#1 The Network. DigiFarm is a privately owned company offering GPS corrections for all brands of GPS rovers. Our rich background in GPS architecture, IT and networking offer a unique perspective into high-end GPS correction deployment, where uptime and performance are maximized. Unlike many state operated networks, which schedule maintenance at their own convenience and experience untimely outages, DigiFarm has taken many strides to maximize the customer experience. We operate a Virtual Base Network, sometimes referred to in the industry as a VRS style network. This means we have an array of base stations, usually spaced 40-50 miles apart, all simultaneously feeding data to clusters of servers. The data is processed, a model is generated and GPS corrections are then broadcast to the end user in the field. This type of service provides better redundancy than single base networks and higher accuracy levels as the client moves farther away from physical base stations.
#2 The Base Station Receiver. There are several options when it comes to choosing a base station, but not all bases are created equal. Most base stations today come standard with GPS and GLONASS. However, in an effort to “future proof” a network as best as possible, you should also consider a base station that supports Galileo and Beidou. When the industry is ready to take advantage of these four constellations, you want to be able to service those customers.
DigiFarm recommends Multi-Constellation receivers, which use proven Trimble GPS engines, as GNSS base stations. These are four constellation receivers capable of tracking all existing signals available today. DigiFarm accepts other brands of bases into the network, but they must meet specific standards. Every base station within the network is required to track GPS and GLONASS at a minimum.
#3 Antenna and Mounting. Hardware and installations are important attributes that cannot be overlooked in a network solution. Multipath is a common error source that base stations are left to deal with in many common installations. Several measures can be taken to overcome this obstacle, the most common being an antenna upgrade. In an effort to offer the lowest out of the box, base station cost to dealers, some network service providers today are using low cost rover style antennas using controversial antenna mounts that have no ability to deal with multipath. Though these GPS solutions might have an attractive low cost of entry, there is a very high price to be paid if the network does not function correctly.
DigiFarm has chosen to use robotically calibrated, NGS certified (National Geodetic Survey), high-end choke ring antennas, fastened to the antenna mast with a leveling mount, on installations that have metal surfaces in close proximity. The practice is to strive for NGS style installations. Though not always practical or possible, high quality hardware and high quality installations can help alleviate some of the environmental characteristics that can negatively impact the end users’ experience. DigiFarm works hard to ensure installations are held to standards that yield accuracies expected by the survey and construction industry.
#4 Coverage Area. When considering a GPS network, coverage area is obviously important. Be sure that you can travel across the entire coverage area without inconveniences, such as having to manually switch base stations, calling another base host to roam into a new area and remembering base station IDs. Some networks geo-fence the area you’re allowed to roam across, charging you more to travel into new areas.
Please refer to the DigiFarm website to verify that you have coverage in your area. If you fall inside the coverage area, a DigiFarm subscription allows you seamlessly roam across the entire network without incurring any additional fees.
#5 Tech Support. Tech support is key to maintaining a healthy relationship with customers. Let’s face it, in this age of technology, many customers rely heavily on a knowledgeable dealer to support their machinery line. DigiFarm has a diverse history in precision agriculture. Not only do we operate a diverse network to deliver high accuracy GPS corrections, but our techs also have hands on experience installing, programming and troubleshooting the products and services that we sell. They’ve spent time in the cab to understand the needs and desires of end users during their busiest times of the year. That knowledge level and support is key to supporting and training dealers so that they can maintain and grow the confidence of their customers. You typically get one chance to offer a customer a GPS solution because it’s got to be reliable when they go to the field. Make sure your service provider has a PROVEN TRACK RECORD, not just a good sales pitch.
DigiFarm strives to always be there for our customers. We encourage all tech support calls to be channeled through our support line where an operator will direct your requests to the correct technician. Our staff answers support calls “after hours” on their personal cell phones to ensure that your needs are always met. High quality, after-hours support is a rare commodity to find in most of the OEM offerings today. In an effort to further our support, DigiFarm will be unveiling a new dealer portal to enhance the tech support experience.
