The burgeoning demand for digital services enabled by Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) has never been more apparent. The rapid advancement of solutions and processes taking advantage of GNSS is pushing businesses to leverage state-of-the-art software development and managed services to modernise, diversify, and scale their operations.
However, realising these opportunities is not without challenges, particularly in an industry as nuanced and demanding as GNSS. Facing an increasingly diverse set of use cases ranging from high-volume devices like smartphones to safety- and liability-critical systems in transport, there’s a plethora of complexities that solution providers must navigate to realise such visions. Moreover, there’s a growing data management challenge as innovative services emerge that rely on large volumes of data that must be available to many users around the world.
Yet these obstacles should not deter GNSS-based solution providers from exploring and harnessing the immense potential of digital innovation. With the right expertise, strategies, and solutions, organisations can overcome the challenges and transform them into profitable opportunities that will help them thrive in an era of rapid technological advancement.
In this article, we delve into the unique challenges of crafting innovative GNSS-based solutions and explore how custom software and managed services can help overcome these hurdles. Whether your goal is to enhance position accuracy, improve safety, boost resilience, increase service availability, or extend operational continuity, this guide is for you. Whether you\'re targeting a niche, industry-specific use case or addressing mass market needs, the aim of this guide is to help you navigate the complex landscape of digitisation with ease.
1. The challenges of building and managing GNSS-based software solutions
In the quest for digital innovation, GNSS-based solution vendors must confront and overcome a range of challenges, which can vary significantly depending on the particular use case. Each of these hurdles has its own implications and requires strategic solutions to ensure optimal outcomes.
Familiarity with GNSS
Few firms understand both the software design and development as well as the unique terminology and nuances of the GNSS industry. They’re unlikely to be familiar with software principles providing scalable, high availability solutions for GNSS techniques like real-time kinematics (RTK), precise point positioning (PPP), or dilution of precision (DOP), for example.
Familiarity with the various GNSS related protocols and standards also helps increase development velocity as well as to reduce the risk of potential flaws and subsequent rework. Another benefit is that the problem description and the solution of the newly developed service will be easier to explain to someone who knows the topic. Moreover, you can get an industry-specific review and suggestions for potential enhancement of the built service.
Reliability and resilience
Discontinuity or unavailability of a data stream can result in a degraded or denied service. It is in the interest of any service provider to have systems with redundancy and monitoring built in to mitigate the risks of downtime and inadequate performance. Another important objective is to reduce the risk of data loss due to hardware malfunctions, accidental deletion, and other possible issues.
GNSS-based applications use the position provided by GNSS systems as a foundation for delivering more sophisticated and specialised services. To achieve this, the core GNSS data often needs to be supplemented with additional data. Examples include correction data to improve accuracy, integrity data to boost reliability, and map data layers to facilitate navigation or the various aspects of situation awareness.
Real-time data distribution
There are applications where the rapid exchange of real-time data is vital to the service. Even a fraction of a second can significantly impact the accuracy and efficiency of the service, potentially leading to a hazardous situation. For example, high-accuracy devices like survey drones used in mining and agriculture demand very low latency and extremely reliable high-integrity data based on real-time quality checks. Safety-critical systems and timing devices also have their unique data distribution requirements.
Large volume of data
Large data volumes are frequently related to maps and specific map layers. Examples include autonomous vehicles or drones using different map layers to provide safety-related information or real-time congestion models. Moreover, it is often necessary to cover large areas, such as entire continents, with high-resolution mapping to meet service requirements.
Large volume of consumers
Serving high-volume devices like IoT and smartphone receivers requires more resources which, if not properly designed, can lead to system overload and degraded performance. In these cases, among the most important considerations is smart system architecture enabling load balancing, since it’s crucial to prevent overwhelming servers during peak times.
Given the sensitive nature of location data and the insight it provides into people’s movements and habits, it attracts a high level of attention from malicious actors. This is why GNSS data is subject to GDPR and other data privacy laws. GDPR, for instance, imposes strict regulations on how organisations can collect and manage any location data that’s personally identifiable. Moreover, GDPR also mandates data minimisation, meaning that companies can only collect the minimum amount of personally identifiable data needed to deliver a service. The challenge lies in determining exactly what sort of data you need and how to set up your systems in such a way that they only collect this data or can anonymise any personal data on user request.
In addition to regulatory compliance, GNSS solution providers must also think about security. Often seen as one of the biggest barriers to digital innovation, this includes aspects like application, database, and physical security. Data needs multiple layers of protection, whether it’s at rest or in transit. Granular access controls, encryption, and monitoring systems are just some of the ways to detect and mitigate threats.
Integration with vendors and protocols
While new software promises advanced capabilities, it often needs to be incorporated into existing systems, including legacy infrastructure or multi-vendor systems. Therefore, it needs to support different connection standards and transfer protocols. Moreover, many systems, especially older ones, aren’t adequately equipped to support new software, thus hindering implementation. We must also think about how the integration of new solutions may disrupt existing operations and workflows and take steps to mitigate those risks.
