Start-up crams single chip with phone, GPS and Bluetooth

Stuffing Bluetooth, GPS and GSM into a handheld product is asking for trouble, but one company's making a chip that does it all

With wireless doing more every day, handheld devices need to keep up. But adding too many different services to one box puts the cost up and creates interference. Florida company Ashvattha Semiconductor claims to have the answer, with a single chip that combines the radio sides of GSM and GPRS mobile phone standards, a GPS satellite navigation system and a Bluetooth personal area network.

The chip should knock around £20 off the parts cost of a multifunction device that uses all three services, said the company, effectively making one of the functions free to the designer.

Existing designs needed multiple chips because mobile phone reception and transmission, while on a different frequency to GPS, creates so much noise that it swamps the weak signals from space. By creating highly isolated areas of the chip and very carefully arranging the internal frequencies that the chip uses, Ashvatta claims to have succeeded where other companies have tried and failed. Other advantages to the design includes a reduction of circuit board size and power consumption.

Ashvatta is keeping the details of its technology secret, but it uses IBM's silicon-germanium BiCMOS process -- the company says that other manufacturers could make the chip, but at the cost of increased power consumption. The chip has been through an initial test run and produced working parts: it's expected to become available later this year, and will work with existing baseband controller chips.

The company is also considering adding 802.11a/b and other wireless functionality next year, but sees location services as a more important market -- phones that can inform the network where they are will become a legal requirement in many countries over the next few years, and many location-based services are planned.


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