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So What's the Deal with WiFi Controllers? By Chris Pine

June 26, 2018 12:06 PM | Anonymous

“So What’s The Deal With WiFi Controllers?”

Remotely accessible, or as many today call “wifi” controllers, are the buzz of the industry.  Never has there been such a quick change to our control industry and at least initially, is being driven by the demand of end users of irrigation controllers.  Let’s look at some of the myths, facts, challenges and realities of this trend.

All of these controllers need “wifi”.  This is not true.  The vast majority of all of the irrigation controllers that are out there are for residential systems and most of the accessible residential controllers tend use wifi to access the controller, either directly through a receiver that is integrated into the controller or through a module that is plugged into the controller.  There are many reasons why this might be the best method of communication for that application. Other types of communication include cellular, which basically uses a sim card inserted in the controller or module for communication, a hard wired / ethernet type connection (which is rare and usually only an option on older traditional central control systems).  Another option is a bridge type communication technology that will have a transmitter / receiver that plugs into the router and a similar device that plugs into the controller and uses some other method to send info between those 2 points, possibly some type of RF, or Bluetooth or other format.  There are advantages and disadvantages of all of these types of communication technologies, but the important thing to understand is there are alternatives to making communication happen remotely and it doesn’t necessarily require there to be wifi available at the irrigation controller.

The end user wants these controllers.  This is true, and interestingly, even though it may not seem apparent to us, the end user or site manager usually has a reason why they want the access to the controller.  They may want this this technology to be able to micromanage the irrigation schedule even though we know, the most efficient irrigation usually occurs when irrigation controllers are allowed to water only when needed based on their information from sensors about the weather or the amount of moisture that is present in the soil. Yes, the end user may not really “need” to control these things from their phones, but it may mean that they don’t have to meet a contractor (and miss work) to service the system, or that the system will notify the contactor of a problem before it shows itself in the landscape or if they have flow sensing, the system can react to a leak and notify the service provider or they may be able to realize huge water savings with the controller receiving weather input from a weather station nearby.  In most markets, the residential and commercial end users and site managers have been very vocal and clear in requesting these types of controllers. Also interesting is that especially with a lot of the residential wifi enabled controllers, many of the manufacturers that developed these products had not been involved in our industry before.  This has been changing quickly but it is important for the contractor to understand and and accept this reality as they make decisions on which products to use and how they will work in their businesses.

“I will just hang the controller and let the end user deal with it from there.”  Initially, many contractors were installing these products and leaving it up to the end user to take it from there.  Sometimes, it worked out just fine, but many times when there were problems (and many times they were communication problems), if the contractor walked away, the end user would find a contractor that was capable of servicing these types of products.  In fact, many contractors are taking advantage of training opportunities on this technology from manufacturers, industry associations and providers of professional irrigation training in our industry to quickly get up to speed.

There is no benefit to the contractor.  The general perception for most contractors is that this is something the end user wants to be able to turn their irrigation systems on with their phones and there is no real benefit for the contractor.  There are actually a whole bunch of benefits to the contractor and their business, such as:

  • Profitable upgrades and system renovations.
  • Seasonal agreements to monitor and inspect systems.
  • Cost reductions from avoiding “truck rolls” or running trucks to sites when you could do whatever adjustments or monitoring remotely.
  • Heck, your cell phone may now be a remote control for every controller.
  • Additional revenue from realizing needed repairs and from the “maintenance mindset” these types of programs create.
  • Additional “bonding” to end user and system for more loyalty and protection of the service account as an asset for the contractor.

As time goes on, the contractor will realize that this technology will absolutely turn out to be a game changer for their businesses and will only find more and more ways to benefit from these types of products.  The technology is totally new for us and there are many of us who came into this industry with our shovels and wrenches that have had to learn many new skills in dealing with the new equipment we are using.  Also, the speed that these changes have hit the industry have caught many off guard and scrambling to adapt, but we are seeing many forward- thinking contractors embrace this technology and also embrace what this can mean for how their business operates, its profitability and its value.

Chris Pine, CLWM, CID, CIC, CLIA, CIT, MCLP is a principal of www.BluGreenSolutions.com ,  a manufacturers’ rep group and www.IrriTechTraining.com , a professional online and in-person training resource for the irrigation industry.

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