To achieve peak performance, as well as assuage any headaches during the implementation stage, GNSS-based solution providers must take a strategic approach. Ultimately, they need a single, cohesive system that supports all necessary hardware, protocols, and configurations. At the same time, they need a tailor-made infrastructure that can both support their existing systems and use cases. An off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to accommodate those needs, especially given the diverse and constantly evolving nature of GNSS operations.
The fundamental rule of scaling is to start small and go big in a sustainable and strategic way. That means having your software and, even more importantly, your underlying infrastructure, be flexible enough to adapt easily to new demands. Additionally, many solution vendors need the capacity to scale up and down to accommodate fluctuations in demand without compromising performance. Equally important is the scalability of databases, especially as the volume of data only continues to grow.
2. Addressing the software development challenges of GNSS-based services
Tackling the challenges of digitisation in GNSS-based use cases requires innovative and targeted solutions. This is where the power of custom software development comes in. The approach covering the whole lifecycle, incorporating the design, creation, testing, and deployment of an application from start to finish, is especially valuable here. This is because it helps overcome integration challenges and turn otherwise complex systems into intuitive user experiences. Considering the many unique challenges and use cases of GNSS added value solutions, that’s typically something that off-the-shelf software and infrastructure can’t properly accommodate.
Building custom software solutions
Off-the-shelf infrastructure and software solutions are rarely well-suited to the requirements of GNSS added value services. For example, high-volume mass-market applications need to be simple to integrate and use, have low power consumption and be able to scale to meet the increasing demand. By contrast, a safety- and liability-critical solution for use in transport, agriculture, or surveying requires very high availability, accuracy, continuity, integrity, and low latency. These key performance parameters (KPPs), among others, vary depending on the use case, hence there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
Custom software and frameworks are more readily able to target specific demands concerning complexity, resilience, scalability, and regulatory compliance. With adaptability at their core, infrastructures can scale to handle growing user bases and data demands in an agile manner. This elasticity is vital for maintaining performance and quality – and it all starts with software design.
For example, microservices architecture breaks down monolithic applications into far smaller components, each of which can be redesigned and redeployed to meet new demands, rather than having to refactor the entire environment. A similar approach to software engineering is service-orientated architecture (SOA), which also focuses on breaking down applications into discrete services. Furthermore, custom solutions may integrate open-source frameworks and protocols, such as Google Remote Procedure Call (gRPC), for further interoperability.
To build a quality global service, you need a team of professionals. Even if your team has the expertise required to build GNSS-based algorithms, you also still need specialists from range of domains, such as cloud, security, devops, and front-end developers.
Empowering robust data management
In the GNSS ecosystem, factors like precision, latency, availability, integrity, continuity, and security are paramount. Maintaining the required performance also starts at the software design stage. Every solution must offer a robust way to manage data and, in doing so, ensure that the relevant data is stored and accessible with sufficient throughput so that it doesn’t lead to the degradation of system performance, or increased security risk.
For example, the software used to enable an RTK corrections distribution service may involve managing a network of thousands of reference stations and an order of magnitude more simultaneously connected rovers. In this case, each component generates data which can be used for monitoring, quality checks, and statistical analysis.
Of course, data security and privacy are essential too. One of the hallmarks of any effective full-stack software development team is that they don’t simply view security and privacy as things to be tacked on later. Instead, equipped with a thorough understanding of the sensitivity of the data and the risks facing it, they incorporate security and privacy by design and default.
This ensures security and privacy are hard-baked into every layer of the software development process in the form of advanced encryption protocols, rigorous access controls, and secure data transmission protocols. The result is a highly secure environment for sensitive location data, which is clearly essential if, for example, you’re developing a mission-planning solution for use in surveillance.
Overcoming software integration woes
There are various workflows and platforms that GNSS-based software might need to interact with. For example, a survey drone might need to interface with geofencing services to ensure safety and regulatory compliance. A mission-planning system will likely need to access predicted ephemerides and support unstructured visual data like satellite maps and topographies. It might also be necessary to integrate an external authentication module to enable secure access to the service. For the delivery of commercial services, integration with customer relationship management (CRM) and billing systems is also desirable. Seamless integration by setting the right protocols and APIs provides flexibility for further upgrades is easily one of the biggest challenges.
Custom software development addresses the challenges by incorporating strategic integration techniques to ensure ubiquitous compatibility with a wide range of existing systems, networks, and workflows. Specialist developers can build systems that seamlessly interface with a broad range of rovers, user interfaces, and protocols, along with other third-party software systems like CRM.
3. Enhancing efficiency and security with managed services for GNSS
As we’ve discussed, full-stack custom software development can address many of the unique challenges of building cutting-edge digital solutions in the GNSS domain. But that’s only the first part of the equation. Once these systems are in place, they require ongoing maintenance to ensure they continue to operate effectively and are able to meet current demands. After all, software is rarely a set-and-forget solution, but rather a service that continuously adapts and scales to your evolving needs. That’s where managed services come into play.
