u-blox: we help our customers reduce their costs.

Interview with Thomas Nigg, VP Product Marketing, u-blox

u-blox: we help our customers reduce their costs.
GBN: News from u-blox are prolific these days: IPO, release of a new GPS chip, u-blox5. Let’s start with u-blox5. What is it?
Thomas Nigg: u-blox5 is the successor to our Antaris 4 GPS receiver. We wanted to take the technology to the next level by offering the consumer GPS industry a 50-channel chip enabling incredibly fast acquisition time. u-blox 5 boasts 32 channels exclusively dedicated to signal acquisition, which allows all 32 GPS satellites to be searched in parallel. This results in exceptional acquisition time, even for weak signals. The remaining 18 channels are optimized for signal tracking. The result is even better navigation accuracy and multipath mitigation than our leading Antaris 4 technology. u-blox 5's architecture is the product of careful optimization of all components, producing a chip that features low system costs, a very small Bill-of-Material and no need for expensive Flash EPROMs. In addition, u-blox 5 supports our free AssistNow Offline and AssistNow Online A-GPS services. The Offline service provides assistance data that is valid for up to 14 days. Users can thus enjoy boosted satellite acquisition performance for extended time periods and only need to occasionally connect to the Internet to update the assistance data. In contrast, AssistNow Online downloads new assistance data packets at every device start-up. Both solutions are globally available and are network independent. u-blox 5 requires no additional hardware for AssistNow data; ROM-based receivers also profit from AssistNow Online and Offline, making u-blox 5 even more attractive for cost sensitive applications.

GBN: How do you compare with full software GPS?
Thomas Nigg: Full software GPS technology is not yet mature enough. A number of companies are claiming to have products that will soon be available. I am still waiting to see full software products that offer performance coming even close to that of one of our receivers.

GBN: u-blox focuses then mainly on hardware?
Thomas Nigg: u-blox’ concept is to develop stand-alone GPS hardware products. The integration of stand-alone hardware GPS receivers in devices is straightforward, which one cannot claim for host-based or software GPS. Software GPS could become a good solution for processors with high MIPS numbers, such as for example laptop computers. As soon as one begins with smaller, portable devices with miniature antennas and smaller processors, good GPS performance can only be achieved with hardware. Having said this, I’d like to stress that u-blox is not only a hardware provider. The differentiation between a good and a poor GPS receiver is largely determined by the software. This is also true for stand-alone GPS. We at u-blox are very proud to have a team of highly experienced software engineers fine-tuning our silicon to achieve the highest level of performance.

u-blox: we help our customers reduce their costs.
u-blox: we help our customers reduce their costs.
GBN: The industry has seen a drastic reduction in prices. What is your response to this?
Thomas Nigg: The flexibility of our products allows customers to tailor the GPS receiver to their specific needs. We give customers the choice of TCXO or crystal oscillators. The latter is significantly cheaper and provides excellent performance as long as the receiver is connected to a good antenna, whereas TCXOs are recommended for miniature antennas or weak signal environments. Some of our customers need to be able to upgrade firmware in the field. We provide them with receivers equipped with Flash memory. Other customers prefer lower costs and decide to use the ROM firmware built into the modules or chipsets. We offer modules and chips. Modules are perfect for customers entering the market with small to medium volumes or planning a very short time to market. Our modules are designed for easy migration between technologies without the need to redesign boards. This is a tremendous advantage. Designing with chips on the other hand can result in BOM cost savings, provided that the production volumes are very high. We have had customers begin with a module design in order to achieve the fastest possible time to market, and then switching to chip designs when the volumes picked up. Every customer has the possibility to make their own choice between flexibility, performance and costs. u-blox is the only company offering this kind of flexibility to its customers.

GBN: How do you see the GPS market evolving?
Thomas Nigg: I have been in the GPS industry for 8 years. I have seen many newcomers and many dropouts. Competition will remain fierce leading to even more dropouts. Only companies offering convincing products and sufficient product volume to minimize costs will survive. The GPS market will continue to grow. Smart and feature phone will provide the most volume, followed by ultra mobile PCs and laptops. I also see the automotive market as a good opportunity for growth. The GPS sales in this industry will increase thanks to in-vehicle navigation systems, more in-car black boxes and safety measures such as the eCall initiative in Europe.

GBN: Thank you.

Tuesday, November 13th 2007
Alexandre Saltiel

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