#6 Ability to Work with All Brands. RTK corrections are broadcast in several different formats.RTCM is the most widely adopted by most rovers. However, some still prefer to use CMR as well. There are other rovers that use neither of these and elect to use their own proprietary format, such as John Deere. It is important to verify which formats a network supports when trying to determine if a rover is able to be serviced by that network.
One of DigiFarm’s strengths is our ability to support all major brands of GPS receivers. Many GPS service providers broadcast a default CMR and RTCM message for rovers to use. As mentioned before, not all GPS receivers are created equal, so we don’t treat them as such. DigiFarm customizes the data stream for each brand of GPS rover in an effort to optimize the performance of that rover.
DigiFarm is the only third-party company to support an in house GPS and GLONASS John Deere network solution for John Deere 3000 and 6000 GPS receivers. This means you have a one-stop shop for JD cellular hardware as well as the RTK signal, all supported under one roof.
DigiFarm is the only network to create customized data streams for Ag Leader Paradymes and Geosteers, providing enhanced performance over other “network solutions” within the industry.
DigiFarm is the first company to offer compatibility with iOS devices. As more iPads find their way into tractors, it seems inevitable that we’d leverage them in any way that we can. DigiFarm is proud to support the Beacon Bluetooth, capable of plugging into any major GPS rover available on the market, to stream GPS corrections via the iPad, taking advantage of the iPads already existing data plan, another industry first!
Proprietary server architecture and software — all developed in house — give DigiFarm an upper hand over standard “off the shelf” software solutions, which are limited in functionality by the vendors’ capabilities. Without the ability to develop custom code for new rovers and applications, a network can encounter several problems as new rovers and functionality are released to the market. Be sure that your network provider is flexible in their ability to react to market changes in hardware and functionality.
#7 Contracts. When considering a GPS service provider, it is always important to read the fine print. As there are more players entering the GPS market, some companies are using wordage in their contracts that should raise concern, such as a service provider that will not allow dealers a way to terminate a contract REGARDLESS OF PERFORMANCE, prohibits dealers from selling ANY competing GPS correction sources, and the service provider has first right of refusal to purchase base station hardware back at 20% of dealer cost. The list goes on, but why would a service provider put such strict provisions in place if they are confident in their product and their ability to service dealer?
DigiFarm has contracts to protect bases, dealers and customers, none of which are restrictive in manner or limit your options as a dealer. It is DigiFarm’s mindset that we offer dealers a highly functional tool that is competitively priced for their toolbox and if it works well, they’ll reach for that tool most often. There are no hidden stipulations or fine print that other networks carry.
#8 Accuracies. Accuracy is one of the more difficult specs to put in writing as it varies greatly depending on many factors. Things such as installation integrity, quality of hardware used and distance between base stations are the most commonly thought of factors. However, there are several other influences that DigiFarm takes into account as well to optimize performance that many other networks overlook. The more variables that can be read, the more accurate the model that can be created.
DigiFarm did not set out to build a network for agriculture alone, but the survey and construction industries also leverages these network corrections and expect better tolerances than agriculture does. When paying close attention to all of the millimeters that can influence error, a network service provider can offer a GPS correction source capable of servicing all industries to meet or exceed their expectations. With clients running in all regions of North America making use of both horizontal and vertical GPS corrections from DigiFarm, the proof of performance is on the map. Without success, the map wouldn’t be expanding at the rate it is.
#9 Compatibility with Other Hardware in the Industry. When choosing a network service provider, it is important to ensure that the network is compatible with all brands of modems customers may use. OEM modems will do telematics or data transfers, but as for RTK every modem, other than Deere, will work on any RTK network.
