How a “missed call” in India can control a farm’s water use

Using text messages or iPhone apps to manage physical devices isn’t all that uncommon — think Zipcar’s door unlocking app or Verizon’s new apps to remotely manage thermostats and lighting. But in India sometimes it’s the “missed call” (the fee-less “ring once, hang up”) that’s driving the platform for managing devices, and in some cases precious resources like water and energy.

This week, an Indian site focused on Indian entrepreneurs and startups, profiled a startup called RealTech Systems which has developed an irrigation control system for farmers that uses cell phone networks and missed calls. Essentially a farmer installs the company’s Real Mobile Starter Control product at an irrigation pump, and the device uses a SIM card and a missed call to turn the pump on and off remotely.

The problem, as puts it, is that many farmers have to walk many miles to get to the pumps for their farms, but once they reach the pump sometimes the power to run the irrigation system isn’t available — unreliable power is one of the biggest infrastructure problems throughout much of India. The farmers can use the product to check to see if power in the area is turned on, and then run the irrigation accordingly — from miles away.

As I explained in an article late last year after a reporting trip to India with the Geeks on a Plane group, the missed call ecosystem has emerged around the abundance of callers who aren’t willing to spend on making a call, or sending a text, so they call a company or friend to signal something pre-arranged — and that’s free. It’s very common across India and companies like Zipdial have developed the missed call into a platform for a host of services from advertising to delivery of goods to information. Picture a person who wants to buy tea calls up the local tea seller and sends him three missed calls to indicate he wants to buy three cups worth.

In the case of RealTech Systems they’re moving the missed call beyond just communication between companies and customers (or between friends) and linking it to resource management. Helping companies and people more smartly manage resources like energy and water will also be a very important trend in the coming years for the country and its 1.2 billion population. has a full interview with the founder of RealTech Systems, T. Kumar, so check that out.