How this South African agritech company transformed complex SIM management into a hassle free workflow

*This article was featured on BICS.

Faced with increasing climate changes, reduced resources, and a growing population, modern agriculture is under constant pressure to use water resources more efficiently. To overcome the problem, the adoption of new IoT-based smart agriculture applications is imperative to lower the cost, improve efficiency, maximize production, and enhance the quality of the crops.

One of the most dynamic companies working in this field is AquaCheck. Their soil moisture probes lead agriculture companies to improve on-farm irrigation management. To deliver actionable insights and measure the moisture and temperature of the soil accurately, AquaCheck needed an easy-to-use online SIM management platform capable of managing and monitoring connectivity even in rural areas. The company found the reliability and control it was looking for in SIMcontrol.

Improving agriculture practices with well-designed probes

Founded in 2002 by the entrepreneur and inventor Arthur Pickworth, AquaCheck is headquartered in Durbanville, South Africa, and has grown from a local manufacturer into a global business with a sophisticated team. With its focus on soil moisture management, the company is at the forefront of agrotechnology innovation.

Improving agriculture practices with a well-designed, sophisticated and wide range of probes, AquaCheck provides a turnkey solution with a device and software system for remote monitoring of soil moisture and soil temperature.

AquaCheck’s probes consist of four key components:

  • Soil moisture probe, which continually monitors and logs the moisture and temperature of the soil
  • Telemetry device which transmits data via SIMcontrol-managed GSM network.
  • Soil moisture management software
  • Agronomy service

The probes come in different lengths, from 200 mm up to 1,5 m long. They are connected to a data logger which collects the data, stores it and uploads it through a cellular GSM network. Data from the soil goes to the software and a farmer or grower can look at the data and decide in the first place if they need to irrigate, and how much to irrigate. ‘It’s not a guessing game, it’s based on actual data’ says Leonard Hein, AquaCheck’s Agronomy and Technical Services Manager.

Challenges: Reliable data connectivity in remote agricultural fields

AquaCheck started supplying their data loggers primarily for the South African market, and they used prepaid Vodacom SIM cards. At a later stage, they also started to export their data loggers to overseas companies. All the probes work with SIM cards to connect to the internet and to communicate with their software platform.

They were using standard contract SIM cards, and the number of deployed SIMs were not many. Within just a single month, SIM cards inside the probes were stolen, and the company lost thousands of Rands. They immediately stopped all contract SIMs and switched over to regular prepaid SIMs.

Making a solid infrastructure with SIMcontrol

For AquaCheck, prepaid SIMs were easy to manage initially, and they worked in the field. However, after a couple of months, the company ended up with a nightmare: it was tough to know when to recharge the SIMs. They started looking for a solution that would eliminate the problem of monitoring and managing their company SIMs. With technical guidance from SIMcontrol, AquaCheck tested GSM operators Vodacom and MTN on its soil moisture probes. They used SIMcontrol’s network-agnostic platform to test various SIM options. The results were quite promising. AquaCheck decided to use SIMcontrol’s Business Prepaid service to better manage their SIM at scale.

Flickswitch also introduced AquaCheck to some Global Roaming SIM options. They started using IoT roaming SIMs for deployments in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Egypt, and many countries in Europe.

What they found most effective is that global roaming is easy to use and flexible, with the possibility of creating custom data recharges while also helping them overcome issues with the reliability of connectivity in different countries. The SIMs furthermore gave them coverage across two networks in most countries.

They also integrated an API, which allowed them to see the end-user balance. With a value that the user can display, their customers can see how much data there is left on each device.

‘This is truly a Game Changer. The integration of SIMcontrol into AquaCheck probes allows us to manage and monitor them with ease. We totally rely on SIMcontrol with our eyes closed! It is a completely hassle-free SIM controller.’

Leonard Hein, AquaCheck’s Agronomy and Technical Services Manager

Continuous innovation fuelled by NB-IoT

Looking ahead, AquaCheck is closely following the developments of NB-IoT being offered on the SIMcontrol platform to create and distribute new technological solutions that contribute to more efficient and sustainable agriculture. This will mean significantly improving the power consumption of probes on the data logger side, the capacity and the efficiency, especially in deep coverage.

Easy to use for IoT business owners & employees

An invaluable benefit of using SIMcontrol is controlling multiple SIM types from different networks in probes simultaneously. It is a highly developed platform that enables automated recharges, schedule rules, detailed reporting and SIM balance monitoring. SIMcontrol offers the selections of Business Prepaid, Managed APN or Global Roaming SIM types across several mobile networks.

With real-time SIM-level monitoring with spending caps, AquaCheck knows precisely where their business stands in terms of IoT data connectivity.