Every GNSS rover needs a correction service. In this episode of HxGN Radio, we learn why HxGN SmartNet Global is the best choice. HxGN SmartNet is the world’s largest GNSS correction provider, providing reliable and precise data from more than 5300 reference stations worldwide.
BK: Welcome to HxGN Radio. My name is Brian, and in today’s podcast, we’re discussing the latest advancements of the HxGN SmartNet correction service, called HxGN SmartNet Global, that is combining the RTK and PPP technology, making it easy to use everywhere. We will take a look behind the scenes at how this combination is bundled in a single subscription that makes the underlying technology accessible, automated, and trustworthy to be used everywhere on Leica Geosystems GS equipment.
Joining me today is Robert Martin, Business Director of the SmartNet service. Robert, thanks for joining me. Appreciate it.
RM: Hey, how are you doing?
BK: Good. I’m doing great. How are you doing?
RM: Not bad.
BK: Good. It’s fun to be in person, face to face, having a little fun here, so…
RM: Yeah. It has been a long time to be face to face again—
BK: I know.
RM: —so happy to be here.
BK: Yeah, likewise. I’m glad you joined us.
Well, tell us about yourself a little bit. Just, who are you? What do you do? And tell us what you’re nerding out on right now. What are you excited about?
RM: Yeah, I started with Leica Geosystems 20 years ago? little bit more, yeah? —
BK: Wow. Nice.
RM: —as a software developer, I started writing code for the Spider software, which is behind SmartNet.
RM: And then we decided in 2006 to develop this into a service and launch SmartNet, basically. And since then, I had the pleasure to develop the service in many different countries. And yeah, if I look now back on this last 20 years, it’s pretty rewarding, I actually have to say, so—
BK: That’s cool.
RM: —it’s good, yeah?
BK: You know what I’m blown away by? Every single person I think we’ve talked to has, when they say they’ve been with some division of Hexagon or even a partnership, it’s pretty long, actually. You know, we’re seeing 10-plus years with most people.
BK: And you don’t see that very often with other companies.
RM: Yeah, it’s cool, but I never stayed in the same position. I really was a software developer to a project lead. I became a project manager, product manager. Now, I’m a business director, so there’s a very nice career possible in this company.
BK: That’s cool, yeah. But staying within the same company in general.
RM: Yeah. And I had the pleasure to stay in the same area. I got to really see—
BK: Oh, that’s good.
RM: —start developing from ground up—
RM: —to a very professional business service.
BK: But diversity is good in your career, because you’ve got now, a lot more experiences. And I’m sure that allows you to probably do what you do better, I would assume.
RM: Yeah. And talk also technical—
BK: Exactly. That’s awesome.
All right. Let’s talk about HxGN SmartNet. How did it develop, and how has it continued to develop over the years?
RM: Yeah. So, we, as I said before, we started in 2006 launching the service, and we rolled it out to many different countries. Lately, we even expanded into Portugal, Czechia, and also Morocco. And to get more and more coverage because we have lot of users and actually this number of users is also continuously growing, which then brings us a challenge to bring the service to 24/7 availability because of people using it day, night, weekends — I always say the sun never sinks on SmartNet. We have more and more customers, who are also going beyond the limits of our correction service that we have established in many countries, we’re going across borders. And this is why we started to actually introduce Hexagon SmartNet Global. This was one of the main motivators for this.
BK: So, what is behind SmartNet Global?
RM: It’s a new type of subscription that we are offering now in our portfolio for the GS sensors. And what we did there, actually, we did a combination of the technology between PPP and RTK, that this comes together in one single subscription. And we also edited a little bit redundancy on the second communication channels of L-band and TCP/IP that covers everybody everywhere. The receiver itself, the GS receiver, tries to choose the best technology in whichever conditions the user operates currently.
So, you’re at one subscription now. What was it like before that? just in case someone’s not familiar with it.
RM: Okay. The users could buy two independent subscriptions, one for network RTK and one for PPP.
RM: PPP stands for precise point positioning, and RTK stands for real-time kinematic positioning, which is basically a centimetre-level accuracy that you can have on the receiver. And you could buy this as an individual subscription, was before, it’s called the SmartNet subscription, but also the SmartLink subscription with the PPP in there.
BK: Okay, excellent.
So, okay. Let’s go into PPP and RTK. Talk about the differences with them and also talk about how they’re used.
RM: Yeah. So, network RTK is really very proven technology, centimetre accuracy, that you have really instant solution. The positioning on the Rover, if you go out on a field and measure, that may be on a machine-controlled device or on a surveying system or whatever receiver is able of handling this technology.
And the PPP technology, precise point positioning, is basically based on a global network of around a hundred reference stations across the globes that also process together. There you have a multi minute convergence time. In the past it was 18 minutes. Thanks to the RTK from the sky technology from NovAtel, we were able to reduce this convergence time to get down to the centimetres level from 18 minutes now to 10 minutes, and then most of the time it’s even only three minutes that this comes in.
