SoftBank Corp. & u-blox to collaborate on global GNSS augmentation services

01 November 2021

u-blox SoftBank Group logos
u-blox SoftBank Group logos

Companies to develop common GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) augmentation services for Japan, the USA & Europe.

Technology-focused Japanese multinational conglomerate, SoftBank Corp. (“SoftBank”), ALES Corp. (“ALES”) and Swiss-based u-blox AG (“u-blox”) have announced their signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to cooperate in GNSS (GNSS is a term used for Global Navigation Satellite Systems, such as Quasi-Zenith Satellite System [QZSS] MICHIBIKI, GPS, GLONASS and Galileo) augmentation services for global markets. ALES Corp. was established in July 2018 as a joint venture between SoftBank and ENABLER Ltd., a company that develops technology related to satellite positioning systems.

SoftBank provides the “ichimill” GNSS augmentation service in Japan, its subsidiary ALES operates a business that generates and delivers positioning correction data, and u-blox is a leading global provider of positioning services for the automotive, industrial and consumer markets. u-blox also provides electronic components for wireless communications and the “PointPerfect” GNSS augmentation service in Europe, the USA and other countries and regions. Through this business collaboration, SoftBank, ALES and u-blox will construct GNSS augmentation infrastructure for Japan, Europe and the USA, develop GNSS receivers and devices, and expand service areas.

Collaboration background
Since November 2019, SoftBank has been offering “ichimill”, a GNSS augmentation service that offers highly accurate positioning with a margin of error of only a few centimetres in the Japan market. In addition to providing technology that enables the generation and delivery of correction data, ALES has been offering its “Centimetre-level Positioning Service” to consumers in Japan since August 2020.

As a global technology leader in positioning and wireless communication, u-blox develops and provides a broad portfolio of chips and communication modules. From July 2021, u-blox began providing the PPP-RTK-based GNSS augmentation service “PointPerfect,” which is now available in the contiguous USA and Europe. RTK (Real Time Kinematic) is a positioning method that uses fixed stations and mobile stations to send and receive signals. Data is exchanged between the two points to achieve highly accurate positioning, with a margin of error of only a few centimetres. PPP-RTK is a positioning system that combines the Precise Point Positioning (PPP) method, which corrects based on signals received from multiple satellites without using fixed stations, and the RTK method. Following RTK, PPP-RTK has high positioning accuracy.

Since GNSS augmentation services like these are mainly offered separately by country and region, client companies, which include global automotive manufacturers and agricultural machinery manufacturers, sign up for separate service contracts in each country and region, making GNSS receiver configuration more complex. Seeing an opportunity to construct a usage environment that enables the provision of common GNSS augmentation services in Japan, the USA and Europe, SoftBank, ALES and u-blox agreed to a business collaboration.

Collaboration overview
To offer global GNSS augmentation services, SoftBank, ALES and u-blox will study the following initiatives.

1.    Develop a global correction data delivery infrastructure
GNSS augmentation services use correction methods that differ by country and region, and there is a wide variety of correction signal formats. In 2022, the three companies will consider developing correction data delivery infrastructure that delivers unified correction signal formats for use in any country or region. With this infrastructure, companies using “ichimill” or “PointPerfect” will be able to conduct GNSS augmentation if they are in range of both services, which will eliminate the need for separate service contracts by country or region.

2.    Jointly develop global-compatible devices
In addition to correction data delivery, an environment that allows for the easy implementation of GNSS receivers and other devices is necessary for GNSS augmentation services. In conjunction with the launch of “ichimill,” SoftBank developed its own GNSS receivers and is offering them in Japan at affordable prices for easy implementation. The three companies will consider jointly developing GNSS receivers and modules that can be used globally.

3.    Greater GNSS augmentation accuracy & service area expansion
The companies will collaborate closely to ensure that the performance of the services in all the regions covered are comparable. This is important to provide a consistent customer experience across all the regions. Furthermore, the three companies plan to study service expansion into other areas, including the Asia region.

SoftBank is promoting the deployment of Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) solutions that encompass satellite- and stratospheric-based telecommunication platforms to provide connectivity to the sea, the sky, developing countries and rural areas lacking Internet infrastructure so everyone around the world has access to the Internet. The three companies will consider the development of NTN-linked services, such as correction data delivery using small amounts of data in a way that is suitable for NTN bandwidths.

Makoto Noda, Vice President, Enterprise Business Unit (in charge of Solution Engineering) at SoftBank Corp. and President of ALES Corp. commented: “Breaking down the geographical fragmentation of the market for high-precision GNSS solutions will allow SoftBank to market the same product in the USA, Europe and Japan. As a one-stop-shop for all the required hardware and service components, including their GNSS augmentation service, u-blox is the ideal partner to help SoftBank and ALES achieve our vision of global expansion.

Franco De Lorenzo, Principal Product Manager, Services, at u-blox commented: “Our customers, which include automotive OEMs and Tier 1s, depend on globally consistent GNSS augmentation services to sell vehicles across multiple markets. So do the manufacturers of industrial IoT devices and unmanned aerial and ground vehicles. We are confident that our collaboration with SoftBank will help us provide the level of service our customers need for true global high precision applications.


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