Broadcom Licenses NextNav MBS Ubiquitous Location Technology

Oct. 2, 2013, 8:03 a.m.
ABI Research

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NextNav announced today that Broadcom has licensed its Metropolitan Beacon System (“MBS”) technology. This agreement enables Broadcom to integrate NextNav’s advanced location technology into its mass-market global navigation satellite system (GNSS), connectivity and mobility platforms.

NextNav is focused on delivering high accuracy ubiquitous location in the United States and, to this end, financing and developing the terrestrial infrastructure itself, and working with the FCC to gain approval for broadcast in the contentious 902-928 Mhz band where it has alleviated interference fears by being limited to 4 Mhz beyond 920Mhz. The solution can achieve horizontal accuracy of 20 m-25 m, with vertical accuracy of 1 m-2 m. It can achieve a location fix within 5 seconds, through the synchronized nature of the network.

NextNav has specifically chosen its channel bandwidth and designed its signal structure to match GPS to the maximum extent possible. These choices allow the signal to be processed by many commercial GPS chipsets with only minor modifications, in some cases, limited to a firmware upgrade to the chip. For a complete receiver solution, a device must support the reception of NextNav’s frequency band and be able to pass that transmission to the GPS chipset. The signal operates in the 900 MHz band. If the GPS RF front-end is unable to support these frequencies, the signal can be fed from the cellular antenna without any impact on performance. As this is a one way broadcast technology, no capacity issues exist and calculations are carried out on the handset, much like GPS.

It received $50m in funding, led by Columbia Capital, while also being at an advanced stage of development with other GPS IC vendors such as CSR. This alleviates fears of the company going bankrupt as infrastructure costs mounts as well as concerns about spectrum interference, which ultimately undid LightSquared in 2012. The combination of strong investment, absorped CAPEX costs, ubiquitous accuracy and FCC approval gives NextNav a very future potential. ABI Research understands that it will use recent investment funding to look at ways to improve accuracy indoor, particularly for the public safety and retail markets.

NextNav is still at the early stages of building out its underling infrastructure, which is now deployed in some form across 40 major US regions. The huge round of investment, from strong backers, gives it the financial muscle it needs to roll out the technology. With issues around spectrum interference appearing to be under control, and plans to develop the technology to improve accuracy further, NextNav is in a very strong position, provided it is not superseded by a lower cost, higher accuracy alternative. What it lacked was backing from a major high volume GNSS IC vendor. Having now ticked this box, others will have to seriously consider following suit. Unlike Broadcom’s support of the IMES technology in Japan, the sheer size of the US market means this will give Broadcom a competitive edge on its rivals. This is good news for both companies and illustrates that there is a value in accurate location technologies.