And also, important to mention here is that the PPP technology can also do some bridging. So, if you have RTK outage, you can really cover here up to 10 minutes of the network RTK outage. You can bridge this with PPP. And this is all combined now in one subscription, as I explained before.
BK: Yeah. That’s great. Excellent.
So, why is the combination of this technology so powerful and also what sort of problems is it solving?
RM: Both PPP and network RTKs are accessing since many years in the market. They’re very mature technology and so they have both advantage and disadvantages. But actually, the combination of both of them is, there’s a perfect augmentation that this basically overcomes the weaknesses of the technology and only the advantages are presented on the GS receivers to the users then. That means it is accessible now everywhere, thanks to that we have regional and global network, so you’re not limited to the boundaries of your network. You can also, as an example, work for cross border users, you can go across the border. But also, it’s fully automatic, so the customer doesn’t realise when changes happen in the background with the technology.
RM: Because the only thing, what he wants is a position in the end.
BK: Yeah, yeah. Excellent.
All right. So, let’s talk about the user experience too. If a user is switching between the technologies, they’re using different correction streams from different systems, what is that experience like? How is it getting easier and simpler as well?
RM: Yeah. It’s seamless — the technology really steps up in the background. The idea of the service is that the customer can really focus on his work. He doesn’t need to worry, ‘am I now on RTK or am I now on PPP?’ It’s really seamless. If, as an example, you have an outage of the mobile phone network, I think somebody goes in a shade of a mobile signal, then it covers you via the L-band. And if the L-band is obstructed, you can go back to the internet.
It’s all switched, very automated in the background. And for this, we actually improved Captivate, the field software on our surveying systems. We improved the automation features. As an example, in the case of a custom adjustment — which a user needs to do once in a while — Captivate is handling the switching between the different correction streams fully seamlessly in the network and is fully seamless in the Rover in the background. The user doesn’t realise on which correction stream he’s working. And that’s also, all these automation features, that’s also the reason why we can only release it at the moment for the GS receivers. That means GS7, GS10, GS16, GS18, or GS25.
RM: And on the smart antennas, we have this technology and captivate together available.
Now, I’m curious if you know any customer examples of what sort of time it saved, money it saved. I’m just kind of thinking the impact on the business that’s implementing this.
RM: Talking about the worst case, you go out and you want to measure a point which is, as an example, in an area there’s no cell coverage.
RM: If you go out with an RTK subscription, you walk across this boundary, we have very bad mobile internet—
RM: —it doesn’t work. Or, as an example, you go near to a school and that’s just a school break and all the kids coming out—
BK: Oh, yeah.
RM: —streaming YouTube, so the bandwidth really goes down.
RM: —then you have to stop working. And also, do you have a coffee break or something like this?
RM: But with this now, you can, because you have the back up by the L-band with the RTK bridging—
RM: —you can continue to really work across these two technologies in the combination to really bridge these gaps and continue working there.
BK: Yeah. Really gives you the flexibility, basically, depending on where you’re at. That’s wonderful. Excellent.
All right. What do you think’s coming in the future and how do you see the technology evolving and changing?
RM: I think the convergence time for the PPP corrections will continue to go further down. We have seen this change going from 18 minutes, which it was before, down to 10 minutes. And most of the time it’s even to three minutes. So, if you really try this out and use it, you will see it’s pretty fast. And if you’re in the middle of the desert, three minutes is incredibly good. You don’t expect it. And I think this more modern GNSS signal will become even faster. I am 100 percent sure we will see quite some innovation there.
I also believe that — with the new signals — we will also improve the accuracy for the PPP technology, which at the moment is at two to three centimetres for PPP and one centimetre for RTK. I think this will come closer together in a more high, accurate space that you don’t even see the difference there anymore, which is—
BK: Right around the one-centimetre mark for both.
RM: Right, right.
BK: That’s nice.
RM: That’s what I believe because with all the improvements on the hardware side and also on the space, satellite constellation, I think this is good.
RM: Now we have only released it for the GS sensor, but we will also further release it into other products, like [unclear]products to benefit from this. And if everything goes well and the standardisation progress is good here for the RTCM, then I also believe we’ll see it on other receivers, third-party receivers, because there’s the same, what happened actually to RTK once was standardised by RTCM and big variety of users could use it. And then I think if you have more and more users using this, then of course also technology innovates and moves forward. It’s what I believe we will see in the next years.
BK: That’s exciting. And you sound excited about it too.
RM: Yeah. It is. It is.
BK: That’s good. I’m glad you’re enjoying what you’re doing.
So, well, thank you for sharing this. I really appreciate it. This was great information and it’s good to see the impact that it’s having and how significant it is too. So, it’s wonderful. And I’m looking forward to hearing more improvements and hopefully more exciting information in the next year.
RM: Okay, yeah. I’m looking forward to coming back here.
BK: I appreciate that.
All right. Robert Martin, Business Director of the SmartNet Service, thank you for joining us here on HxGN Radio.
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