When cellular carriers started transitioning from 3G to 4G, agricultural Internet of Things (IoT) company Hortau needed to overhaul its software and in-field devices. Additionally, Hortau wanted to remediate the challenges, such as unreliable connectivity, battery conservation, and timeintensive maintenance, for IoT solutions deployed in rural areas. The company turned to AWS Partner Soracom to migrate its IoT system to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and apply a smart agriculture solution for its existing and next-generation of device fleets. With Soracom’s help and using AWS IoT services, Hortau implemented more efficient data exchange, increased network and data security, streamlined device onboarding, reduced maintenance, and improved device-to-cloud connectivity.
Hortau’s IoT Growing Pains Demand a New Plan
Founded in 2002, Hortau is a North American leader in wireless and web-based irrigation management systems for the agricultural industry. Hortau utilizes its cellular devices, including the patented tensiometer sensor, which gathers precise agronomic data, to provide growers with a comprehensive understanding of crop health. As demand for its IoT system grew, Hortau wanted to bypass the resource, compute, and redundancy limitations of its on-premises technology. But that alone wouldn’t solve the IoT challenges of serving rural areas, which include a lack of reliable connectivity infrastructure and challenges to maintenance access.
Hortau’s work with multiple cellular carriers in the US and Canada—serving large, remote areas—complicated operations in several ways. It faced fragmented billing, complex device onboarding, unreliable connectivity, and mounting roaming charges, all of which made scaling difficult. So, when cellular carriers announced the move from 3G networks to 4G, Hortau knew that its move to the cloud would require building a new 4G-compatible solution. This would require the team to allocate time away from value-adding features. But creating a system that could work with existing customers’ SIM cards—in addition to next-generation devices—would demand months of intensive work. That was time Hortau didn’t have.
All the services AWS offers made it possible to build the foundation of our technological future.”
Research and Development Director, Hortau
Moving to the Cloud Shines a Light on Possibilities
Hortau decided to move its platform to AWS and collaborated with AWS Partner Soracom, which makes cloud-based connectivity solutions for IoT businesses, to assist with the migration. In its re architecture, Hortau connected its devices to its AWS infrastructure using AWS IoT Core.
“We chose AWS mainly for its flexibility. It was easy to move what we had, and once we were there, we discovered that all the services AWS offers made it possible to build the foundation of our technological future,” said Nicolas Gendron, research and development director at Hortau.
A Flexible Solution Yields an Energy- and Cost-efficient Data Harvest
Because Hortau’s devices serve rural areas, they require longer-range cellular coverage, which can drain battery life. To conserve battery power, the connected devices only periodically collect and send agronomical data. Soracom was able to further minimize the devices’ cellular data and battery consumption by migrating Hortau's fleet and data exchange to a protocol conversion and authentication offloading service on the Soracom platform. It also created a core, consolidated cellular network using cloud integrations with all the major carriers to simplify billing and reduce costs.
Now, Hortau can integrate its devices with AWS IoT Core without having an AWS SDK integrated into its device firmware. It also eliminates the need to pre-provision devices in the factory, saving time and money. Shifting the encryption workload to Soracom’s device to-cloud secured infrastructure creates a more efficient data exchange that substantially extends battery lifespan and reduces expenses associated with data encryption.
With AWS and Soracom, it has become easier to scale the company and be more profitable.
CEO and Co-Founder, Hortau
A 400% Boost in Efficiency Sows the Seeds for Easier Expansion
Soracom connected the new fleet of devices to Hortau’s AWS environment and Soracom’s platform, which is built natively on top of AWS. In addition, the scalability and self-service model of the Soracom platform meant that Hortau no longer needs to engage in time intensive onboarding processes with different carriers. “By reducing that heavy lifting on Hortau’s side, the company could accelerate its projects,” said Kenta Yasukawa, co-founder and chief technology officer of Soracom. The flexibility and simplicity of the new system reduced the amount—and cost—of maintenance, translating to a four-fold gain in overall efficiency.
From Months to Hours: Building Secure Connectivity in a Fraction of the Time
Improving network and data security was a priority for Hortau, so Soracom created a more isolated network for Hortau’s devices. Hortau uses Soracom's Virtual Private Gateway that supports Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) peering to enable its edge devices and Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (Amazon EC2) instances to communicate using private IP addresses. This creates a secure, bi-directional cellular connection between Hortau’s edge devices and its Amazon VPC. While setting up a private APN backed by a VPN with a traditional cellular provider can take months, Soracom’s native VPC peering support enables Hortau to set up a secure private network isolated from the public Internet in minutes. “We can launch and shut down the Virtual Private Gateway for a customer's given environment any time, on demand,” said Gendron.
For its new generation of connected devices and with the Soracom solution, Hortau uses SIM cards as an authentication credential to access AWS endpoints, completely removing the need to pre -provision device stations and manage credentials, further improving security and reducing overhead.
Better Technology Lays the Groundwork for Expansion
Solutions from Soracom helped improve connectivity, increase security, simplify device setup, and optimize the energy consumption of Hortau’sin-field devices. Collectively, these benefits have supported Hortau’s ability to serve more customers and develop new features with confidence. “Since engaging with Soracom, we’ve more than doubled the number of devices in the field with half the technicians,” said Jocelyn Boudreau, chief executive officer and co-founder of Hortau. “With AWS and Soracom, it has become easier to scale the company and be more profitable.”
Hortau is planning to use additional carrier coverage through a new subscription service from Soracom, which facilitates access to the three largest US carriers. “We’re looking at shifting more to AWS IoT Core and helping Hortau expand by pushing new subscriptions to existing SIMs over the air,” said Brenna Belletti, a solution architect at Soracom. “This will also expand their cellular coverage without having to worry about managing device SIMs.”
Hortau is a leading precision irrigation company that empowers high-value crop growers with innovative solutions to optimize crop health and maximize the efficiency of their inputs by connecting the soil and the crop growing environment.
AWS Services Used
- Boosted overall efficiency by 400% because of simplified endpoint onboarding and reduced maintenance and data costs
- Doubled the scale of devices while requiring 50% fewer technicians
- Improved connectivity using a consolidated cloud-first platform
About AWS Partner Soracom
Founded by AWS veterans, Soracom helps tech innovators connect devices over cellular to a secure, global network without limits to scalability. The company provides a smart IoT platform for data communication using cloud-native services, serving businesses in the agriculture, energy, consumer, manufacturing, transportation, and medical industries.
Published August 2023