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Q&A at CTIA 2015 with Nick Papadopoulos, President of u-blox America

September 13, 2015  - By
Carrier-independent LTE modules, the autonomous vehicle and delivery drones all factor into future plans for the Swiss wireless company


Nick Papadopoulos

Nick Papadopoulos

What’s new from u-blox?

There’s a ton of new things. One is that we are now expanding our portfolio into short-range radio, meaning we have now products that are Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-capable, which is useful especially in the automotive industries.

And on another note, on the cellular side which we have been shipping since 2010, we have now introduced one a high-speed LTE module that is carrier independent in the United States so it can do both AT&T and Verizon at the same time so customers have the option as part of their logistics chain to build their product and not have to worry if this is an AT&T module now or a Verizon module. It simplifies logistics, simplifies the entire manufacturing chain and reduces cost.

What are some use cases for the carrier-independent module?

One of our customers builds devices—whether for alarm panels, tracking devices, telematics devices—where at the time of manufacture in the past they would actually have to determine for which carrier this particular device is going to made. So imagine the warehouse where they have to have one shelf for AT&T devices and another shelf for Verizon devices. It duplicates the effort. It costs money to have this kind of inventory, and you don’t know when you manufacture how many AT&T devices am I going to sell how many Verizon devices am I going to sell. That goes away. The same goes with tablets.

This is for the automotive market as well?

Imagine a carmaker who actually has a telematics control unit and they have an agreement say with one of the carriers—I’m not saying which—and two years down the road they have 8 million vehicles with telematics unit and then after two years decides the rates I’m getting with Carrier A, I could get better rates from Carrier B, so going forward they now sell vehicles car with telematics units with Carrier B. But everything they’ve sold in the past two years is still relying on Carrier A and, with the data buckets they have to pay still with that carrier, they don’t have any cost advantage there only moving forward. Now with our modem they can actually switch the entire base to Carrier B and save on the cost.

Can you tell us with whom you are working on this?

We are working with several customers on this and have a designed product, but I cannot tell you at this point until they allow us to—we’re working with them so it’s probably going to be the beginning of next year (before an announcement is made).

What do you think it is that is giving your automotive innovations longevity?

One of the things we have been working on is the development of our own LTE chipset and that has advantages–for one cost advantages—because LTE-only technology does not compete with our partners and so far that actually allows us to develop new products, new modules based on our own LTE chipset and expands our portfolio especially in North America where we hope in the next few years LTE will be so prevalent you won’t need any 2G or 3G, so that’s one of the things.

We have also announced we are working very closely on the positioning side with several carmakers toward technology for autonomous vehicles. We’ve revolutionized positioning technology to the point you can identify which altitude you’re at in a parking garage. That is expanding to allow additional accuracy in very adverse environments for preparation of so called ADAS systems toward autonomous vehicles.

What can we expect from this technology in the next few years?

You have already today cars that park themselves. You have already today cars that are autonomous, but there are still passengers there just to monitor. A lot of the technology that already there is actually based on our dead reckoning technology. We are expanding around that in order to eventually truly allow autonomous vehicles to the point where those vehicles can actually park themselves in a valet scenario.

Imagine driving up to a hotel and telling your car to go park yourself and it does it. It knows where to go and it eventually finds a spot and it parks itself without endangering anyone, and it can do that due to our technology, even underground. I do see in the next three-to-four years several carmakers launching vehicles that can drive autonomously on the highway. And they will need our technology for it.


The IRIS+ drone utilizes the u-blox GPS module.

What about usage in UAVs?

We are the leader in positioning technology for drones. We’re developing the technology to further improve position accuracy for delivery drones. So not just for recreational use but truly for professional utilization either for delivery, package delivery, agricultural delivery, pesticide/herbicide delivery. You need very, very accurate positioning technology.

Where do you see the UAV industry going?

I see consolidation eventually but at the same time, I see more and more proliferation of companies developing new types of drones.

What’s the key to u-blox’s success?

We have been phenomenally lucky that we have such good customers, who are not only loyal to us, but they spread the word and they bring more customers. I am very thankful and grateful to our customers and colleagues.

About the Author:

Bethany Chambers has been a digital editor for GPS World since 2012. She also serves as digital operations manager for GPS World parent company North Coast Media. Chambers is a multimedia journalist with expertise in the business and healthcare fields who has won awards from the National Press Club and the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership. She has a masters in interactive publishing from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a bachelors in marketing from Duquesne University.

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