IoT as a Service: Communication, Location, and Security

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

Over the years, clients have come to rely more and more on these services and demand that they be formalized with warranty, professional support, and availability.

Wireless communication and location are key to connecting everything in the IoT ecosystem with the goal of simplifying communication between IoT devices and the enterprise. In an interview with EE Times Europe, Eric Heiser, senior vice president, head of Product Center Services at u-blox, emphasized that the strategic vision of the moment is to make wireless and location easy, enable frictionless business and make efficiency a core principle. Over the years, clients have come to rely more and more on these services and demand that they be formalized with warranty, professional support, and availability.

“We focus on how and where we can deliver benefits to our customers’ use cases through the entire lifecycle,” said Heiser. “Our IoT service delivery platform – Thingstream – provides a whole range of offerings for various customer use cases and applications. Efficiency is the core principle that will lower our customers’ total costs and improve their overall ROI.”


Thingstream is a cloud-based delivery platform and administration interface for enterprise IoT services. The Thingstream platform comprises IoT connectivity, security, enterprise-grade MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) broker, visual programming, simple enterprise integration, and cooperates seamlessly with u-blox and third-party positioning and connectivity hardware.

This enterprise-grade cloud platform utilizes auto-scaling technology and is proven to support billions of messages. The intuitive interface provides a self-serve environment from which users have the autonomy to manage IoT device fleets, manage billing, monitor events, and have complete API control of functionality. In addition to traditional subscription-based approach, u-blox said it offers a flexible, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) service to address various customers, use cases, and applications. Thingstream aims to enable a frictionless business experience by eliminating complexities and allowing users to engage more efficiently and reduce time-to-market.

Heiser noted that the 2020 acquisition of Thingstream and its platform allowed u-blox to enter a new dimension of the services business, with the goal of making it simpler to locate and connect IoT devices to the cloud. The platform provides flexibility and ease of deployment of end-to-end solutions, reducing design complexity.

u-blox solutions

Services overview

“We deliver leading wireless technologies to locate and connect people and devices reliably,” said Heiser. “We are forging a path in which our services are combined with products that enhance functionality, improve quality of service in challenging conditions, and solve the problems of complexity, cost, and availability.”

We can distinguish 3 types of services that u-blox provides:

  • IoT Communication-as-a-Service, which combines true global connectivity with a fixed-price global MQTT network that works seamlessly in 190 countries;
  • IoT Location-as-a-Service that sets the standard for reliable and fast location information and for delivering accurate assistance and augmentation data;
  • IoT Security-as-a-Service, designed to protect your business and your data through a world-class scalable symmetric key management system.

There is a massive growth in the number of connected devices globally, and a large proportion of these IoT devices need location information to do their job. Some require high-precision positioning, while for others, a rough estimate is sufficient. GNSS users expect instantaneous position information, which is often not possible in a poor signal state. Battery-powered IoT devices need a long battery life (months or even years) and internet connectivity. The location information is not necessarily used on the device itself but by a cloud service. Data must be reliably delivered and globally available.

From the customer’s perspective, Heiser highlighted:

  • Faster time-to-market with seamlessly integrated technologies;
  • Reduced execution risk when working closely with one competent provider;
  • Increased ROI with extended device life cycles, reduced data overhead and energy consumption through a smart selection of data format and message protocols.

“With Location Services, we aim to make positioning easy, either by providing location data more efficiently or by assisting to fix a position faster and/or more accurately. In this way, we offer 4 services within the IoT Location-as-a-Service portfolio: AssistNow, PointPerfect, CellLocate and CloudLocate,” said Heiser.

AssistNow provides real-time and predicted Assisted GNSS data to accelerate Time-To-First-Fix, improves accuracy, and lower power consumption. CellLocate uses mobile network-based location attributes to virtually eliminate ‘no position scenarios’. CloudLocate delivers cloud-based positioning to extend the life of energy-constrained IoT applications by up to 10x vs standard GNSS power-saving approaches. PointPerfect brings high-precision GNSS to mass market by delivering sub-10 cm accuracy positioning within seconds, combined with flexible service plans and an easy-to-use delivery platform.

Efficiency as a core principle

This is where MQTT comes in: The protocol and how it makes IoT devices communicate most efficiently.

The communication protocol, which came into being 20 years ago, has gradually become a de facto standard for the Internet of Things because of its flexibility and ease of use. The main characteristics of MQTT are that it is a lightweight and straightforward protocol for exchanging messages and minimizing traffic on networks and requiring few resources for devices to manage it. It is also a protocol that is easy to integrate, efficiently distributes messages from one to many recipients, omnidirectional, and offers easy system scalability.

“With PointPerfect, u-blox is the first to combine GNSS correction data with an enterprise-grade IoT service delivery platform,’’ said Heiser. “The combination serves as an inflection point in the market evolution of high precision GNSS solutions. By using MQTT protocol as a delivery protocol, our solution reliably and efficiently supports high accuracy navigation applications at mass-market scale.”


Until SPARTN (Secure Position Augmentation for Real-Time Navigation), there was no industry-recognized standard for communication between service providers and end-users of GNSS correction data and its performance requirements. Modern positioning systems require a combination of low bandwidth, accuracy, availability, reliability, and integrity for mission-critical applications. The SPARTN data format was developed to meet these requirements. Consequently, the SPARTN data format is an evolution of other legacy state-space representation (SSR) formats that have been made available by different actors in the GNSS industry. This evolution combines the advantages of state-space representation with the fundamentals of a state-of-the-art communication protocol for GNSS corrections.

Heiser commented, “SPARTN is a low bandwidth open format for GNSS correction data. But it has been developed specifically to serve the needs of high precision mass-market applications. There are two main challenges we think we solve with SPARTN, one is privacy and the other is scalability. On the privacy side of it, we don’t need to know where the devices are in order to deliver the service, unlike other technologies that need to know the exact location of each endpoint. We can send a single outbound broadcast stream of correction data to all device endpoints. And then on scalability, we can deliver the same set of data to all devices, regardless of how many of the devices there are.”

By making wireless and location easy, u-blox aims to enable a frictionless business with efficiency at its core to give users the best opportunities to locate their devices and connect them from silicon to cloud.

This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.

Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.


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