DigiFarm works with most brands of modems on the market today. Tested and verified modems that are confirmed compatible with the DigiFarm network are the factory Case/New Holland (AM53) modem, Trimble DCM-300, AgLeader 6500 Relay, Ag Leader Paradyme and Geosteer modems, AGCO’s Topcon integrated modem, and Intuicom Bridges. DigiFarm also features very cost competitive hardware solutions that plug and play with ALL major brands of GPS rovers. Some OEM’s will explain that DigiFarm RTK corrections are not compatible with their modem, which is incorrect. They might also state how difficult it is to activate data plans and manage RTK subscriptions. This is also incorrect. The fact is, DigiFarm has the industries easiest and most hassle free subscription program, offering both cellular data plans as well as GPS subscriptions without the hassle of worrying about client’s services being terminated because they’ve exceeded their service window. All GPS subscriptions automatically renew unless told to cancel or no payment received within billing terms. No Data plans or subscriptions will ever be turned off without prior notice.
#10 Price. Price is an important factor in your decision, but it shouldn’t be the primary reason when deciding on a network service provider. Remember, a return on investment means very little if customers aren’t happy with service. There are many different pricing methods based on accuracy, length of subscription, type of data requested, area of coverage and access to additional data other than real time corrections. All corrections providers should be able to provide pricing information for comparison.
There are two topics of discussion when considering DigiFarm as a network service provider.
- Where DigiFarm has existing coverage in place, DigiFarm works directly with dealers to service customers. This requires no upfront investment cost to dealers to take advantage of reselling GPS corrections. DigiFarm leads the industry when it comes to pricing. In addition to offering industry competitive prices, dealer discounts are available on every subscription sold. Dealers also make margin on each data plan and piece of hardware sold as well, each half the price of competing GPS hardware companies.
- In areas where DigiFarm does not yet have coverage, there are possible opportunities for dealers to invest in the DigiFarm network. DigiFarm sells base stations at a subsidized rate of (Starting mid-August 2016) $6,500 for the standard package, which consists of a multi-Constellation receiver (powered by a Trimble GPS engine), high end choke ring antenna and leveling mount (accessories extra). In a surveyor environment where additional receiver functionality is desirable, there is a slightly more expensive professional base station kit available as well. Base stations are delivered with a minimally binding contract to protect the dealer, customer and DigiFarm. The contract outlines how revenue is generated from third party subscriptions sold by DigiFarm or other dealers. DigiFarm charges a minimal annual maintenance fee of $300 per base that’s in the VBN network.
The complete solution that DigiFarm offers is in a category all by itself. The factory OEM solution might be pushed as the best fit, but if you look between the cracks, there are several shortcomings in terms of performance, flexibility, compatibility with legacy systems, support and network experience, all of which should be important factors when determining a network provider. Unlike many network service providers on the market today, DigiFarm is a privately owned company, whose owners are from the farm. The products and services being sold are developed from the ground up, paying close attention to ease of use, functionality and cost, all with the farmer’s best interest in mind. In a competitive industry, DigiFarm continues to bring new innovative solutions to market to answer farmers requests.
The DigiFarm Beacon v3.0 is the industry’s first and ONLY Bluetooth device to be MFi (Apple) certified to stream RTK data using a cellular capable iPad to all major brands of GPS rovers. Because it’s certified by Apple, we are able to use high power class 1 Bluetooth to optimize communication performance between the Beacon and iPad. Devices that haven’t been through this certification run the risk of limited bandwidth, interrupted data flow and reduced operating range. The Beacon 3.0 is designed to work with all major GPS rovers including Ag Leader, Trimble, Topcon, Raven, Outback, Leica and John Deer SF3000 and SF6000. The primary driver behind this technology utilizing the iPad for multiple applications. This solution eliminates the cost of a dedicated data plan to lower the overall cost of the GPS correction signal. Cost of a Beacon is $650 MSRP, plus an adapter if needed.
If a customer would prefer a dedicated device, DigiFarm has developed the Gateway modem as a hard wired “turn key” solution. When the operator turns the key on to power the GPS rover, the modem also receives power and GPS corrections begin flowing to the GPS receiver. The Gateway works with all major GPS rover brands and has an internal GPS receiver to maintain compatibility with GPS receivers that are not capable of sending a position into the GPS network. Each Gateway modem features the ability to remotely access the modem for troubleshooting or reprogramming. The Gateway modem has a list price of $1,000 MSRP or less. Dealer net pricing for kits start under $600.