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SiRF: Cellphone GPS To Reach PND Quality

A new GPS processor due soon from SiRF Technology will render cellphone navigation as robust as that on a personal navigation device (PND), improving smartphones’ indoor GPS reception, allowing instant-on GPS acquisition and reducing battery drain, SiRF contended.

The company, whose chips power many PND devices, said its SiRFstarIV processor could appear in cellphones and PNDs as early as International CES in January.

The new processor is also targeted to digital cameras, camcorders, netbooks and gaming devices because its low-power, instant-on GPS reception would enable many CE devices to become “location aware,” said SiRF founder Kanwar Chadha.

The SiRFstarIV “keeps location always alive in a device,” Chadha said. “If you did this with traditional GPS chips, this would drain your battery.”

The feat is achieved by a new standby or sleep mode in the SiRFstarIV, which retains enough GPS information in memory to permit a device to determine its location after a quick hot start. Current GPS devices can require many seconds to boot up and acquire a GPS signal.

Digital cameras would be able to provide location stamps as well as time and date stamps, he explained, and buddy lists could issue alerts when a friend is nearby. Videos might also be geo-tagged.

“I think you are going to see more and more of these devices have location capability,” said Chadha. In a digital camera, he noted, “you take some images and then shut [the camera] off, so you can’t afford the boot-up time for location [when turning the camera back on]. It has to be instant.”

In smartphones, the processor promises improved GPS reception in three ways. A smartphone typically offers inferior navigation because its antenna is not dedicated to GPS, as in a PND, Chadha said. Also, a smartphone’s antenna might not be ideally located for GPS. Thirdly, smartphones tend to suffer from radio interference to the GPS signal. The SiRFstarIV addresses these limitations through a faster and more sensitive processor that also includes technology to remove radio interference, SiRF said.

Indoor GPS operation is improved because of the chip’s ability to retain the last GPS readings in standby mode. It also improves indoor location accuracy by applying algorithms to its readings and by using a more sensitive processor.

“It captures the data whenever it sees anything outdoors and then keeps that information alive, so when you move indoors, that information is alive. It’s not that it will always work indoors, but it works much better indoors,” said Chadha.

For the PND, SiRFstarIV also promises improvements. Chadha believes the PND of the future will include more connections to sensors in the car, and the SiRFstarIV will integrate with sensor information such as an accelerometer to detect when the car has moved.

PNDs in Asia also include TV tuners, which the chip supports through its “anti-jamming” interference technology, Chadha said.

SiRF says its new processor does not add much to the end user cost of a device. Samples of the SiRFstarIV are now shipping to device makers.