Trimble Navigation has made a fair number of strategic acquisitions in the past ten years. Spectra-Precision and Tripod Data Systems were acquired early last decade. Applanix, Seco Manufacturing are some you’ve heard of, but there’s been a fair number of companies that you’ve never heard of, typically ones that allow Trimble to entrench themselves deeper into their core vertical markets (engineering, construction, GIS, MRM, etc.). Trimble has always strived at providing a complete solution (hardware, software, sensors, etc.) and it’s one of the reasons they’ve been so successful.
Within the past 30 days, they announced two acquisitions that are higher profile and you may have noticed.
The first acquisition was Measurement Devices, a UK-based company specializing in laser rangefinders. The acquisition is not surprising as the ground-based (terrestrial) laser scanning business is growing. Actually, I should clarify, I’m not sure it was an acquisition or what kind of acquisition it was since there’s been no press announcement on it that I’ve seen, but it doesn’t matter. Obviously, something happened because this week Trimble announced the Trimble LaserAce 1000 handheld laser rangefinder, which is clearly based on MDL technology.
Trimble LaserAce 1000
The second acquisition was a bit more surprising to me and some of you, but probably a smart move on Trimble’s part. Trimble announced they acquired certain assets of OmniSTAR’s land applications business. OmniSTAR also has a significant offshore client base (oil & gas) so apparently that wasn’t included in the sale. The acquisition does include OmniSTAR’s land business for North/South America, Europe/North Africa/Middle East/India, Asia Pacific, and South Africa.
The OmniSTAR acquisition is pretty smart, at least for the medium-term. Trimble has been quietly (until now) growing their GPS correction service business. Their VRS Now service, a subscription-based RTK Network, provides both RTK and decimeter corrections in many parts of the world already. OmniSTAR will only enhance Trimble’s subscription offering. In the short-term, they will have a strong portfolio in the real-time corrections business with Deere/Navcom being the only other major player offering satellite-based world-wide subscription services. However, the Deere/Navcom system (StarFire) is focus on agriculture and doesn’t have much support from receiver manufacturers/integrators outside of the agriculture market like OmniSTAR does. With Trimble’s acquisition of OmniSTAR’s land business, Deere/Navcom might look at the non-ag markets differently. It will be interesting to watch.
The longer-term competition for real-time decimeter correction are the public (free) SBAS such as WAAS (North America), EGNOS(Western Europe/No Africa), MSAS (Japan), and GAGAN (India). They are all slated to implement the new civil L5 signal. Once that happens, albeit 5-10 years from now, decimeter accuracy will be at your fingertips, free of charge, if you’re using an L1/L5 capable receiver and in an SBAS coverage area.
Speaking of Deere/Navcom, just this week they showed signs of non-agriculture life by taking a step to enter markets outside of agriculture with the introduction of their pole-mount SF-3040 GNSS receiver. Although somewhat of a “me too” product, it does include the capability of accessing their StarFire network, which makes it unique.
Deere/Navcom’s SF-3040 Pole-Mount GNSS Receiver
Seeing how OmniSTAR seems to be a popular subject this week, newcomer Geneq added another OmniSTAR receiver to their product like this week. Claiming to be the smallest GPS L1/L2 OmniSTAR receiver in the world, they introduced the SXBlue III-L GPS that’s able to use OmniSTAR’s HP and XP corrections services. If you recall, a few months ago, Mike Whitehead and I collected 24 hrs. of OmniSTAR HP-corrected data as part of some experimenting we did for the January webinar. I ran the data through a rigorous statistical software program that randomly tested the accuracy of the data. The horizontal accuracy (at the NSSDA 95% confidence level) was 9cm.
Geneq SXBlue III-L GPS
I feel I need to keep you up-to-date on what’s going on with LightSquared. As crazy as it sounds, I could see the FCC pushing this through unless the GPS community makes a lot of noise. Bear in mind, I don’t think it’s an ‘all or nothing” deal. LightSquared is not going to rollover. For sure, the testing will show it jams GPS to some extent. I’m confident of that. At the end of the day, I think they will push for some sort of compromise, a compromise that would likely mean that GPS functionality would be degraded, possibly signal strength degradation. The high-precision users (sub-meter and below) will take the hit because those receivers try to squeeze as much from GPS as possible, so a few dB of signal strength is very important.
On April 21, we are hosting a free webinar entitled “LightSquared and GPS: Our Story So Far”. I’ll be on the webinar dicussion panel as well as some people who are a lot more intelligent than me. My role is to bring a high-precision user community perspective to the discussion. If you want to gear up on the LightSquared issue, the webinar is a good opportunity.
To help visualize the issue, following is a graphic I lifted from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website. I’ve inserted the GPS center frequencies (L1, L2, L5) as well as frequencies that LightSquared wants to use. If radios worked with nice, clean lines, we’d be in good shape. LightSquared would stay below 1559 MHz and GPS would stay above 1559 MHz. But it doesn’t work that way. High-precision GPS receivers use a wide radio front-end for improved performance. It can be as much as 25 MHz wide. 1575 MHz (GPS L1 center frequency) minus 25 MHz = 1550 MHz. LightSquared base stations are broadcasting at 1,500 watts. A certain amount of noise is going to invade the 1559-1610 MHz range that GPS uses. Furthermore, mobile devices built to use LightSquared’s signal may also invade the 1559-1610 MHz range. The water starts to become muddy very quickly. Bear that in mind when viewing the chart below.
to view the latest article from GPS World on LigthtSquared and GPS.
Lastly, it’s not too late to take action. Following is a response I received from Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley after contacting his office about my concerns.
I haven’t heard anything more since I received this letter on March 25, 2011, but I trust Mr. Merkley’s staff is querying the FCC about this. The more attention we draw to the issue, the better.
Thanks, and see you next time.
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