Septentrio Collaboration Part of Altus Growth Plans, CEO Says

September 12, 2014  - By
Neil Vancans (Photo Courtesy Altus Positioning Systems)

Neil Vancans (Photo Courtesy Altus Positioning Systems)

With the announcement this week that Altus Positioning Systems, part of the Septentrio group, has assumed responsibility for Septentrio Satellite Navigation NV products in North and South America, Altus President and CEO Neil Vancans is once again making waves in the industry.

The release, which comes as Altus and Septentrio are exhibiting at ION GNSS+ and as Vancans is making the rounds at CTIA Super Mobility Week, is part of a larger growth strategy “across a wide range of market sectors.”

The announcement is notable in that it expands the relationship formed in June 2011 between Septentrio and Altus, with Septentrio more closely integrating the Altus subsidiary. Additionally, Septentrio is now manufacturing Altus GNSS RTK receivers at its factory in Belgium while Septentrio is closing its separate sales office in the U.S., merging that functionality into Altus, according a spokesman.

The Torrance, California-based Altus, started by Vancans in 2007, has long focused on the surveying sector. Vancans himself is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in the U.K.

“Ten years ago 90% of the high-precision GPS market was survey or survey-related. But survey is not a high-growth market. Today survey is probably 20% of the market and that’s doing things like putting a $10,000 receiver on a $4,000 lawn mower,” Vancans explains. “The growth market outside that (in consumer wireless) is huge, and it offers many new opportunities and will continue to grow.”

The survey market will continue to be in the Altus and Septentrio strategy, particularly leveraging Altus products with Septentrio’s advanced receiver technology experience in the OEM market.

Vancans has watched for two decades as use in emerging Asian economies has increased demand for surveying equipment and speculates what’s happening in the U.S. and other Western markets with OEM growth will eventually be mirrored there. He estimates the Chinese receiver market alone has grown ten-fold since he worked as president of Leica GPS nearly 20 years ago.

“What’s interesting and exciting is that it will be a big growth market for OEM or non-survey applications based on domestic Asian manufacturers using Western and increasingly Asian OEM,” Vancans says.

“If you can master the distribution capabilities in the OEM market in North America in the next couple of years, that will form the foundation of what happens in Asia in the future.”

Altus’ announcement also came with news the company hired Mo Kapila as OEM sales manager for Septentrio products. Kapila’s background is in embedded wireless, according to Vancans.

Vancans, who spent two days on the CTIA show floor, says the consumer wireless industry is on Altus’ radar, although he is still “very wary” of that side of the business. As general manager of Thales Navigation (which later re-merged as Magellan) in the early-2000s the company worked on a GPS attachment for Palm and integration into other consumer devices.

“The professional high-precision market is stable and products have a long shelf life,” he says. “On the other hand, the good thing with the consumer market is the constant changes in devices, the churning. As consumer markets take up high-precision GNSS products , they will be embedded in products which are rapidly outdated.”

Altus is taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to professional-grade receivers for the consumer market.

“If the price lowers, the longevity will too,” he says. “The high end will likely go down to meet the low end – the cheap and easy, changeable model.”

Vancans says Septentrio will continue to differentiate itself from competitors based on its low power consumption relative to the functionality and size of the device, and robust positioning, whether it’s for professionals or consumers.

“If you look to the future and think of how much satellites will proliferate and signal availability will open,” he says, “it’s a good position for us to be in with the continuous consumerization of high-precision GPS and GNSS.”

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About the Author: Bethany Chambers

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.