Maintaining adaptability and scalability
In recent years, the growth of the GNSS sector has been unprecedented. In 2021, there were already 6.5 billion devices equipped with GNSS receivers, and that figure is expected to reach 10.6 billion by 2031. Moreover, added-value services account for 72% of global GNSS revenue in 2031. Given the rapid uptake of GNSS-based solutions in industries like automotive, logistics, and agriculture, that projection might end up being an underestimation. These trends make clear the need for adaptable software, not just in terms of how the software is built, but also in terms of how it’s hosted, maintained, and updated.
If you’re relying on an in-house data center for hosting your software, then you’ll need to be prepared to upgrade it regularly and hope your system can keep up with demand, because, if it doesn’t, then the whole service will suffer. Fortunately, you can prevent almost any chance of that happening by having your software hosted in a highly scalable data center environment. Add the right managed services into the mix, and you’ll also have the specialised knowledge on side needed to reconfigure infrastructure and applications on an as-needed basis and ensure your systems always have the capacity to meet demand.
Managed services can also help you keep control over costs, since you typically only pay for the computing resources you actually use. Based on historical data, usage trends and forecasts, or whether you’re preparing for the introduction of new features or launching a new marketing campaign, you can proactively scale your system up or down as required.
Ensuring performance and availability
For any solution vendor, maintaining high performance and availability is essential, especially if they’re offering services for critical systems. Any compromise in data quality or availability can have severe consequences, particularly in safety- and liability-critical use cases. Managed services play a key role in ensuring that these problems don’t arise. For example, load balancing techniques distribute network traffic evenly across multiple servers, thereby reducing the risks of server overloads and poor response times. You also need redundancy for failover.
It\'s notoriously difficult – and expensive – to build and maintain an in-house data center which can accommodate those requirements. Firstly, you need ample bandwidth and low latency, which typically means your applications should be hosted in a location with good connectivity and reasonably near to your end users. Secondly, you need redundancy meaning that, if one server fails, there’s another to take over immediately. Thirdly, mission-critical assets need round-the-clock monitoring and dependable personnel to address hardware failures, security updates, and other necessities.
When working with a managed services provider (MSP), these requirements will be met in accordance with the vendor’s service level agreement (SLA). This is a written guarantee that ensures a minimum degree of uptime, a minimum level of service, and a maximum response time to customer service requests.
Managed service providers typically operate on a shared responsibility model, which means they’re every bit as responsible for ensuring the high performance, availability, and integrity of your systems as you are – if not more so. However, there is a clear line between the responsibilities of managed service providers and other participants, so it’s important to be sure who is in charge of which assets and who is accountable for potential downtime.
Given that GNSS-based systems are often mission-critical, and how any discrepancies in data availability or quality can lead to expensive disasters, or worse, put people in serious danger, that’s not a responsibility to take lightly.
It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as 100% uptime. Downtime can’t always be avoided. However, it’s vital that, if a critical system goes down, your MSP has the resources, tools, and expertise necessary to quickly identify and resolve the failure.
Mitigating security and compliance risk
Thanks to the shared responsibility model, MSPs naturally introduce an extra layer of security and resilience to your hosted solutions. They have a vested interest in keeping your data secure and compliant with industry regulations. By contrast, navigating these challenges alone can be complex and time-consuming, requiring extensive in-house security and legal expertise.
An MSP will adapt their security systems to your particular use case. For example, many GNSS-based systems, particularly those used in critical infrastructure, finance, and industry, are common targets for organised hackers, including highly funded state-sponsored threat actors. They’re typically not the sort of adversary that the average small- to medium-sized business can realistically go up against, hence the importance of using third-party data centres and managed services that offer best-in-class security.
A secure infrastructure will help prevent security threats, with strong data encryption and verification. Your MSP should also support GNSS-specific security solutions via monitoring systems providing end-to-end visibility into your networks and system of alerts in case of suspicious patterns.
Ultimately, by outsourcing, you can focus on what you’re best at, and leave the rest to a team of dedicated professionals with the necessary core competencies.
The Power of End-to-End Solutions for GNSS
As we’ve explored throughout this guide, both custom software development and managed services naturally accompany one another to address the challenges and requirements of the GNSS industry. With a dependable innovation partner on your side, you can drive sustainable digital innovation without adding risk to your organisation or your clients.
Here’s a quick summary to wrap up with:
- GNSS-specific challenges demand dedicated solutions crafted by experts who understand the nuances of the industry. Custom software development can address these challenges and help meet system performance and regulatory requirements and adjust to the market needs.
- Integration of custom software with multi-vendor, multi-standard infrastructure and workflows can streamline your operations, reducing complexity and increasing efficiency in the process.
- Managed services take much of the responsibility in maintaining and updating your GNSS-based software solutions by operating the service for you, all the while mitigating the risk of security or compliance breaches or unscheduled downtime, and providing continuous support.
- Full-stack software development combined with managed services provides the end-to-end solution that businesses working with GNSS data need to scale their operations and expand their service offerings.
If you’re ready to discover what custom software development and managed services can do for your business, get in touch with Navmatix today, and let’s shape the future of GNSS together!