hennings. “The radio broke on it and I got it fixed, but I had nowhere to bill the repair costs to. I decided to sell it to one of the only customers I had left using the tower. We’re pretty much out of the tower-based RTK business.”

The 4 location Case IH dealership group has transitioned the majority of their customers into either RTX or cellular-based RTK, and the shift has bolstered the company’s bottom line. For 9 months straight, guidance unlocks and upgrades have been top sellers dealership-wide while sales of other precision equipment has declined slightly. 

“We’ve had a lot of people upgrading antennas this summer, and many of them are looking for accuracy upgrades because customers tend to complain about guess rows,” says Hennings. “We’re even better at selling unlocks for accuracy because if we look at our top 10 parts, the number 3 seller across the whole dealership is an OmniSTAR upgrade.”

Moving away from tower-based RTK is saving the dealership money on tower network upkeep and allows Hennings to focus on unlock and subscription sales. He says that some still developing their own networks may feel the move is slightly premature, but he sees the field of cellular-based RTK advancing rapidly.

“We’ve had a couple customers get into cellular RTK and it’s worked really well for them once we got it going,” he says. “We became a DigiFarm VBN dealer last fall because we had guys asking about it.”

DigiFarm unveiled The Beacon at the 2015 Farm Progress Show. The system is the industry’s first Apple MFi certified Bluetooth Device. MFi, which stands for ‘made for iPhone, iPod or iPad’, is an Apple licensing program for developers of hard- and software components that work with iDevices. 

The product streams RTK correction data to any GPS receiver without needing radios or cellular modems — using an iPad in the cab instead. Tablets, specifically the iPad, have become more widely used as in-cab tools and manufacturers and service providers are targeting tablets and other mobile devices as platforms for their products.

“We chose to push into the iOS device market, as well as the Android market for a few reasons with the biggest reason being reliability,” says DigiFarm’s president, Dave Dusanek. “Precision has made a huge push in this direction, and our goal has been to use a device that already exists so the farmer can maximize the use that they get out of the devices they already have.” 

At least in the short-term, Hennings says that customers will likely look to make economical additions to their operations, and the potential to avoid the expense of an additional data plan or extra modem in the cab can be persuasive sales tools. 

 “I’ve got a customer who has a subscription running out this fall and I’m going to work on getting him the Bluetooth device because it’s almost a no-brainer for someone with both unlocks and an antenna,” says Hennings. “The customer can get back to the same accuracy they had, and they won’t have a big investment in equipment, and we won’t have a big investment in base stations.”