Friday, March 23, 2012

Broadcom introduces new GPS chip, offering a platform for development of indoor positioning applications.

With the introduction of their new BCM4752 GPS (Global Positioning System) chip, Broadcom is enhancing capabilities for outdoor positioning in mobile devices, while also providing a platform for the development of future indoor location-based applications. The potential to more precisely locate a consumer indoors, which is beyond the reach of the geostationary satellites that power GPS,  is seen by many Venture Capitalists (VCs) and mobile industry entrepreneurs as a lucrative opportunity for mobile commerce and social networking applications. Think FourSquare without the check-in, or being able to find that item you are looking for in a department store without wandering up and down the aisles (see Aisle411 for example).

According to Richard Najarian, Broadcom’s Senior Director for GPS, the BCM4752 consumes 50% less power than previous generation 65nm devices, such as the BCM4751. The new chip also adds multi-constellation support, with the ability to simultaneously collect data from the U.S. GPS, as well as the Russian GLONASS (Globalnaya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema or Global Navigation Satellite System), the Japanese QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System), and SBAS (Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems).

To determine indoor locations, the BCM4752 platform will utilize Broadcom's software to integrate information derived from WiFi hotspots and NFC (Near-Field Communications), combined with data from smartphone sensors, such as accelerometers, compasses, gyros and barometric sensors. Nokia is developing an indoor positioning system based on distributed Bluetooth beacons, which the Broadcom platform will also support.

Scott Pomerantz, VP and General Manager of GPS at Broadcom, says that the company has developed a worldwide database of WiFi MAC (Media Access Control) address locations, through a combination of crowd-sourcing and licensing of 3rd-party data.  This database can be utilized by Broadcom's software to approximate a user's indoor location. Other companies are also developing a hybrid approach to indoor positioning, including Vancouver, Canada based Rx Networks. Adrian Stimpson, Senior VP of Sales & Marketing at RX Networks, says that his company has also developed such a database. While information in the database is updated every few seconds, Stimpson says that WiFi locations are still imprecise, since the exact location inside a building must often be estimated.

At the recent GPS-Wireless Conference in Burlingame, CA,speakers on the panel "New Platforms and Technology that Empower Location Markets", questioned how indoor LBS will be monetized. Kanwar Chadha, Chief Marketing Officer at CSR, said that revenue would come indirectly, to companies such as Google that can direct more context and location aware advertising to mobile devices. Ankit Agarwal, founder and CEO of  Micello, which has developed indoor maps, said that indoor navigation will be an enabler for other applications, such as in-store product search, or for social applications which allow users to personalize navigation based on parameters such as their social network, or personal interests.

Indoor navigation will be the subject of a meeting of the Northern California WCA (Wireless Communications Alliance) Mobile and Future SIGs: "Semiconductor Sensors innovating Mobile Devices & User Experiences", on April 18 - at Qualcomm in Santa Clara.

Speakers at the WCA event will include:
  • Len Sheynblat, VP of Technology, Qualcomm, Inc. (Event Sponsor)
  • Wen Lin, Marketing Manager - iNEMO and Sensor Hub solutions, STMicroelectronics
  • John Carey, Director of Marketing - TrueTouch, Cypress Semiconductor
  • Seckin Ozdamar, Business Manager - Optical Sensors, Human Interface BU, Maxim Integrated Products
  • Michael Karst, General Manager, Sensirion (Temperature/Humidity Sensors)
You can register for the event through the Eventbrite link on the WCA website.

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